Part 1: Bulgarian Intelligence operations in Western Europe during the 1990s….
DID BULGARIA PROVOKE WAR IN MACEDONIA?
by Sasha Uzunov
The Republic of Macedonia celebrated its 20th anniversary of independence on 8 September 2011. This year also marked a decade of the short-lived ethnic Albanian insurgency in that tiny Balkan state. Did neighbouring Bulgaria, for its own strategic ends, light the fuse to long standing tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians?
Is Bulgaria’s long term strategic goal in creating instability in Macedonia! That is making the new state non-viable and absorbed by a Greater Bulgaria, a century old aspiration of ultra Bulgarian nationalists?
The Balkans region of South-Eastern Europe has throughout history been a political powder keg. Not surprisingly, conspiracy theories have become the past time in many of the Balkan states. You will find crackpots blaming the CIA, Henry Kissinger, ex-KGB, the Vatican, Zionists, Islamic fundamentalists, the Freemasons for whatever misfortune occurs, including the current economic collapse in Greece and natural disasters such as earthquakes.
Macedonia managed to break away from the then crumbling Serb dominated Yugoslav federation in 1991 without bloodshed, unlike Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bulgaria, under its president Zhelyu Zhelev, was one of the first states to recognise Macedonia’s independence but not its language or ethnicity. Intellectual circles in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, regard Macedonians as misguided “Western Bulgarians” who need to be coaxed gently back into the fold. Bulgaria tried unsuccessfully with brutal force during two world wars to achieve this objective.
In 2001 an ethnic Albanian insurgency erupted in the western part of Macedonia and, fortunately, it was short lived. But its legacy engendered mistrust on both sides.
Before the conflict, there had been an awkward but peaceful co-existence between the Macedonians, predominately Orthodox Christian and comprising 70 to 75% of the population, and the Albanians, largely Sunni Muslim, and about 20% of the population. But with simmering ethnic tensions just below the surface, ready to bubble over.
Macedonian nationalists were alarmed at the high birth rate of the Albanians and their alleged unwillingness to assimilate and their support for a Greater Albania. Moreover, as Macedonia had never been independent for over a millennium, there was a fear of losing territory.
The Albanians on the other hand complained of being marginalised in public service jobs and education, and their basic rights denied.
Since its independence in 1991, ethnic Albanian parties have been a coalition partner in successive Macedonian governments in order to allay these fears. Under Yugoslav rule, the communists were hard on Macedonian nationalists or those with mild patriotic aspirations as well. Yugoslav intelligence (UDBa) spent years silencing dissent abroad with assassinations or scare tactics.
Into this volatile mix came the 1999 Kosovo War. Macedonia permitted NATO to operate on its territory to launch attacks and push the Serbs out of the region. Consequently, tiny impoverished Macedonia was swamped by thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees fleeing the war.
Two years later, a group calling itself the National Liberation Army launched an uprising in Western Macedonia claiming to be fighting for Albanian human rights. Initially, the West labelled this group as a terrorist or organised crime element but realising that it may have been aligned to the Kosovo Liberation Army, and a de-facto ally of NATO, changed its tune, according to Canadian journalist and award winning war reporter Scott Taylor. In other words, the KLA warriors were accused of going from freedom fighters against the Serbs to territorial expansionists in Western Macedonia.
So if Macedonia had opened its door to NATO and Western media scrutiny in 1999, then how was it that war, purporting to be fought for Albanian human rights, was permitted to erupt in 2001? Were both Albanians and Macedonians manipulated into a conflict?
Up until 1998, a United Nations peacekeeping force (UNPREDEP), including US troops, was deployed on Macedonia’s borders to stop aggression at the hands of Slobodan Milosevic in his quest for a Greater Serbia or weapons smuggling by Kosovo Albanian separatist.
UNPREDEP managed the job well. But for some crazy reason, Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Vasil Tupurkovski recognised Taiwan and all hell broke loose in the UN Security Council. Security Council permanent member the People’s Republic of China in an act of retaliation withdrew support for the UNPREDEP mission. Macedonia’s border now became a sieve: with criminal gangs or terrorists able to come and go.
But why did the Macedonian government at the time, headed by Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski of the nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE ignore the threat?
Edward Joseph in his in-depth study: MACEDONIA’S PUBLIC SECRET: HOW CORRUPTION, DRAGS THE COUNTRY DOWN, 14 August 2002, for the think tank, International Crisis Group, wrote:
“The see-no-evil posture of the Macedonian police allowed smuggling villages like Tanusevci (which lies on the border, 36 kilometers north of Skopje) to become, in effect, “free territories”. The village not only became the transit point for contraband, it also served as a recruiting and training base for Albanian radicals active in the nearby Presevo Valley of southern Serbia.”
However, Joseph dismisses the conspiracy theory, largely popular in Macedonia, that there was collusion between Georgievski’s VMRO-DPMNE and its coalition partner Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) to start a war in order to divide territory.
“Despite the evidence to the contrary, the notion that there was a “deal” to divide Macedonia persists. Even many of those who concede that the conflict was not the result of a grand conspiracy believe that the ruling parties colluded at least to manipulate public opinion during its course.”
However, in the footnotes he cites:
The notion of a VMRO – Albanian deal to divide the country dates back to the interwar period, and as well, the Fascist Bulgarian and Albanian period during World War II.
The 2001 Albanian insurgency was brought to a quick end and a deal known as the Ohrid Framework Agreement was signed by the Georgievski’s government, DPA and the Albanian insurgents under Ali Ahmeti’s command.
In what appears to be a case of sour grapes at Macedonia not being partitioned and with racist overtones, Georgievski called for a Berlin-style wall. But it was criticised by a leading expert:
“…a wall [to] be built if necessary to divide ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian populations accepts the possibility of considerable violence in realising the proposed territorial division. Even were such a division to occur without bloodshed, however, it would generate a new set of problems likely to further threaten the already tenuous stability of the region. On the one hand, cession to Albania of an artificially created ethnic Albanian enclave could upset the country’s (sub-)ethnic balance between Ghegs and Tosks.
“On the other hand, the loss of territory and population from the Republic of Macedonia would call into question the country’s existence not only for reasons of size, but also because such truncation could lead to clashes between serbophile and bulgarophile elements of the ethnic Macedonian population intent on union with neighbouring states already short on administrative capacity. Thus, while ethnic partition might promise to ethnic Albanian and ethnic Macedonian populations an escape from deadlock over the Framework Agreement, such an arrangement would pose a greater danger than does wrangling on implementation.”
(THE SPECTRE OF TERRITORIAL DIVISION AND THE OHRID AGREEMENT, by Eben Friedman, European Centre for Minority Issues, Brief # 9 July 2003).
Before we go any further or even dip back into history, we have to mention that Georgievski left VMRO- DPMNE, some say he was pushed out, to set up his own political party. He has taken to the Macedonian media with all sorts of controversial statements about Macedonian identity, allegations that his previous party was pro-Serbo-Yugoslav, the danger of Greater Albania, and calls for closer links to Bulgaria.
He told Milenko Nedelovski of Macedonian TV station Kanal 5 in 2009:
“In the Republic of Macedonia from 1945 and again from 1990, it’s no secret that to be considered a Macedonian patriot you had to spit on Bulgaria…”
On the allegation of Georgievski holding dual Macedonian and Bulgarian citizenship, the former Prime Minister mentioned his cabinet colleague at the time, the bombastic Ljube Boskovski having Croatian citizenship.
Nedelovski’s response: “the Croats don’t deny the existence of our [Macedonian] name, language, nation, church [as the Bulgarians do].”
Georgievski’s “Berlin War” solution is nothing new. However, the startling thing about it was back in the early 1990s, shadowy emigre groups in Western Europe with possible connections to Bulgarian intelligence were calling for the same solution !
In 1992 I had the good fortune of meeting Mr Goce Vidanovski, a long time Macedonian community leader and activist in Belgium. Vidanovski had spent decades trying to keep out Yugoslav and Bulgarian interference within his community. In doing so he lived with the possibility of being on the end of an assassin’s bullet.
Belgium, because of its small size and lax policing, was a hub for UDBa operations in the 1970s and 80s against emigre political opponents living in Western Europe. Zeljko Raznjatovic-Arkan, the Serb warlord began his career as a petty criminal and bank robber in Belgium before graduating to UDBa hit man.
Likewise, Macedonian groups and individuals with pro-Bulgarian affiliations were active in Belgium as well. Vidanovski introduced me to them. One such individual strongly believed that Macedonia’s salvation lay with the country being partitioned along the river Vardar, with the west going to Albania and the east linking up with “Mother Bulgaria.”
His reasoning was that Bulgaria needed a buffer zone against the Albanians. He also made the outrageous claim that the Bulgarian authorities had established camps for refugees fleeing from Macedonia into Bulgaria should war erupt. This individual was also free to travel to Bulgaria before and after the communist period in that country. A remarkable feat considering Bulgaria was one of the Soviet Union’s staunchest allies during the Cold War (1946-90) and kept a close watch on who entered or left the country.
As I began to examine closely Bulgarian intelligence operations in Western Europe, I received a number of threatening phone calls during my stay in Belgium…
Coming soon: PART 2 – Bulgarian Intelligence’s ferocious reputation.