Macedonia Incensed by Congressman’s Comments

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

On February 9, U.S. House Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, shocked observers in the United States and abroad when he stated that Macedonia should be partitioned to solve ethnic tensions. According to Foreign Policy, Rohrabacher stated in an interview with an Albanian TV station that the Albanians living in Macedonia should join Kosovo and that the rest of country should “be part of Bulgaria or any other country to which they are related.”

According to Bulgarian newspaper Novinite, Rohrabacher preceded these comments by stating that “Macedonia is not a country,” and also pointed to the separation of Czechoslovakia into two states as a model to ease tensions in the Balkans.

However, Rohrabacher’s proposal for a partition of Macedonia may only be one part of a plan to reshape the Balkans. Balkan Insight reports that Rohrabacher’s comments on Macedonia come only a few days after he mailed a letter to Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic urging him to trade the majority-Albanian parts of southern Serbia for the Serbian parts of northern Kosovo, though B92 reports that President Nikolic denies ever receiving or reading Rohrabacher’s letter.

RT reports that the Macedonian government quickly condemned Rohrabacher’s proposal, releasing a statement saying that Rohrabacher’s views “generated immense anxiety regarding Macedonia and the region” and “inflame nationalist rhetoric in the neighboring regions, taking us back into the past.”

Rohrabacher’s comments have brought new attention to long simmering tensions in the Balkans. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic rejected Rohrabacher’s proposal, affirming the Serbian government’s position that all of Kosovo belongs to Serbia. Vucic also accused Rohrabacher of being influenced by an “Albanian lobby” to make these comments.

In Bulgaria, where the history Bulgarian-Macedonian relations is a controversial issue, the government has yet to make an official statement. While Bulgaria was the first country to recognize Macedonia’s independence from Yugoslavia, the government also refuses to acknowledge the Macedonian language and ethnicity as separate from Bulgaria’s.

Even the U.S. Department of State distanced itself from Rohrabacher’s comments, stating that “we recognize and support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Macedonia.”

Rohrabacher is not the only person calling for a land exchange to stabilize Balkan relations. Sir Ivor Roberts, a former UK ambassador to Serbia, similarly argued that a swap of ethnic areas between Serbia and Kosovo may be the only way to prevent further violence in the region.

However, the European Union will oppose land exchanges based purely on ethnicity. As Serbia and Macedonia are both currently candidate countries for entry into the EU, they are likely to avoid any action that would jeopardize negotiations, even if they are interested in the land exchange.

It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will define its position on the Balkans. Rohrabacher claimed during the interview that he would hold committee hearings “in the coming months” on the issue of the Balkans.