Fear of another Balkan War Spring

An atmosphere of war is gradually spreading, and in the daily press information have already appeared that the citizens have started to pile up stocks of flour, sugar, salt and canned food. They say this is the best indication that something is happening, but let us hope that the people are wrong and that the signals are not what they are.


SUN, 05 MAR 2000

Skopje, 1 March, 2000 - "Will there be another war?" "Eve of a new war in the Balkans", "New tide of refugees in Macedonia", "A new war or continuation of the old one", these are just some of the titles published in the past week in Macedonian press. Fear of new instability is spreading quickly like a forest fire among the population of Macedonia, the country which has in the past five years lived through five wars and unrest in its immediate or almost immediate neighbourhood, fortunately without having participated in any of them.

Journalists and military analysts are closely following every piece of news referring to NATO, Yugoslav army, developments in the south of Serbia, political processes in Montenegro and statements of politicians about this region. Here and there, one might even say slightly like paranoids, media have started to find new refugees who had arrived to bordering villages, but verification proved that this is not at all true. For instance, even the highly professional A-1 Television station carried information that about twenty ethnic Albanian refugees had arrived form the south of Serbia. It later turned out that ninety per cent of the population of the village of Mirkovci were the Serbs, so that the arrival of ethnic Albanians into such an environment was hardly possible. Oil is being added to the fire of war atmosphere by rash statements, for example, of the minister of labour and social policy Bedredin Ibraimi, who said that preparations were being made for new refugees. UNHCR, more precisely, head of its mission for Macedonia, Amin Avad, denied rumours that High Commissioner for Refugees was also making urgent preparations for the arrival of new refugees. He said that UNHCR had to be ready at all times, but that no special preparations were being made at the moment. "We do not expect new refugees", declared Avad.

Great fear resulted from the information that the Army of Yugoslavia was accumulating forces in the south of Serbia, in municipalities of Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja. As a response to these information, Macedonian army put its Kumanovo corps in the north of Macedonia on the alert, which according to the spokesman of defence ministry, Djordjije Trendafilov, means reinforced patrols and intensified duties in this corps. Although, as news agencies informed, president of Macedonia Boris Trajkovki declared during his visits to Poland and Estonia, that the corps was put on the alert, having returned to the country, he curiously denied his own statement and said that it actually had not been put on the alert but that this was its unchanged status since the latest crisis in Kosovo.

In any case, what causes concerns of ordinary citizens are the intensified visits of foreign diplomats and officers in the Balkans, which is a phenomenon deja vu before the beginning of the war in Kosovo and which is experienced as a premonition of new disturbances. Last week, for instance, the visit of NATO secretary general Robertson to Macedonia, then to Albania and finally to Greece, as well as the visit of NATO commander for Europe, Wesley Clark, who for the first time met Arben Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of the Albanians, were interpreted as a signal that something was happening. The public simply cannot believe that these are just purely protocol visits as it can be concluded on the basis of the official statements for the public.

But this is not all that raises tension among the population. Contrary to these practically uncorroborated fears of visits of diplomats and officers, there are certain true arguments in support of the hypothesis about a new conflict in the Balkans. This is primarily the situation in Kosovska Mitrovica and information about instability in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, as well as political uncertainty in Montenegro. Due to the fact that the Army of Yugoslavia is accumulating new troops in the south of Serbia, that Clark has declared that new NATO forces are needed in Kosovo, that American president Bill Clinton is sending two thousand policemen to Kosovo, that the French are ready to send additional forces, that at Bozaj border crossing between Albania and Montenegro there are tensions, that Slobodan Milosevic has appointed general Dragoljub Ojdanic to the post of the minister of defence and in this way consolidated control of the army, that he put the Second Army in Montenegro on the alert, that there are information about joint patrols of KFOR and the army of Macedonia along Macedonias border with Albania and Kosovo, that Albanian prime minister Ilir Meta declared that Albania was ready to receive refugees in the north of the country, one does get the impression that something is cooking. Indeed, all this put together does inevitably stir thoughts about new flaring up of the crisis in the Balkans.

The question that arises is whether there is real reason for fear and what would the consequences be for Macedonia in case of a new crisis. Almost everybody hurried to claim that a new crisis means a new tide of refugees. But in UNHCR they say that if one bothered to stop and think it is hardly possible that this will happen. Even if something happens it is expected that ethnic Albanians will flee from a possible centre of the conflict to Kosovo and Albania, and that the Serbs and the Montenegrins will seek shelter in their home country. This opinion is also considered valid by several military analysts we consulted. According to unofficial data, UNHCR has about 20 refugee camps in Kosovo, and they say that camps in Northern Albania used during the war in Kosovo can in case of need quickly be reactivated and rendered usable in a new crisis. In fact, it is expected that an insignificant number of refugees will come to Macedonia and that they will seek refuge with their relatives. President Trajkovski declared at his latest press conference that Macedonia would in any case be better prepared for refugees than during the latest exodus of refugees.

Some of the analysts in Macedonian press gave real reasons for concern. A new crisis, it is believed, will be an insurmountable barrier for realisation of the Stability Pact, especially when speaking about economic projects which are mostly, at least those Macedonia has applied with, of international and regional nature. More precisely, they should be realised in cooperation with Albania and Bulgaria. After all, this is not important. It is important that the Pact cannot be realised in conditions which imply war operations, parties in conflict, political crisis in the Balkans, a new crisis in interstate relations, confrontations on ethnic grounds in Macedonia due to delicate and latent misunderstandings between the Albanians and the Macedonians, economic stagnation, transportation problems and everything that a crisis implies. Indeed, all hopes of economic consolidation of Macedonia are invested in the Stability Pact, as well as of the rise of the standard of living of the population and any step forward after years of recession.

Except for the Pact, in case of a crisis, the agreement on stabilisation and association Macedonia is expecting to sign with the European Union would also be questioned, because the same already mentioned factors would affect the negotiations. The atmosphere of war is gradually spreading and information have already appeared in the daily press that the citizens have started piling up stocks of flour, sugar, salt and canned food. They say that this is the best indication that something is happening, but let us hope that the people are wrong and that the signals do not mean what they really are.

Original article