The Balkan Flip-Flopper

Albanian rebels in Macedonia signed a NATO-brokered ceasefire with the Macedonian Army last week. If the ceasefire holds, NATO is committed to sending in 3,000 troops to disarm the guerrillas. Whether that happens may depend on the mercurial personality of Macedonia's powerful prime minister, Ljubco Georgievski. In a recent interview with NEWSWEEK, the prime minister made clear that he is no fan of NATO's role in Macedonia. "This is the worst flirting by the international community with terrorist groups we have ever seen," he said. "NATO has been too mild with terrorists and Albanian extremists."

When the 35-year-old prime minister speaks, diplomats wince. Three years ago the poet and politico became the bright young hope of Macedonia's Western supporters after he took the bold step of forging a coalition between his own Slavic-dominated party and an Albanian political party. That brought him to power--the first salaried job of his life--and brought moderate Albanian leaders into the governing coalition. But Georgievski now fiercely criticizes his coalition partners. "The Albanian political parties have become the political wing of the terrorists," he said.

Georgievski himself has destabilized the situation from time to time. Twice in recent months he has threatened to declare a state of war, which would lead to the inevitable withdrawal of Albanian moderates from Macedonian politics. The prime minister blames the West for this. "We are witnessing a monster actually created by NATO," he said. "NATO intervention made Kosovo what it is... and these terrorists all come from Kosovo." Even the military success of the Albanian guerrillas, who have never lost a serious engagement with Macedonian forces, he blames on NATO. The rebels do well, he said, "because the international community pressured our Macedonian state institutions rather than... applying any pressure against terrorist groups."

When ethnic Slavs rioted two weeks ago in Skopje, overrunning Parliament and chasing President Boris Trajkovski from his office, Georgievski was quick to condemn the violence. But he was also quick to excuse it. The rioting was touched off by a NATO deal to end fighting in Aracinovo, a town uncomfortably close to the capital, he pointed out. "Ninety percent of Macedonians are convinced that NATO is in a kind of treaty with the Albanians to destroy the country and promote the ideal of a Greater Albania." Does Georgievski think so, too? "I personally do not believe it," he insisted, but adds, "Everyone is at the end of their patience."

That includes top NATO officials. Georgievski's people "are taking their country to war because of the lack of responsibility in leadership," said a NATO negotiator. "Georgievski has to stop saying they're only doing this because the international community is forcing them." Not to worry. The prime minister says Macedonians--by which he means the ethnic-Slav majority--are no longer listening to their political leaders. "Macedonian politicians have been losing their authority and all of their leaders have simply been sinking into helplessness," he said. It's easy to see why.