Release Date: March 23, 1998
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Facing "The Albanian Problem"

by Eric Margolis

Serbia has resumed ethnic cleansing. This time, the target of Belgrade's neo-nazis is Kosova, the over 90% ethnic Albanian region in southern Serbia.

So far, 100 Albanian men, women and children have been massacred by Serb paramilitary police. Thousands more Albanians have fled their villages into the freezing hills, as Serb soldiers, death squads and skinheads descend on Kosova's defenseless civilians.

This is how Serbs began genocide in Croatia and Bosnia. Once again, the west merely slaps the wrists of the murderous regime of Slobodan Milosevic. As serial-cleanser Milosevic renews threats to drive 2 million Albanians from Kosova, NATO urges `moderation' and `compromise.' NATO made similar pleas to Bosnian Muslims in 1991-93, as they were being murdered by Serb death squads.

As in 1991, the west's message is: `Don't make trouble. Don't threaten the status quo.' Then, the west labored to preserve disintegrating Yugoslavia. Today, NATO is doing the same with Serbia-Montenegro (which still calls itself Yugoslavia). Albanians are being urged to accept a return to token autonomy under Serb rule so as not to rock the Balkan boat.

This policy is totally wrong, and doomed to failure. The old status quo is dead. The third act of the great Balkan drama - the struggle to reunify the divided Albanian people - has begun.

Yugoslavia, a political Frankenstein, was created by the victorious Allies after World War I to reward Serbia, and uproot German influence from the Balkans. The Allies forced Croats, Serbs and Muslims into one unworkable nation, and handed over wholly Albanian regions to the new Yugoslavia.

Albanians are direct descendants of ancient Illyrians, a Germanic people, the original inhabitants of the Balkans. Albanians were gradually pushed into the Dinaric Alpine highlands by waves of Slavic Serb invaders in the 6th Century AD. The Albanians, or Shqiptars, are non-Slavs, and mainly Muslim or Catholic. Albanian and Basque are Europe's two oldest spoken languages.

Today, 6.8 million Albanians are divided between Albania (3.7 m), Kosova (2.1 mil +), and Macedonia (about 1 million). Kosova Albanians, or Kosovars, increasingly reject their moderate leader, Ibrahim Rugova's policy of passive resistance. Enflamed by Serb massacres, Kosovars increasingly demand full independence from Serbia and back the underground Kosova liberation Army. . Many want to unite with fellow Shqiptars of Albania and Macedonia. Since the west allowed Croats and Serbs ethnic states, why not Albanians, who cite the UN charter's right of self-determination.

Serbs claim Kosova is their holy soil, violently rejecting independence or even real autonomy for Albanians. Serbs historically see themselves as masters of the south Balkans. If Kosova and the neighboring Muslim region of Sanjak secede, and perhaps later joined Albania, shrunken Serbia would only barely outnumber the hated Albanians or Croats. Freedom for Kosova might trigger serious unrest among 400,000 restive ethnic Hungarians of Serb-ruled Vojvodina, another evil legacy of World War I.

Europe and the US fear an explosion in Kosova could drive large numbers of Albanian refugees south into Macedonia, destabilizing that extremely fragile state of 2.3 million, 33% of them Albanians. Or, Macedonian Albanians may revolt, and demand union with Kosova or Albania, provoking civil war with Slav Macedonians. Either event could quickly draw Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey into the conflict. This is a very real threat.

Albanians have the highest birth rate in Europe. Their numbers are surging, while their Slav neighbors are declining in population. Lasting Balkan stability is impossible until the `Albanian problem' is resolved. It must be faced head on.

This means redrawing the current map of the Balkans. Separate states for Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes was the first positive step. The next is independence for Kosova. Compel Serbia, by means of an airtight blockade, and threats of attack against its military forces and industry, to grant full independence to 2.1 million Kosovars. There are less than 180,000 Serbs in Kosova. Many, feeling threatened by Albanians, are fleeing. Soon, the only Serbs left in Kosova will be soldiers, police and death squads.

Second, stabilize Albania. The west, led by Italy, foolishly helped Albania's old, Stalinist communists, now disguised as `social democrats,' to regain control of 60% of Albania. The north is run as an independent Gheg tribal fief by former president, Sali Berisha. Albania subsists on foreign aid. Its military has disintegrated. The west must stop funding the communist regime, and kick it out. The Albanian army must be rebuilt. Meanwhile, a standing NATO occupation force needs to police Albania - which is today a catastrophic, self-created mess - and even worse off economically than Serb-ruled Kosova.

Third, greatly increase NATO forces in Macedonia - not, as is now the case, to interdict arms flow to Kosovars, but to prevent civil war. Hold a referendum. If unhappy Albanians want to leave Macedonia, let them - but peacefully, under NATO supervision. What's left of Macedonia can remain as a tiny state, or revert, under NATO policing, to Bulgaria and Greece.

History teaches it's madness to force antagonistic peoples to live together. Serbs, and Macedonian Slavs, are far better off without rebellious Albanians. It's time to end the 20th century's Balkan disasters by a fair and permanent divorce of its mutually unloving peoples.

[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]

Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
back button