National Geographic : 1996 Mar
modular unit, in case the earth attempts to shake it loose again. Nearly two million people live in Macedo nia, a landlocked nation the size of Vermont in the mountainous heart of the Balkan Penin sula, furrowed and compact like a walnut. Only two republics-Serbia and Montene gro-are left of the old Yugoslavia. Macedo nia is now an independent state, a member of the United Nations, and the only republic to secede in 1991 without armed conflict. But new disasters loom: Albanian extrem ists agitate for autonomy, neighbors on all four borders challenge Macedonia's legitimacy, and Kiro Gligorov, the President of Macedo nia, barely survived a car-bomb assassination -f- Macedonia From the rubble of its third greatearthquake, Skopje has reemerged as a modem city of 541,000. So devastatingwas the 1963 quake that some advised moving Macedonia's capital to another site. As seismic changes of a differ ent nature transform the Balkans, Skopje watches in a state of nervous expectancy. attempt blamed on Bulgarian mobsters. Only 140 miles to the north in Bosnia the blood feud of the Balkans flames on. When I arrive here in the hot Mediterranean summer of 1995, Macedonia itself seems like dry tinder. On its northwestern border, the volatile Serbian province of Kosovo, whose population is 95 percent Albanian, seethes un der Serbian rule. Macedonians worry that vio lence in Kosovo would quickly flare into their own restless Albanian community. Albania would be drawn in, and Greece and Turkey, both members of NATO but adversaries, would react to protect their interests, touching off a southern Balkan war that could ignite all Europe. Two battalions of United Nations peace keepers, some 500 soldiers from Scandinavian countries and 540 from the United States, patrol Macedonia's Serbian and Albanian borders against that possibility, the first such preventive deployment in UN history. Tension thrives like a virus in Skopje (SKO pyeh), where nearly a third of Macedonians live. The future here seems hostage to forces beyond their control, and the rewards of free enterprise and democracy still seem distant. My questions often bring angry lectures about some historical injustice or regret. "Whatever you write," says Nade Proeva, a history professor at the university in Skopje, "understand that every nation here has its own truth. In the Balkans we only speak through myths. We can't have an intellectual discussion when one nation's war hero is another nation's war criminal." Conspiracy theories abound. I hear that Yugoslavia was destroyed by Germany, that the U. S. and Iraq are in league to undermine Macedonia, that the war in Bosnia was imposed by world powers. These conspiracies are all "obvious" and "well-known." The gut fear among Macedonians is this: If Serbs and Bosnians and Croats are truly fight ing out of stubbornness and simple ethnic hatred, they could be next.