the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world













Macedonia versus Macedonia

There are several national, political, and geographical names in current usage whose employment varies from place to place, or has varied from time to time. An entire class of names exists in which a usage is restricted from a whole to a part. ‘Colombia’ would once have meant the entire western hemisphere, and later Gran Colombia, which included the modern states of Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia. Now, of course, it is used only for the last. ‘Guinea’ and ‘Guyana’ are linguistic variants of the names of their respective regions on the coasts of Africa and South America. ‘Yugoslavia’ could apply from Slovenia to Bulgaria, instead of merely the remnant provinces of Serbia and Montenegro. These are all well-established usages. Bosnia and Moldova typically refer to states, but these states are known to be only portions of the countries whose names are used for them. America is for most of the western hemisphere the entire hemisphere, but within the United States (and sometimes outside of the hemisphere) the name applies strictly to Yankee America ― the United States. Morocco refers to itself as al-Maghreb ― the West ― when to the rest of Arabia that term applies as far east as Libya. In three divided lands, a pair of names exist, each applying theoretically to the entire land but practically only to one of the divisions ― Kypros and Kibris (Cyprus), Israel and Filastin (Palestine), Hanguk and Chosen (Korea).

If Romania had punished (eastern) Moldova because it would not call itself the Chisinau Republic, the (western) European Union and (Yankee) America would have returned the punishment, because Romania is not yet an ally. But when Greece punished (Slavic) Macedonia, there was little condemnation and no reciprocal action. The whole world may now conclude that blockades are appropriate responses to linguistic disputes. Undoubtedly this will be much more interesting than a meeting of the Sorbonne.

If ‘Macedonia’ is in fact a broad historical region existing across states lines, and using the name for only a part of that region stands as a claim to the whole region, we are forced to conclude that Greece is laying claim to the Slavic portion as well. If not, then it must cease to use the name for its province. Indeed, it cannot even use a variant of the name, since such a compromise was deemed unacceptable for Slavic Macedonia.

That a state of the world will be known in perpetuity as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (or its various translations) is of course ridiculous. It will have to stand as a temporary measure until the government of Greece comes to its senses. But Macedonia is not economically in a position to wait that long. If it were rich, Serbia would not have relinquished it without a fight. The country needs trade, and for one of its neighbors to not merely refuse trade but to impede trade was inhumane. The blockade of an entire people over a name was an act of infantile vindictiveness on the part of Greece ― it was, in other words, a national temper-tantrum. Greece has been spoiled by its privileged position in the west. The European Union gave Greece a hand up in recent decades. It should now do the same for Macedonia, and if Greece objects, let it go off into its own corner of Europe and pout.

1998 June 7

Ethnic cleansing is not genocide per se, though they are often associated. Technically, ethnic cleansing is the removal of an ethnic population from a place, usually done for the purposes of another ethnic group. Some ethnic groups are simply convinced that they will never live in peace with others. They are unwilling to pack and move themselves, and, given the power, it is all too often too tempting to evict their rivals instead. It is hard to contest the notion that many of the peoples of the Balkans are not mature enough to share a land with another people. Better they should not think of themselves as distinct peoples in the first place. But they do, and peoples are typically nationalistic, and nationalists usually want a land “of their own”.

The existence of the word ‘balkanize’ is a reminder of the fact that the peoples of the Balkans do not have lands “of their own”. Historical developments have forced them to live intermingled, on occasion with peoples who are their historical enemies. Serbia and Albania are not, to my knowledge, such historical enemies. But there exists a territory which is in dispute between them. To Serbia it is the land of Kosovo Polje, a battlefield of mythical importance to its national identity. To Albania, it is Kosova, home to many of them, and to them predominantly, for many generations. A simple plebiscite would assign the country to Albania, to the nation if not necessarily the state. Serbia, which currently rules the province directly from Belgrade, will not have that. Its current enemy, the KLA, which is fighting for self-determination, has been exploiting the border between Kosovo and the state of Albania. The response of Serbia this week has been an ethnic cleansing of the border region. For the moment, it is a narrow strip, though for the many individuals displaced there has been suffering enough. The larger issue is whether the cleansing will stop there. The ultranationalists in Serbia would like nothing better than to rid Kosovo of its current population, and to settle it anew and for all time. They redrew the ethnographic map of Bosnia. They may fancy doing the same thing here. NATO is dithering, worrying more about keeping peace between its Aegean allies than preventing another humanitarian disaster at the hands of Slobodan Milosevic. It may succeed in drawing a line around Serbia, and containing the war within, but it will abandon most of Kosovo to an ethnic purification, sooner or later.

1998 June 14

The latest report suggests that Serbia is mining the border between Kosovo and Albania. If true, it represents primarily a gruesome attack on civilians who are trying to escape from the fighting. And up to this point, it was possible to see Serbia’s aim as the relatively less malevolent ethnic cleansing.

That is, relative to mass murder. It is crucial to remember (though few persons do) that the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ was coined to represent a process that typically falls short of mass murder. The process is the removal of an ethnic group from a territory, to alter the demographic reality, to create a land that is “ethnically pure” or homogeneous. This usually means no more than forced relocation, and so differs from mass murder, as does genocide, which technically is an attack on a group’s existence. Genocide and ethnic cleansing can be accomplished by murder. They can also be accomplished by assimilation. In the case of ethnic cleansing, it has, in general and in the Balkans, been sufficient to make permanent refugees out of the members of the target people. It is true, though, that murder has been a primary tool for terrorizing the unwanted population into flight.

That, of course, is reprehensible. But it is, by the logic that obtains in the Balkans, comprehensible. The land disputes that exist are so deeply felt and divisive that there is a sense of desperation about their settlement. Clearly each nation is looking to settle the disputes permanently in its favor, and Kosovo may be the most serious case. The territory is dominated by the nation (not the state) of Albania. But Serbia is convinced of its historical claim on the land, particularly the battle site of Kosovo Polje, and seems unshakable. Serbia knows that it will never have undiputed control over this land while nine-tenths of its residents are Albanian. The only solution it sees is to remove those residents.

That is sinister enough. But if it simply wants the Kosovars to leave, it would not impede their departure. Mining the border areas, in the way that is being reported, would accomplish that much more than it would prevent insurgent infiltration from Albania. What is Serbia up to now? And how will its people live with themselves when they finally come to their senses?

1998 June 21

I have in the past been a supporter of Macedonia’s struggle against nationalist nonsense from a neighboring people ― in this case, Greece. But Macedonia is sending a person to prison for just such reasons. Alajdin Demiri, the Albanian mayor of Tetovo, has been sentenced to two years in prison for flying the flag of Albania, not Macedonia, outside the government building in Tetovo. It is virtually impossible to be sympathetic to a state capable of such obviously political persecution. The banner may have been an expression of nationalist sentiment (the town is largely Albanian) or it may have been an expression of separatist sentiment (as with Kosovo, the border regions of Macedonia with Albania would make natural additions to the state of Albania, due to their ethnic makeup). But either way, it was an expression, a peaceful expression, and nothing about it warrants a single day under house arrest, let alone two hard years. I understand that this state is defensive about its national symbols. Like me, apparently, it is at its worst when it is acting defensively.

1998 July 26

The severity of skirmishing in Orahovac and elsewhere has stimulated what passes for action in the international community. Efforts to end the violence in Kosovo are now at their highest point since the shelving of the NATO show of force. But the efforts are looking more like a desperate attempt to stifle an independent Kosovo. The Kosovo Liberation Army now controls two-fifths of the country, and the movement is growing and gaining in support beyond all expectations. The Albanian community, in Kosovo, in Albania, and worldwide is increasingly united behind the only method which will achieve their aim of separation from Serbia. Ibrahim Rugova is looking more like a concessionist, whether that is fair or not. Evidence of the massacre of non-combatants and the summary execution of military prisoners by Serbia is strong, and has pushed a crusade that was already waxing past a point of mass that may, in future retrospect, be known as critical. Serbia is not terribly democratic, and far from liberal, even for the Serb population. For the Albanian population, the situation is several decades in the past. And presiding over the situation is Slobodan Milosevic, known to all as the architect of the imperial renaissance of Serbia. The states of the world have a vested interest in preserving the legitimacy of the Serb state, since most or all of them have restive national minorities. But states are bizarre historical phenomena, and those individuals who can separate their beliefs from the established ideologies of their native states must recognize that this attempt to slam the door of secession is wrong in general, and blatantly wrong for Kosovo. There cannot even be a claim of consistency, since the refusal to condone secession by Serb Bosnia was only after international recognition of secession by Bosnia-Herzegovina from Yugoslavia. And certainly that wasn’t peaceful.

It has been some time since Yalta, the last great-power arbitration of the geopolitical situation in the world. In the meantime, the powers have been engaging in smaller decisions which have the same effect. For no apparent reason, some nations are granted self-determination and sovereign states, and some are not. It begins to look like nothing more than a display of control, that the great powers are merely demonstrating that they can do whatever they wish, for whatever reason, and whoever suffers in the display is too insignificant to stand in the way of the point being made. Can the United States and western Europe prevent an independent Kosovo or a greater Albania? Possibly, but possibly not; and if not, they will deserve every insurrection generated by the failure.

1998 August 2

Serbia is not Russia, and Slobodan Milosevic is not, for the moment, inclined to consider another defeat of a well-armed industrial Slavic empire by a ragtag muslim militia. He and the state he controls are conducting a grand offensive in Kosovo, retaking ground lost to the KLA, cutting off roads and supply lines, bombing villages, and driving countless refugees out of their native areas. He has called an end to the fighting, but those observers who claim he cannot be trusted to honor that statement are appropriately skeptical. His primary concern is his own hold on power; and while there is no price to be paid along those lines for an offensive in Kosovo, an offensive there will be. Serbia as a whole will be reluctant to grant self-determination to Kosovo; but Milosevic will be ferocious in the defense of his feudal holdings. The lack of autonomy gives great power to Belgrade, and Milosevic holds the power in Belgrade. The west is isolating the KLA, eliminating its bargaining power, thereby ensuring that any negotiated settlement will preserve the Serb control over Kosovo. How many international bankers and foreign-ministry bureaucrats would voluntarily submit to Milosevic? Perhaps I do not want to know.

1998 August 16

Slobodan Milosevic has conquered a village in Kosovo which he had promised to leave alone. The situation is looking dismal for the Kosovar cause, and they may be willing to bargain now; but how can they bargain with Milosevic?

1998 September 20

Fatos Nano, the Albanian premier, and Sali Berisha, opposition leader and former head of government, have taken their struggle for power to a new and worrisome level after the death of a prominent member of Berisha’s party. The parliament has gone as far as the revocation of Berisha’s parliamentary immunity, opening the way for his arrest. With street protests continuing, it is hard to see this as anything other than political, a way to silence the opposition short of another assassination. The Albanian people’s religion is not particularly relevant, but their poverty is, and they too have more urgent matters to address. It is natural for political power conflicts to arise from economic difficulties, and certainly from political difficulties, namely the Kosovo-Serbia war. But Nano and Berisha have made this personal. The Albanian democracy is young, and illiberal, and most definitely at risk. That fact must be considered as the world debates just how long to procrastinate on the subject of Kosovo.

1998 September 27

The muddle that is Serb politics has gotten no clearer this week. The results of elections in Serb Bosnia have given the ultranationalists both victories and defeats. Nikola Poplasen will assume the presidency in the Serb canton, but Momcilo Krajisnik will not retain the Serb seat on the collective presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The western powers officially rule out a protectorate, but they have effectively been practicing one. The west took every possible step to endorse and elect the supposed moderates ― campaigning with Biljana Plavsic, rigging a televised debate to focus on issues unfavorable to ultranationalists ― and has consistently denied the principal of self-determination, insisting instead on this multiethnic solution which is totally unworkable in the current state of animosity. The west has also ruled out partition, but only by instituting a protectorate will they be able to stop partition. The Serb population clearly wants partition. The Croatian population almost certainly wants it. The west may spin this mixed result as an endorsement of multiethnicity, but it can only prevent partition by leaving its militaries in place until Bosnia itself wants a unified state, and that is many decades away, longer still if a military occupation extends the resentment that all sides feel.

Meanwhile, Slobodan Milosevic is in the final stage of his war against the KLA, attacking its last stronghold. The UN Security Council has officially threatened consequences if he does not end the assault, and NATO is drawing up attack plans. By the time these bodies actually work up the nerve to act on this threat, the assault will indeed have ended ― in complete and utter victory for the ultranationists. Kosovo will be securely in the grip of Belgrade for another generation at least, and Serbia will be free to colonize the area and thus further cement its hold. And only when the nations of the world fade out and the nation-states voluntarily dissolve will the people of Kosovo finally know peace and freedom.

1998 September 27

Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Turkey have, with absolutely unprecedented cooperation, agreed to form a joint military force of three to four thousand troops. It will, as such, not be of much value in its designated roles, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid. But it does represent a change of heart for most of the states involved, and may bring them further together. Given the conflicts between Greece and Turkey, Greece and Macedonia, Macedonia and Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia, and their various permutations, such regional cooperation is virtually miraculous.

1998 October 11

NATO is still threatening air strikes against Serbia. A person can only suppose that the strikes are punitive at this point, because they cannot accomplish much. Retribution seems to be the only solution to atrocities that the community of states employs. The states take no other preventive action; and since the prospect of punishment seems not to deter these atrocities, a person can only suppose that the purpose of the punishment is to make the timid humanitarians of the world feel good about themselves. As with retribution for common crimes, the punishment does nothing for the true victims, for whom the damage has been done. How righteous is this? Why can we not act sooner?


Original version


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