MEDFORD, MASS. — The Clinton administration had a two-word explanation for former Yugoslavia's woes: Slobodan Milosevic. Under this view, one man was so powerful that he alone transformed a peaceful, multiethnic federation of 25 million people into a land of strife. Now, even though Mr. Milosevic is gone, one of the former Yugoslav republics, Macedonia, is embroiled in ethnic conflict.
This flareup shows that the West's view of the civil wars in former Yugoslavia - first in Croatia, then in Bosnia, Kosovo, Presevo, and now Macedonia - was shortsighted, if not irresponsible.
Milosevic was only part of the puzzle. Extreme nationalism was unleashed by the cold war's end and fed by economic hardship, historical grievances, and ethnic leaders. Milosevic's rhetoric was more than matched by his peers', including the late Croat president, Franjo Tudjman, who once exclaimed, "Thank God, my wife is neither a Serb nor a Jew."
This rampant nationalism now poses a dilemma for the Bush administration and the NATO-led peacekeepers guarding Kosovo. Two years ago, the US and NATO tried to justify their intervention on humanitarian grounds - namely, to counter Milosevic's efforts to crush an independence movement led by ethnic Albanians.
At the time, Washington and its NATO allies made a pragmatic decision to form an alliance with Albanian militants in Kosovo. Funds, weapons, and training were covertly given to an extreme separatist group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army. The KLA's goal was to consolidate ethnic Albanians in the region into one state, a Greater Albania.
To serve the short-term interest of defeating Milosevic, Albanians in Kosovo were only acknowledged as victims (which they were), but not as perpetrators of crime. The West's apparent sanctification of Albanian crime may have contributed to further escalation of Albanian extremism in the region.
Tragically, when the NATO-led peacekeepers entered Kosovo in June 1999, many Kosovo Albanians, led by the KLA, engaged in reverse ethnic cleansing. Several hundred thousand Kosovo minorities - including Serbs, Roma, Turks, Muslims, and Gorani - fled the province. Thousands were tortured, abducted, or murdered. To date, more than 100 Serbian Orthodox churches have been destroyed.
As NATO's promise of a peaceful, multiethnic Kosovo appears to have been shattered, so has its goal of preserving regional stability. Last November, the Albanian rebels escalated their actions in Serbia's Presevo Valley. While Albanians from the region have done most of the fighting, Kosovo Albanians have provided weaponry and other support.
The conflict in Macedonia follows a similar pattern, as acknowledged by the moderate Kosovo Albanian politician and newspaper editor Veton Surroi. "I do not think there is any doubt that Kosovo is serving as a logistics base," he said recently at Harvard University. In Macedonia, the so-called National Liberation Army of Macedonia is waging violence against the elected government, hoping to bring about secession, a goal the Kosovo Liberation Army has almost realized in Kosovo.
Indeed, the KLA was never disarmed in Kosovo. Instead, while the UN was nominally in charge of Kosovo, the KLA was transformed into the regular police force, with its leader, Hashim Thaci, appointed head of Kosovo's provisional government. Washington and NATO's unholy alliance with the KLA has come back to haunt them. Albanian extremists in Presevo and Macedonia are following the sinister lesson of Kosovo, hoping to create a political change through violence.
The Kosovo Albanian nationalists are fully supporting, if not instigating, this violence. They are disappointed by the international community's recent move away from promoting an independent Kosovo, a result of heinous Albanian crimes against Kosovo's other ethnic groups since June 1999 and a democratic change in the Serbian leadership this past October.
The war in Macedonia, a state previously hailed as a success case of so-called preventive diplomacy, illustrates the might of extreme nationalism that tore apart the former Yugoslavia. It also signals the failure of a one-sided international intervention.
To its credit, the Bush administration has condemned the violence in Macedonia. But it must also demand the prosecution of Kosovo Albanians who had committed crimes against Kosovo minorities and aid the return of the non-Albanian refugees to Kosovo. The European Union's decision on Monday to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Macedonia is a good example of how economic incentives can help resolve conflict.
The Clinton policy was often naive and counterproductive. The Bush team has an opportunity to establish a more effective, consistent policy for the Balkans - one that would resolve conflicts instead of inflaming them.
Ana S. Trbovich, who comes from Serbia, is a doctoral student at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a master's candidate at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor