The following article by Dr. Srdja Trifkovic1 is one of a series of essays collected in the book "Kosovo: The Score 1999-2009", which was published earlier this year by the American Council for Kosovo and the Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies.
The Green Transverse or “Green Corridor” (in Serbian/Croatian: Zelena transverzala2) is a geopolitical concept that has been used in two distinct, albeit interconnected meanings:
Political, cultural, religious and demographic trends among Muslim communities in the Balkans strongly suggest that the Green Corridor is taking shape, either deliberately or spontaneously.5 Nevertheless, many Western academic experts and media commentators (especially in the English-speaking world) have shown the tendency to be a priori dismissive of any suggestion that a long-term Islamic geopolitical design exists in the Balkans, let alone that it is being deliberately and systematically pursued. The notion of the Green Corridor was thus criticized as a product of Serbian propaganda with “Islamophobic” overtones, although its most authoritative proponents have been institutions and experts with no ethnic or personal axe to grind in the Balkan imbroglio.
The Bosnian war was still raging when Sir Alfred Sherman, former advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and co-founder of The Lord Byron Foundation, warned that the Muslims’ objective was “to create a ‘Green Corridor’ from Bosnia through the Sanjak to Kosovo” that would separate Serbia from Montenegro.6 Western powers are “in effect fostering this Islamistan,” Sherman warned, and developing “close working relations with Iran, whose rulers are keen to establish a European base for their politico-religious activities.” In addition, “Washington is keen on involving its NATO ally Turkey, which has been moving away from Ataturk’s secularist and Western stance back to a more Ottomanist, pan-Muslim orientation, and is actively helping the Muslim forces.”
“Jihadist Network in the Balkans” from the Italian geopolitical review Limes (October 2008) shows the western half of the Green Corridor (La dorsale verde) and key centers of Islamic activity Sherman’s diagnosis proved to be prescient. A decade later it was echoed by Col. Shaul Shay of BESA Center at Bar-Ilan University. He noted that “the Balkans serve as a forefront on European soil for Islamic terror organizations, which exploit this area to promote their activities in Western Europe, and other focal points worldwide.” His verdict regarding the Green Corridor is disquieting: "[T]he establishment of an independent Islamic territory including Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania is one of the most prominent achievements of Islam since the siege of Vienna in 1683. Islamic penetration into Europe through the Balkans is one of the main achievements of Islam in the twentieth century."7
Shay’s account shows how the Bosnian war provided the historical opportunity for radical Islam to penetrate the Balkans at a time when the Muslim world — headed by Iran and the various Islamic terror organizations, including al-Qaeda — came to the aid of the Muslims. The Jihadist operational-organizational infrastructure was thus established.
John Schindler, professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer, concurs: in his view the Balkans provide the missing piece in the puzzle of al-Qa’ida’s transformation from an isolated fighting force into a lethal global threat.8 Radical Islam played a key role in the Yugoslav conflict, Schindler says: like Afghanistan in the 1980s, Bosnia in the 1990s became a training ground for the mujahidin, leading to blowback of epic proportions.
The Green Corridor paradigm reflects Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, which used the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a paradigmatic case of the so called “fault-line wars” between Islam and the rest. Many years before the first shots were fired in Bosnia in 1992, that paradigm was confirmed by Alija Izetbegovic. In his Islamic Declaration Izetbegovic denied any chance of “peace or coexistence between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic societies and political institutions”:
“Islam contains the principle of ummet, the tendency to unite all Muslims into a single community — a spiritual, cultural and political community It is a natural function of the Islamic order to gather all Muslims and Muslim communities throughout the world into one.”9
During the Bosnian war (1992-1995) Izetbegovic presented a “pluralist” image to the West, but his followers acted in accordance with his primary message. The fruits of their labor — and that of their coreligionists in another half-dozen countries in the region — are clearly visible along a thousand miles’ trail through the middle of today’s Balkans.
Unlike other European peninsular regions (Iberia, Italy), the northern boundary of the Balkans is not marked by mountain ranges. That boundary is open and crossed by several key transit corridors connecting Central and Western Europe with the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. This has been the bane of the region’s history, inviting invaders and turning the Balkans for most of the modern era into an object of competing designs and interests of outside powers.
The Ottoman conquest and occupation left an indelible mark on the region. It started in 1354, when Ottoman Turks crossed the Dardanelles from Asia Minor and established a foothold on the northern shore. The subsequent spread of Islam in the Balkans was “by the sword”: it was contingent upon the extent of Ottoman rule and the establishment of political and social institutions based on the teaching of Kuran and the Islamic legal and political practice. The line of the attack went from Thrace via Macedonia to Kosovo; through the Sanjak into Bosnia all the way to the Una River, was finally stopped at the Habsburgs’ Military Frontier created in the 16th century.
It is noteworthy that the geographic thrust of the Ottoman attack and later colonization of Muslims from other parts of the Empire in the Balkans coincided exactly with the “Green Corridor.” From earliest days the Green Corridor has had a geopolitical logic that influences political and military decision-making. Furthermore, Ottoman efforts at Islamization of the local population were more determined, and more successful, along the “Corridor” axis (Thrace-Macedonia-Kosovo-Sanjak-Bosnia) than in other conquered Christian lands (e.g. in mainland Greece, central Serbia, northern Bulgaria, or Wallachia).
The Ottoman conquest destroyed the materially and culturally rich Christian civilization of Byzantium and its dynamic and creative Slavic offspring in Serbia and Bulgaria. The conquered populations became second-class citizens (“dhimmis”), whose physical security was predicated upon their abject obedience to the Muslim masters.10 They were heavily taxed (jizya, or poll tax, and kharaj) and subjected to the practice of devshirme: the annual “blood levy” (introduced in the 1350s) of a fifth of all Christian boys in the conquered lands. Conversion to Islam, a phenomenon more strongly pronounced along the Green Route than in the central regions of the Empire, was near-universal among northern Albanians, including the settlers in Kosovo. This contributed to a new strati- fication of the society under Ottoman rule and a new power balance. It favored local converts to Islam, eager to assert their power over their former co-religionists, Christian gaiurs. This resulted in far harsher treatment of their Christian subjects than was mandated from the Porte, and helped ignite uprisings in Serbia (1804) and Greece (1821). The 19th century witnessed a more thorough oppression of the Christian communities under Ottoman rule than at any prior period.
At the same time, some great powers (Great Britain in particular) supported the continued Turkish subjugation of Balkan Christians on the grounds that the Ottoman Empire was a “stabilizing force.” France’s and Britain’s alliance with Turkey against Russia in the Crimean War (1853-1856) reflected a frame of mind and a strategic calculus — the desire to score points in the Muslim world vis-à-vis another, non-Muslim power — that has manifested itself in recent years in the overt or covert support by those same powers for the Muslim side in Bosnia and Kosovo, and somewhat less overtly in the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The most enduring, politically and culturally relevant consequence of the Ottoman rule in the Balkans is the presence of large indigenous Muslim communities. The Balkan Peninsula is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse regions in the world, especially considering its relatively small area (just over 200,000 square miles) and population (around 55 million).11 Of that number, Eastern Orthodox Christians — mainly Greeks, Bulgars, Serbs and Slavic Macedonians — have the slim majority of around 53 percent; Sunni Muslims (11 million Turks in European Turkey and a similar number of Albanians, Slavic Muslims and ethnic Turks elsewhere) make up 40 percent; and Roman Catholics (mainly Croats) are at around 5 percent.12
Those communities do not live in multicultural harmony. Their mutual lack of trust that occasionally turns into violence is a lasting fruit of the Turkish rule. Four salient features of the Ottoman state were institutionalized, religiously justified discrimination of non-Muslims; personal insecurity; tenuous coexistence of ethnicities and creeds without intermixing; and the absence of unifying state ideology or supradenominational source of loyalty. It was a Hobbesian world, and it bred a befitting mindset: the zero-sum-game approach to politics, in which one side’s gain is perceived as another’s loss. That mindset has not changed, almost a century since the disintegration of the Empire.
Most Balkan Muslims live in continuous swathes of territory along the Green Corridor. There are but two major gaps in the chain. One is in northeastern Macedonia, where 80 miles divides easternmost Albanian villages near Kumanovo from the westernmost Bulgarian-Muslim (i.e. Pomak) villages in the Bulgarian southwestern corner at Blagoevgrad. The other is in the region of Raska (northern Sanjak) in southwestern Serbia, along the main road and railway from Belgrade to Montenegro.
The Christian communities all over the Balkans are in a steep, long-term demographic decline. Fertility rate is below replacement level in every majority-Christian country in the region.13 The Muslims, by contrast, have the highest birth rates in Europe, with the Albanians topping the chart. On current form it is likely that Muslims will reach a simple majority in the Balkans within a generation.
Turkey’s European foothold is populous (over 11 million) and overwhelmingly mono-ethnic (Turkish) and mono-religious (Muslim); the Christian remnant is negligible. A nation-state of 72 million, the Turkish Republic is based on a blend of European-style nationalism and an Islamic ethos that breeds a sense of intense kinship with the Muslim communities further west in the Balkans.
The Kemalist dream had never penetrated beyond the military and a narrow stratum of urban elite. For decades described as the key to U.S. strategy in eastern Mediterranean, in the Middle East, and—more recently—in the oil-rich Caspian region and the sensitive ex-Soviet Central Asia, the country is ruled by the ever more openly Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The AKP “espouses an ideology of cultural divide, tension, and conflict, despite all of the pro-Europe rhetoric in which Islamists in Turkey engage in their pursuit to exploit the European Union for their agenda of Islamization.”14 That agenda is no longer confined to the borders of the Turkish state. There is a rekindled sense of kinship among the growing ranks of Turkish Islamists with their Balkan co-religionists and with the old Ottoman domains further west. The re-Islamization and assertiveness of Turkey under Erdogan is essential to the revival of Islam and ethnic self-assertiveness all along the Green Corridor:
The [Yugoslav] wars of the 90s opened whole areas where they [Muslims] were in the majority: While the regional realities modified, so did geopolitics between those who remained in their traditional homes in the Balkans and the ever expanding Islam over Europe itself [with] pan-European Islamic clusters from the West southward into the Balkans themselves. Of the utmost importance to Muslims in Western Europe, but especially the Balkans, is the admission of Turkey into the EU, for Ankara will be a voice for all Muslims inside the E.U. itself.15
Without a strong, solidly supportive anchor at its southeastern end, no Muslim revival in former Ottoman lands along the Balkan Green Corridor would be possible. The mix of nationalism and Islamism in Turkey aims not only at reversing the process of modernization of the past 85 years; it also aims at reversing the outcome of the preceding period of Ottoman decline. Under the AKP Turkey is becoming increasingly revisionist, potentially irredentist, and detrimental to stability in the Balkans.
Of the country’s 8 million inhabitants, ethnic Turks account for just under ten percent (750,000). Southern Bulgaria is also home to several hundred thousand Pomaks, Islamized Slavic speakers. Their number is unknown as they are not recognized as a distinct ethnic group: officially they are “Muslim Bulgarians.”
Most Pomaks and Turks live in six districts that connect Turkey with FRY Macedonia: Haskovo, Kardjali, Smolian, Blagoevgrad, and southern parts of Pazardzhik and Plovdiv. The Pomaks are experiencing an intense Islamic religious revival, mainly financed from the Arab world. Hundreds of new mosques have been built in recent years. Middle Eastern “charities” are also establishing Kuranic schools, paying for trips to the Hajj, and offering scholarships to young Pomaks to study Islam in Saudi Arabia. Since religion defines their identity, “these poor, pastoralist Slavic Muslims have become prime targets for Arab proselytizers seeking to make inroads in Bulgaria, the EU country with the largest indigenous Muslim population.”16
In addition to the religious revival, the Pomaks are establishing a new form of ethnic identity.17 Some Pomak activists assert that, far from being “Islamized Bulgarians,” they are descended from ancient Thracians.18 Others assert Arab descent and an Islamic identity that antedates Turkish conquest. Many Bulgarians see such assertions as the first step in a future call for the establishment of a Pomak state — Islamic in character — in the Rhodope region as the key link to the Western Balkans. Some politicians warn of “unprecedented aggression based on religious and ethnic grounds” and accuse Muslim activists of “contempt for the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria.”19 Even pro-Western sources in Sofia concede that “it is stretching credibility to imagine” that Bulgaria is not a target of radical Islam.20
FYROM is widely considered the weakest state in the Balkans. Macedonian Slavs account for 66 percent (1.3 million) and Albanians for 25 percent (500,000) of the republic’s two million people. The latter, 98 percent Muslim, have had a remarkable rate of growth since 1961, when they accounted for 13 percent of the total. Albanian birthrate is more than twice that of the Slavs. Following the signing of the Ohrid Agreement that ended the 2001 armed rebellion by the “NLA” (a KLA subsidiary); the state itself is effectively becoming bi-national and bilingual. Albanians are de facto the second constituent nation in FYROM. They are guaranteed proportional share of government power and ethnicallybased police force.
Having secured their dominance along the borders of Albania and Kosovo, the current main thrust of the Albanian ethno-religious encroachment has the country’s capital city as its primary objective. It is a little-known fact that today’s Skopje is effectively as divided as Nicosia, or Jerusalem, or Mostar. Once a city quarter becomes majority-Albanian, it is quickly emptied of non-Albanian (i.e. Slavic-Macedonian, non- Muslim) population. The time-tested technique is to construct a mosque in a mixed area, to broadcast prayer calls at full blast five times a day, and to create the visible and audible impression of dominance that intimidates non-Muslims (“sonic cleansing”). In those mosques a Wahhabi-connected imam or administrator is invariably present to keep an eye on the rest.21 Through their links with Arab donors they can influence the payment of salaries to imams and administrative staff.
During the 2001 Albanian rebellion the NLA was largely financed by the smuggling of narcotics from Turkey and Afghanistan, but in addition to drug money, “the NLA also has another prominent venture capitalist: Osama bin Laden.”22 French terrorism expert Claude Moniquet estimated in 2006 that up to a hundred fundamentalists, “dangerous and linked to terrorist organizations,” were active or dormant but ready in sleeper-cells in Macedonia. New recruits are offered stipends to study Islam in Saudi Arabia, and they are given regular salaries and free housing to spread the Wahhabi word on their return to Macedonia.23
Both demographically and politically, the Republic of Macedonia has a precarious present and an uncertain future. In the aftermath of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, FYROM’s long term stability and sustainability are open to doubt.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton warned in early 2008 that “Kosovo will be a weak state susceptible to radical Islamist influence from outside the region a potential gate for radicalism to enter Europe,” a stepping stone toward an anti-Christian, anti-American “Eurabia.”24 His was a rare voice in Washington to warn of the ongoing merger of aggressive greater-Albanian nationalism and transnational Islamism. Bolton’s verdict is shared by former UN commander in Bosnia, Canadian Gen. Lewis McKenzie. In 1999 the West intervened “on the side of an extremist, militant Kosovo-Albanian independence movement,” he says. “The fact that the KLA was universally designated a terrorist organization supported by al- Qaeda was conveniently ignored.”25
Since the 1999 US-led NATO intervention, Kosovo has become the crime capital of Europe.26 Crime is the province’s main economic activity: hard drugs (primarily heroin), followed by human trafficking, associated sex trade, and arms smuggling. 27But no less significant, from the vantage point of the Green Corridor, has been the symbiosis that has developed between Kosovo’s Albanian crime families and the Jihadist networks abroad. As a result, according to a 252-page report compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies in April 2006, Islamic militants have been freely crisscrossing the Balkans for more than 15 years: “extremists, financed in part with cash from narcotics smuggling operations, were trying to infiltrate Western Europe from Afghanistan and points farther east via a corridor through Turkey, Kosovo and Albania.”28
This process started well before the 1999 NATO intervention, but the Clinton Administration ignored the warnings.29 The relationship was cemented by the zeal of KLA veterans who joined Bin Laden’s network in Afghanistan.30 Iran also supported the Albanian insurgency in Kosovo, hoping “to turn the region into their main base for Islamic armed activity in Europe.”31 By the end of 1998 U.S. DEA officials complained that the transformation of the KLA from terrorists into freedom fighters hampered their ability to stem the flow of Albanian-peddled heroin into America.32
By that time the NATO bombing of Serbia was in full swing, however, and the mujaheddin were, once again, American “allies.”
A decade later Kosovo is run by those “allies.” It is the worst administered and most corrupt spot in Europe,33 a mono-ethnic hotbed of criminality and intolerance, a major source of irredentism and regional instability — and a key pillar of the Green Corridor.
The region known to Muslims as Sandžak (“administrative district” in Turkish) is one of the most critical geopolitical pressure points in the Balkans. It covers some 8,500 sq.km. along the border between Serbia and Montenegro, linking Kosovo to the southeast with Bosnia to the northwest. Bosniaks and Muslims-bynationality accounted for 52 percent while Serbs and Montenegrins had 43 percent, with smaller groups making up the balance. The crucial demographic gap in the Green Corridor exists in the northwestern half of Sanjak, comprising three municipalities in Serbia (Priboj, Nova Varos and Prijepolje) and Pljevlja in Montenegro. If there is to be a fresh crisis in the Balkans over the next decade, it is to be feared that this will be its location.
After Montenegro proclaimed independence in May 2006, the Muslim demand for autonomy is focused on the six municipalities on the northern side of the border, in Serbia. Such an entity would have a 58% overall Muslim majority. More importantly, even in the reduced format it would still provide the all-critical land bridge between Kosovo and Bosnia.
Alija Izetbegovic’s memorable assertion in his Islamic Declaration that “there can be no peace or coexistence between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic societies and political institutions,” and that his goal is “a great Islamic federation spreading from Morocco to Indonesia,” was not unusual for a sincere Islamist.34
Bill Clinton was still in the White House when a classified State Department report warned that the Muslim-controlled parts of Bosnia were a safe haven for Islamic terrorism.35 This was confirmed in November 2001 when Bosnian passports were found in a house in Kabul used by the fleeing Taliban.36 The core of Bin Laden’s Balkan network consists of the veterans of El Moujahed brigade of the Bosnian-Muslim army. The unit was distinguished by its spectacular cruelty, including decapitation of prisoners to the chants of Allahu-akbar.37
After the end of the Bosnian war, many Muslim volunteers remained.38 The Bosnian-Muslim government circumvented the Dayton rules by granting them Bos- nian citizenship.39 The Bosnian veterans went on to perpetrate murder and mayhem in many countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and North America.40 They planned the Millennium Plot and the bombing of the Al Khobar building in Riyadh.41 They plotted to blow up U.S. military installations in Germany.42 Even 9/11 itself had a Bosnian Connection: Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who planned the 9/11 attacks, was a seasoned veteran of the Bosnian jihad, as were two of the hijackers.43
As Jane’s Intelligence Review concluded in 2006, “The current threat of terrorism in Bosnia and Herzegovina comes from a younger, post-war generation of militant Islamists, radicalized by US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The Green Corridor and the War on Terrorism — In the Balkans, a phenomenon initially based on local groups is morphing into an integral part of a global network. Al-Qaeda and its loosely linked Balkan offshoots, or self-starting independent cells merely inspired by it, are capable of fielding operatives who are European in appearance and seemingly integrated into the Western society — the “white al-Qa’eda.”44 Western law-enforcement officials concede that the region has become “a paradise” for Islamic radicals.”45
By contrast, Western politicians and diplomats are typically evasive. They do not deny the existence of the problem, but tend to relativize it by adding that it is unlikely to disturb the political and security balance in the region, or to damage Western interests. As a former diplomat notes, “Then usually follows the reassuring mantra about the pro-European orientation of secularized Balkan Muslims with the optimistic conclusion that the accelerated process of the Euro-integration of the whole region would narrow the space for radical Islamism until such tendencies will finally disappear.”46
A major fault of the Western approach is its naïve faith in the attractive powers of secularisation. There is a growing gap between the reality of Islam in the Balkans and Western mainstream narrative about the allegedly moderate and tolerant “Balkan Islam.” The problem of the Green Corridor will not be resolved without critical reexamination of Western policies as well as Western illusions. That problem has morphed over the past two decades into a demographic, social and political reality:
“[W]hile the Muslims have established a continuity which drives a wedge within Christian Central Europe, the West is looking with indifference at that evolving situation which they hope will create a docile, Turkish-like Islam. But in view of the trouble Turkey itself is suffering from Muslim fundamentalists, it is doubtful whether these hopes will be fulfilled.”47
The U.S. policy in Southeast Europe over the past two decades in general, and Washington’s Kosovo policy in particular, have had the effect, by design or default, to favor the aspirations of various supposedly pro-Western Muslim communities in the Balkans along the geographic line extending from Turkey north-westwards towards Central Europe.48 That policy was based on the expectation that satisfying Muslim ambitions in a secondary theater will improve the U.S. standing in the Muslim world as a whole.
The policy has never yielded any dividends, but repeated failure only prompts its advocates to redouble their efforts. Former U.S. Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns thus declared on February 18, 2008, a day after Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence: “Kosovo is going to be a vastly majority Muslim state, given the fact that 92 to 94 percent of their population is Muslim, and we think it is a very positive step that this Muslim state, Muslim majority state, has been created today. It’s a stable — we think it’s going to be a stable state.”
If it is intrinsically “a very positive step” for the United States that a “vastly Muslim state” is created on European soil that had been “cleansed” of non-Muslims then it should be expected that Washington will be equally supportive of an independent Sanjak that would connect Kosovo with Bosnia, of a centralized, i.e. Muslim-controlled Bosnia that will abolish the legacy of Dayton, or of any other putative Islamistan in the region — from yet-to-be federalized Macedonia to a revived Eastern Rumelia in southern Bulgaria. It is worthy of note that the Organization of the Islamic Conference statement, to which the State Department referred so approvingly, announced that the Islamic Umma wishes its brothers and sisters in Kosovo success: “There is no doubt that the independence of Kosovo will be an asset to the Muslim world and further enhance the joint Islamic action.”49
“There is no doubt,” indeed. Far from providing a model of pro-Western “moderate Islam,” Kosovo, Muslim Bosnia, Sanjak, western Macedonia, and southern Bulgaria are already the breeding ground for thousands of young hard-line Islamists. Their dedication is honed in thousands of newly-built, mostly foreign-financed mosques and Islamic centers. The intent was stated by the head of the Islamic establishment in Sarajevo. “The small jihad is now finished The Bosnian state is intact. But now we have to fight a bigger, second jihad,” Mustafa Ceric, the Reis-ul-Ulema in Bosnia-Herzegovina, declared over a decade ago. This statement reflects the inherent dynamism of political Islam: a truce with Dar al-Harb is allowed, sometimes even mandated, but a permanent peace is impossible for as long as there is a single infidel entity refusing to submit to Dar al-Islam.
If Western and especially U.S. policy in the Balkans was not meant to facilitate the Green Corridor, the issue is not why but how its effects paradoxically coincided with the regional objectives of those same Islamists who confront America in other parts of the world. Far from enhancing peace and regional stability, such policies continue to encourage seven distinct but interconnected trends centered on the Green Corridor:
In all cases the immediate bill will be paid by the people of the Balkans, as it is already being paid by Kosovo’s disappearing Serbs; but long-term costs of the Green Corridor will haunt the West. By encouraging its Albanian clients go ahead with the UDI, the U.S. administration has made a massive leap into the unknown. That leap is potentially on par with Austria’s July 1914 ultimatum to Serbia. The fruits will be equally bitter. While their exact size and taste are hard to predict right now, that in the fullness of time both America and Europe will come to regret the criminal folly of their current leaders is certain. Pandora’s Box is wide open.
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