UN Recognition Of Macedonia Is Key To Restraining Serbs

EUROPE and the United States would do well to follow up the United Nations General Assembly's expulsion of Serbia and Montenegro by recognizing Macedonia.

It is the only breakaway, independent Yugoslav republic the West has yet to recognize. Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been and are now seated in the UN.

Serb reactions to expulsion from the UN may well be to hasten what has been feared likely all year: Serbia could resume an effort to force Macedonia into its rump federation.

Any such move would surely provoke Macedonia's already restive 400,000 Albanians to revolt. This in turn would surely ignite an explosion in Serb-controlled Kosovo, where 90 percent of the population is Albanian. Then the whole Balkan region could be drawn into the conflict.

Macedonia's recognition has been blocked all year by Greece, which objects to the republic's calling itself Macedonia. Yugoslav Macedonians, the Greeks argue, are Slavs without cultural or historical background on which to claim the name.

The "Macedonian question" is a longstanding one which has kept classical scholars in the West as well as in Athens and Skopje, the capital of Yugoslav Macedonia, busy with debate for a century, for example, as to whether Alexander the Great (who died in 323 BC) was Greek.

The conservative, nationalist government in Athens is precarious and says if it yields on the issue of Macedonia, it will fall.

The government in Skopje has similar problems. It is a coalition of three parties - rightist, Social Democrat, and Albanian - each with strong nationalist feelings about Macedonia.

Apart from Albanians, most Macedonians are Muslim. Recent reports of Serb "ethnic cleansing" of Muslims in the Sendjak region in south Serbia immediately stirred their fears. Sendjak's Muslims have already experienced discrimination in education, jobs, and religious intolerance. Reportedly up to 10,000 Serb troops have been sent there. In Kosovo, worse repression has stiffened under an even greater Serb military presence.

Macedonia's president, Kiro Gligorov, says that to back down over the name is unthinkable. It would certainly cause his coalition to collapse. Most Western diplomats think Mr. Gligorov is worth helping with recognition. For many years he was a leading economic figure and identified with Yugoslavia's first major moves toward a market economy. The same diplomats acknowledge the moderation and calm good sense with which he has held the government together.

But rejection by the West and a steadily deteriorating economic situation in what has always been the poorest of the Yugoslav republics are not helping.

The Greeks claim that by calling itself Macedonia the republic implies territorial aspirations to northern Greek territory by the same name. Most EC members found it absurd to suggest that so small and weak a country, without an army, would attack a neighboring country with NATO behind it.

Yet under Greek pressure they withheld recognition, saying it would help "stabilize" the unsettled Balkan region. The opposite effect is more likely.

Gligorov points out that Macedonia has met all Western criteria for recognition of former communist states. A new constitution commits it to multiparty elections and a market economy. When the Greeks objected to recognition, a clause was added unequivocally disavowing territorial claims anywhere.

Recognition would give Macedonia access to sorely needed aid through Western financial institutions and bring it into the international security community.

These factors might offer a degree of protection sufficient at least to cause Belgrade to think twice before embarking on more "Greater Serbia" adventures.

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