The U.S. government got a lesson in the pitfalls of manipulating Balkan politics on June 25. It persuaded the Albanian National Liberation Army to evacuate the village of Aracinovo, from which the Albanian rebels were in a position to shell the Macedonian capital of Skopje, the country’s main airport, and its only oil refinery.
The guerrillas would not agree to withdraw except under the protection of “international forces.” They left under the guard of U.S. troops. The Albanians were disarmed before being allowed in the buses but given their weapons back after the trip.
The Albanian National Liberation Army leaders have indicated that they will allow NATO troops to disarm their forces if the Macedonian Slav rulers agree to a political solution to the conflict that would meet their immediate demands-equality for the Albanian population within the Macedonian state.
However, once the imperialist negotiations had forced a retreat of the Albanian National Liberation Army, they were faced with a revolt by Macedonian nationalists, apparently led by auxiliary police and obscure paramilitary groups.
A crowd, including armed auxiliary police and paramilitaries, stormed the government building in Skopje.
The chant taken up, according to the June 26 issue of the Belgrade daily Politika, was “round up the damned Siptars [a derogatory name for Albanians] so that the Macedonian name will not disappear.”
The Slavic chauvinists had been convinced that the Macedonian army was on the verge of crushing the NLA in Aracinovo and that therefore NATO had saved the Albanian guerrillas. Their revolt took on a violently anti-American character.
The Macedonian government, however, has been claiming victory for months. Before the NLA captured Aracinovo and threatened to besiege Skopje, the government claimed its latest offensive had broken the back of the Albanian movement.
Following the NLA retreat from the suburbs of Skopje, it captured five Macedonian Slav villages in the western part of the country.
The Western powers know that the Macedonian government cannot defeat the Albanian uprising militarily, although they have provided heavy arms to the state army and Britain has reportedly sent experts in “counterinsurgency warfare” to help.
The imperialists are relying on their ability to bully the Albanians into making a deal, as they did in Kosovo. But Macedonian forces are sustained by Slavic chauvinism (fed by offers of military help from the rump Yugoslavia and Bulgaria). And that makes them ticklish bedfellows.