The recent spike in violence and tension between Macedonian security forces and groups of ethnic Albanians is an ongoing product of western intervention and NATO bombing of the region in the 1990s, according to Balkan political analysts.
The issue of ethnic tension within Macedonia has gained global headlines after eight police officers and 14 others were killed during a two-day shootout between police and what the Macedonian government described as an armed paramilitary group of ethnic Albanians in the northern city of Kumanovo.
The incident is the latest and bloodiest in a string of clashes between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, who make up approximately 30 percent of the country’s population.
These deaths have once again raised fears of rising ethnic tensions and concerns that the country may be heading for another civil war, similar to one fought between Macedonian forces and Albanian paramilitary groups in 2001.
Fear of ‘Greater Albania’
Many analysts suggest that central to the conflict is the idea within Macedonia and other Balkan states that ethnic Albanian groups are aiming to create a ‘Greater Albania’ as part of expansionist ambitions.
Although Albanian officials have dismissed the concept, there has been a heightened concern of potential Albanian expansion, particularly after Prime Minister Edi Rama recently said the unification of his country and the former Serbian province of Kosovo — which has a majority Albanian population — was “inevitable.”
Political analyst Andrew Korybko told Sputnik that the mistrust and division between Albania and other states in the Balkans was exacerbated by the late 1990s US and UK-led intervention in the region.
He said that the West’s decision to take sides in the conflict and back Albanian groups has further destabilized the region and spurred on ethnic tensions.
“The important thing to understand here is that it [NATO intervention] showed outside support for Albanian separatism, and afterwards, all Albanians,” Korybko said.
Macedonia was purposely kept from the brink of disintegration
Korybko also says the decision to protect the Macedonian state during the conflict, and further negotiate a generous agreement for Albanian groups, following the 2001 Macedonian war, was a strategic move by the West, aimed at trying to increase their influence in the area.
“Macedonia was purposely kept from the brink of disintegration so that the ethnic explosion [of violence] could be externally activated at a future time if need be.”
Just why western powers would want to leave the option of ‘Greater Albania’ open and further destabilize countries in the Balkans is down to greater geopolitical games, analysts say.
The Global Energy Game
Dusan Prorokovic, an expert in Balkan affairs told Sputnik that the recent trouble in Macedonia has been stirred up to try and prevent the creation of the proposed ‘Turkish stream’ project, which plans to transport Russian gas to Europe via Turkey and the Balkans.
“The concept of Greater Albania is once again relevant but it won’t see any progress without the help of the North Atlantic bloc. I think why all of that happened is more linked to the ‘Turkish stream’ and the defeat of the US in Ukraine, than to local Albanian interests.”
Andrew Korybko agrees, saying: “Greater Albania is a geopolitical tool to be deployed in stopping not only Russia’s Balkan Stream pipeline [northern extension of the Turkish stream] but also China’s Balkan Silk Road.”
Violence in Macedonia could spill over into Kosovo
The violence in Macedonia could spill over into Kosovo-Metohija, especially as individuals from Kosovo-Metohija are involved in the clashes there, Serbian and ethnic Albanian analysts in Kosovo-Metohija have warned.
Analyst Zivojin Rakocevic told Tanjug Monday that Kosovo-Metohija has essentially been destabilised, with chaos just spilling over into the surrounding systems which, basically, only formally exist for ethnic Albanians.
“Most ethnic Albanians in Macedonia do not recognise Macedonia, most ethnic Albanians in the south of central Serbia do not recognise Serbia, and most ethnic Albanians in Montenegro do not see the Montenegrin system as a part of their system,” he said.
It is no surprise that ethnic Albanians from Kosovo are involved in the clashes in Macedonia because practically no borders exist for them, Rakocevic said.
Analyst Nedzmedin Spahiu told Tanjug that, after Macedonia, Kosovo could be the next to be destabilised, which is not in the interest of the citizens.
“Things that are going on at your neighbour’s are something you can also expect to see in your own house, especially because some of the protagonists of the events there are from Kosovo,” Spahiu warned, noting that the situation in Kosovo-Metohija is very fragile.
Dangers of violence overflowing
Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Branimir Stojanovic warned on Tuesday against the danger of violence overflowing in the Balkans, noting that everything should be done to stabilise the situation in Macedonia.
In an interview for Tanjug, Stojanovic said that there is always a danger of violence overflowing in the Balkans and that the past has shown that borders do not mean anything in such events.
It is important for the situation in Macedonia to calm down as soon as possible and for all bodies in charge of security to be hired, Stojanovic said.
He underscored that it is especially important for the international bodies to be alert and pay attention to everything that should jeopardise the safety of Serbs in Kosovo-Metohija.