Eastern Frontiers

One of the many erroneous beliefs held by Imperial policymakers and their supporters is that history can end – and on their terms, no less. Back in August, German FM Guido Westerwelle told Belgrade that, “The map of southeastern Europe has been laid down and completed.”

Events of the past few weeks suggest that Empire’s allies in the Balkans never got Westerwelle’s memo.

Albania, Naturally

Last month saw the foundation of the “List for Natural Albania,” a pan-Albanian political movement helmed by former government adviser Koco Danaj. According to reports, the founding ceremony was attended by Albanian politicians from Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece, and southeastern Serbia – all territories that Danaj’s “Natural Albania” aspires to include. Danaj announced that the List would take part in elections in “all Albanian lands,” and expressed hopes that a “natural Albania” would be established by 2013 – exactly a century after the Treaty of London established the modern Albanian state.

The idea of gathering all Albanians into one polity is nothing new. It was pioneered by the League of Prizren in 1878 (albeit within the Ottoman Empire), and put into practice in 1945-45, under German and Italian sponsorship. For years, the Albanian-American Civic League featured a map of “natural Albania” in its masthead, as did many other organizations supporting “Independent Kosova” and the KLA.

NATO’s 1999 occupation of Kosovo on behalf of the KLA enabled subsequent Albanian insurrections in Macedonia and southern Serbia, which were suspended only after major concessions were extorted from both Skopje and Belgrade. Danaj has talked about the “natural Albania” since 2006, but that agenda become practically possible only after the provisional Albanian government of occupied Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 – and was recognized by Empire and its allies.

Though it runs counter to Empire’s official agenda, it is unlikely that Danaj’s initiative will face criticism or censure in Washington or Brussels. The Empire has dismissed for years the warnings of Greater Albania as nothing more than “Greater Serbian propaganda.” They also claimed, back in 1999, that NATO’s occupation of Kosovo didn’t mean the province’s separation from Serbia.  Obviously, the Albanians seem to be an exception to whatever standards the Empire decides to demand from others.

One thing to note, however, is that Danaj’s support is much greater outside Albania proper; though he founded his party in Tirana, the political center of his future state – if it ever arises – would more likely be in Pristina.

Trashing Trianon

Hungary never reconciled with the provisions of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which defined its modern borders. As part of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy, Budapest laid claim to half of today’s Croatia, northern Serbia, parts of Slovakia and Romania (e.g. Transylvania). To reclaim at least some of those territories, Admiral Horthy’s regime allied with Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Today’s Hungarian government is allied with Brussels and Washington.

Earlier this year, Budapest passed a controversial citizenship law, extending citizenship rights to ethnic Hungarians anywhere. This has caused  much friction with Slovakia and Romania, who are also EU and NATO members. Now there is word that even non-Hungarians living in “traditional Hungarian territories” may qualify for citizenship as well. This is raising havoc in Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina, already plagued by separatism.

Negating Neuilly

Not to be left behind, Bulgaria is also demanding border revisions. November 27 was the anniversary of the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine. Last year, a fringe Bulgarian political party (VMRO-BND) demanded the return of the territory ceded by that treaty to Serbia. This year, a major political party seized upon the issue. Ataka (“attack”), a self-confessed nationalist organization allied with the current government, organized demonstrations last weekend in eastern Serbia, and howled in protest when Serbian authorities stopped its MPs on the border.

The territories in question were ceded following the Great War, in which Bulgaria allied with the Central Powers and assisted in the Austrian and German crushing of Serbia in 1915. Parts of Serbia were under Bulgarian occupation 1915-1918, and again between 1941-45.

Chasing Moldavia

Romania is not without territorial aspirations, either. Bucharest sees the neighboring Moldova – once a province of Czarist Russia and part of Romania 1919-1940 – as a natural extension of the Romanian state. In a recent newspaper editorial, Romanian president Traian Basescu envisioned Moldova as part of Romania by 2035. However, some Moldovans claim a separate identity, and the ethnic Russians in the region of Transnistria reject both Bucharest and Chisinau.

Interests Eternal and Perpetual

To make the list complete, one should also note that the current Turkish government declared Turkey the “motherland” of all Balkans Muslims –  an announcement greeted with enthusiasm in Muslim-dominated parts of Bosnia and western Serbia.

Obviously, Empire’s notion of finalizing the Balkans map is not shared by its clients in the region. Instead, they seek to capitalize on their favored status to achieve their interests. This is precisely what happened in the 1940s, when Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania became allies of Hitler’s Germany. To borrow a phrase from Lord Palmerston, these interests are “eternal and perpetual.”

There are several things worth noting in this bleak political landscape. First of all, territorial aspirations are made against countries that are weak. Hungary is not demanding half of today’s Croatia, because Zagreb has strong German and Austrian support. Instead, it is going after Serbia, whom anyone can seemingly dismember with impunity these days. Bulgaria is doing the same – demanding territory from Serbia, but not from Greece. In Romania’s case, it is leveraging its position in EU and NATO against the weak and poor Moldova.

Only the Albanians are directly challenging other Imperial protectorates – Macedonia, Montenegro, and even Greece – in addition to demanding more territory from Serbia. This is probably due to their perception as the most favored Imperial client in the region, allowed to get away with almost anything.

History as Warning

For the past 20 years, the Empire has blamed all the ills in the Balkans on the “evil” regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. Yet the Albanian claims go back to 1878, almost a century before Milosevic appeared on the Serbian political scene. Nor does Milosevic have anything to do with desires to restore the Ottoman Empire, Greater Hungary, “Romania Mare” or Greater Bulgaria.

Throughout the 19th century, but most notably between 1876 and 1914, major European powers butted heads over the Balkans, going so far as to bolster the failing Ottoman Empire rather than allowing Balkans peoples who might favor another power to win their freedom. The undisputed master of this game was Germany’s first chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who was well aware of the dangers of meddling in the region. On two occasions, in 1876 and 1888, Bismarck argued:

“I am opposed to the notion of any sort of active participation of Germany in these matters, so long as I can see no reason to suppose that German interests are involved, no interests on behalf of which it is worth our risking – excuse my plain speaking – the healthy bones of one of our Pomeranian musketeers.”

Kaiser Wilhelm II ignored the warning and set off the Great War, which destroyed both him and most of Europe. In the 1990s, however, an envoy of the modern Empire cavalierly dismissed any historical considerations when dealing with the Balkans. Perhaps it is due to this hubris that the Empire now finds history not ending, but rather repeating itself – even as it is growing increasingly powerless to do anything about it.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.