The Macedonian Lottery

Every conflict has its economic moments and dimensions. The current conflict in Macedonia perhaps even more so.

The USA and its Western allies regard Macedonia as a bridge between Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania. Hence the EU's plans for the revival of transport corridors 8 and 10 connecting these countries. If all goes well (and nothing has hitherto), railways will connect Bulgaria to Macedonia and river traffic will flow to Serbia from its southern neighbours. All this is envisioned in the Stability Pact. There are talks of an oil pipeline across Macedonia's territory. A pacified Macedonia is fairly crucial to Serbia's recovery and to the prospects of the whole region to attract FDI.

NATO is afraid of Turkish-Greek clashes in the aftermath of Kosovo and Macedonia. Turkey has increasingly cast itself in its ancient role of "protector of the Balkan Muslims". Greece is the only Orthodox-Christian member of the EU and an old foe of the erstwhile Sick Man of Europe from which it won bloody independence at the beginning of the 19th century. Such clashes are likely to destabilize the southern flank of NATO and block the West's access to Iraq, the Middle East, oil-rich Central Asia, and northern China. This will seriously dent the new "Pacific Orientation" of the Bush Administration.

And what about the actual combatants?

Albanians and Macedonian crime gangs (in cahoots with kleptocratic and venal local politicians) regard Macedonia as a vital route for drugs, stolen cars, smuggled cigarettes and soft drinks, illegal immigrants, white slavery, and weapons dealing. These criminal activities far outweigh the GDP of all the adversary states combined. This conflict is about controlling territory and the economic benefits attendant to such control.

Crime and war provide employment, status, regular income, perks, and livelihood to many denizens of Macedonia, Albania, and Bulgaria. They constitute an outlet for entrepreneurship, however perverted. Fighting for the cause and smuggling often means travel abroad (for instance, on fund raising missions), five star accommodation, and a lavish lifestyle. It also translates into powers of patronage and excesses of self-enrichment.

Moreover, in ossified, socially stratified, ethnically polarized, and economically impoverished societies, war and crime engender social mobility. The likes of Hashim Thaci and Ali Ahmeti often start as rebels and end as part of the cosseted establishment. Many a criminal dabble in politics and business.

Hence the tenacity of both phenomena. Hence the bleak and pessimistic outlook for this region. The "formal" economies simply cannot compete. Jobs are not created, the educated are often bitterly idle, salaries are minuscule if paid at all, the future is past. Crime and politics (one and the same in the Balkan) are alluring alternatives.

Moreover, the NLA itself is not a monolithic entity. It is more like an umbrella organization with serious and fracturing differences of opinion regarding the ultimate goals the insurrection and the means to obtain these goals. Roughly, it is made up of one third veteran Kosovo fighters, some of them professional soldiers, who also fought in Croatia, or in the Foreign Legion. These people are bitter and disgruntled by what they see as the betrayal of the West in refusing to guarantee an independent Kosovo and the failure of the current Kosovar leadership to integrate them economically into the emerging polity there. Their motives are part emotional and part pecuniary. Another third is made of unemployed, young Albanians, mainly from Macedonia itself. Their fighting is self-interested. They get a monthly salary and perks and, lacking education and skills, they don't have much of a choice outside the killing fields. The rest are diehard, hardcore, idealists who either fervently espouse a Great Albania, or would like to take over Western Macedonian in a "constitutional coup" which will grant them their own police force, municipalities, institutions, universities, budgets, and semi-political structures. The NLA itself is not directly involved in criminal activities, though a few of its members are. But the money that finances it (from the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, and the USA) is tainted by drug dealing, white slavery, illegal immigration, and the smuggling of everything illicit, from cigarettes to stolen cars, to weapons. In this they collaborate with politicians and criminals in Macedonia - both Albanian and Macedonian.

Being a politician in the Balkan is an extremely lucrative proposition. Both Albanian and Macedonian politicians will abandon the peace process if they believe it leads to electoral ruin. Given the current atmosphere, it doesn't pay to be a pacifist. Virulent nationalism is a guaranteed vote winner. The re-election ticket requires xenophobia, ethnic exclusivity, and radicalism. Here lies the future.

About The Author

Sam Vaknin is the author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" and "After the Rain - How the West Lost the East". He is a columnist in "Central Europe Review", United Press International (UPI) and ebookweb.org and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope.com. Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

His web site: http://samvak.tripod.com

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