The Issue of Macedonia or a Never-Ending Fight Over the Balkans

In the context of the crisis caused by the virus the North Macedonia’s joining NATO remained somewhat unnoticed. However, it is interesting in a geopolitical point of view in many aspects. Whatever school textbooks write we h…

In the context of the crisis caused by the virus the North Macedonia’s joining NATO remained somewhat unnoticed. However, it is interesting in a geopolitical point of view in many aspects. Whatever school textbooks write we have to admit that Balkan Peninsula has become a part of the North Atlantic region. This is something new. 
Lovers of history will remind that so-called issue of Macedonia has always been an unsolved problem of the region. At the beginning of the twentieth century the mentioned issue became excuse for the First Balkan War and some kind of a prelude to the First World War. For the last three decades they have failed to agree about… the name of the country.   
Is membership of the North Macedonia in NATO final and irrevocable?  Is it another temporary scheme?  
Balkans have been the arena of geopolitical battle for several hundred years – there Rome and Byzantine Empire had their strategic interests, later – Ottomans and Habsburgs and Russia, of course.
The enduring outcomes of splitting the Roman Empire is the opposition between the Western and Eastern Christianity – between Catholics and Orthodox. Thanks to Balkans Ottomans, who gained European identity, in turn left the European Islam there that became the symbol of ethnic nationality of Albans and Bosnians. Russia that was seeking access to the ‘southern’ seas by all means saw its chance particularly in this region. Austro-Hungary wanted plans of Russia to fail and the rest of the world simply did not understand the tangle of Balkan Peninsula. Balkans were as if some kind of Europe but not actually Europe and never-ending conflicts there did not surprised anybody.     
When integration of Europe and Euro-Atlantic started, Balkans found themselves in a special position again. After World War II the Western community saw obvious attempts of the Soviet Union to stretch ‘the hand of influence’ to Europe as far as possible. One of the ways to expand its influence was an attempt to reach the Mediterranean Sea in one way or other. The attempt to close the Bosporus from Russians was successful ,by including Turkey into the Northern Atlantic. In Balkans they managed to stop them at the northern border with Greece, rescuing this country from attempts of the USSR to make Greece its satellite. Yugoslavia remained in the status of a delicate balance; it has not become the West, however it has not become a humble executor of political objectives of the Soviet state. Thus, the Soviet state has not reached the Mediterranean Sea.
After the cold war was over some people thought that opposition between the East and West would disappear forever.  However, this did not happen. Republics of the former Yugoslavia that found themselves in the ‘grey zone’ not only got into quarrels with each other and national wars, but also had to make up geopolitical decisions between a glamorous, however hardly achievable dream to become the West and attempts of Russia to make them closer to Moscow.    
Why hasn’t the West succeeded with them? 
The West has actually believed in the end of the story. Believed that there was no need to hurry and that free people would finally choose the liberal democracy of the Western type. Then after they made up their mind quietly and peacefully, they would become technically and awfully ready and become a part of the Euro-Atlantic community same as the Baltic States.   
The end of the story has not happened. National and religious factors, relation with a historical tradition that dates one hundred years back, have turned out to be very important issues. Actually, the West did not need Balkans so much, either. The West did not rush and let the region that now we call Balkans not quite right, to make their decision in a quiet and consistent manner for making the reforms and waiting for the invitation to the ‘club of gentlemen’. The nations found that the issues of nationalism and religion were more important. Thus… the process took a long time. 
Why hasn’t the East succeeded with them?
Russia is not a super state as much as it wanted to be; its economical power and international prestige are reducing and belief in abilities of Russia just melt like ice. Russia has been acting and still acts very roughly, straightforwardly and unpopular. The ideology of protection of Pan-Slavism and Orthodoxy may seem nice and attract attention of the public to some extent, however when people want not to believe in hole but live better, their eyes are directed towards the West. Former and new business relations of the USSR and Russia are operating; however they are not so popular in public. Russia’s blackmail with supply of oil and gas might be important in the economical point of view, however it is considered by people as blackmail but not as friendship. The card of Russia is taken when local choices have to be motivated in one way or other or frighten the Brussels; however there is not much desire to depend on Moscow in a geopolitical point of view. 
The influence of Russia is still big; however it is not essential any longer. Russia still has much influence on Serbia, however it more opposes Serbia with Europe than brings together because of its influence. Russia is necessary for Serbia as an alternative when it has to reply to rollicking of the Brussels, but not like a timeless friend. The same situation is with the Serbs in Bosnia, who take out the club of Russia when they are criticized for separatism. In Montenegro Russians overreacted and they have not ‘conquered the current North Macedonia (also Albania and Kosovo). As much as we can talk about trickiness of Russian politicians and diplomats and other qualification qualities, Russia is losing in Balkans: Bulgarians are getting rid of Russian spies, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia are becoming the states of NATO, however not so easily, but they are going towards  the European Union. Russians are left with hardly forecasted Bosnia Serb Republic and Serbia itself, which is not so much obedient any longer.
It seems that Euro-Atlantic integration recalled that geography in security matters is more important than economy or rights of some atypical behaviour minorities. If somebody says that Balkans are able to arrange everything with an ‘iron fist”, the fist of the North Atlantic is more reliable than a claw of the bear from the East.    
However, the story has no end. The battle over Balkans is still going on. 
Not only Russia takes part in it. The factor of Islam has remained in the former Yugoslavia. It is important in the frontline of Bosnia and Serbia-Yugoslavia. Albanians, Muslims of Europe are big fans of the USA but not of Russians, thus here the game is also not in favour of Russia. However, we do not know whether in favour of Western Europe, either. The future will show…     
According to the ‘idle’ scenario of the EU, countries such as Serbia and Montenegro had to expect the membership around year 2025. Maybe North Macedonia and Albania will adjoin them. However, this plan has not provided for any pandemic. The plan has not provided for what influence wars could have in the Middle East and flows of refugees. Pandemic is the ‘black swan’ of the history – it may change everything to God knows whose favour. And not only in Balkans. The ‘idle’ scenario can be (and it seems, it has to) be replaced with a fast political (geopolitical?) decision.     
What is the future of Russia? It will depend mostly on the internal situation on Russia. Geopolitical specialists and experts of macro economy anticipate a rather pessimistic scenario to this country. Thus, Russia might not need the Western Balkan project. 
Does it mean that the Balkan nations that are left to determine the course of their own destiny will solve it without Europe, Russia or Turkey?  So far they used to ‘make’ more history and more problems they used to cope with. They used to fight more wars than they used to be restricted by some peace treaties.
Not the other way round.
Egidijus Vareikis

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