Kosovo and the Jihadist Green Corridor in the Balkans

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The Green Corridor[1] is a geopolitical concept with two meanings: (a) The Islamists’ goal of creating a contiguous chain of Muslim-dominated polities from Istanbul in the southeast to northwestern Bosnia, a mere 120 miles from Austria [2]; and (b) The process of increasing ethno-religious assertiveness among the Muslim communities along that route. The process entails four key elements:

  1. Expanding the area of those communities’ demographic dominance;
  2. Establishing and/or expanding various entities under Muslim political control with actual or potential claim to sovereign statehood;
  3. Enhancing the dominant community’s Islamic character and identity within those entities, with the parallel decrease of presence and power of non-Muslim groups; and
  4. Prompting Muslim communities’ ambitions for ever bolder designs in the future, even at the risk of conflict with their non-Muslim neighbors.[3]

The purpose of this article is to give some clarity to this concept. Such clarity is essential to a comprehensive understanding of the motives, actions, and emerging expectations of different actors in the Yugoslav wars of 1991-1999 and their aftermath.

Reality Denied – 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.[4] 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 in recent years have been institutions and experts (British, Italian, American, Israeli etc.) 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 Centre for Policy Studies, warned that the Muslims’ objective was “to create a ‘Green Corridor’ from Bosnia through the Sanjak to Kosovo” that would separate Serbia from Montenegro.[5] 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.”

Sherman’s 1994 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 conclusions regarding the Green Corridor are 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.”[6]

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 and organizational infrastructures were thus established.

John R. 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.[7] 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 the late Bosnian-Muslim leader 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.”[8] 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.

Ottoman Legacy – Unlike other European peninsular regions (Iberia, Italy), the northern boundary of the Balkans is not marked by mountain ranges that separate the peninsula from the heartland of Europe. That boundary, along the easily fordable Sava and Danube rivers, is open and crossed by several key transit corridors connecting Central and Western Europe with the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. Poor in energy and natural resources, the region is significant mainly because of its location as the hub of pan-European corridors. This has been the bane of its history, too, 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, in particular, left an indelible mark on the region.

The initial onslaught of Islamic conquerors on Europe started twelve centuries ago across the Straits of Gibraltar. The second attack of Islam on Europe came at the southeastern fringe of the Old Continent, starting 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 previous seven centuries of 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.” This is not to suggest that Ottoman strategists had devised an elaborate plan of conquest along those lines, but – rather – that the Green Corridor has a geopolitical logic that influences political and military decision-making either consciously or spontaneously. The historical record further indicates that Ottoman efforts at Islamization of the local population were more determined, and far more successful, along the “Transverse” 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.[9] 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 to be converted to Islam and trained as janissaries. In the collective memory of Balkan Christian nations, five centuries of Turkish conquest and overlordship – with all their consequences, social and political – are carved as an unmitigated disaster. Conversions to Islam, a phenomenon more strongly pronounced along the Green Route than in the central regions of the Empire, contributed to a new stratification of the society under Ottoman rule and a new power balance. That balance shifted in favor of those individuals and communities that embraced the conquerors’ faith. They soon assumed the role of officials and tax collectors, holding power over and oppressing their neighbors, former co-religionists. People of the same ethno-linguistic community, sharing the same ancestors, thus often evolved into members of two fundamentally opposed social and political groups.

The Ottoman zenith was reached under Suleyman the Magnificent in the first half of the 16th century. As that decline gathered pace after the defeat at Vienna (1683), the provincial Ottoman governors and local warlords in the Balkans grew stronger and disobedient of the Sultan. They were often 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.

Demography – The most enduring, and 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, all the more so considering its relatively small area (just over 200,000 square miles) and population (around 55 million).[10] 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 just over 40 percent; and Roman Catholics (mainly Croats) are at around 5 percent.[11] 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 supra-denominational 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, from Istanbul in the southeast to Cazin in the northwest. 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 country of Blagoevgrad. The other is in the region of Raska (northern Sanjak) in southwestern Serbia, along the main road and railway from Belgrade to the Montenegrin port of Bar.

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.[12] 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.

The Role of Modern Turkey – Turkey’s European foothold on the Straits and in Eastern Thrace 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 has 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. His antics at Davos vividly illustrated the problem: 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.”[13] 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 the 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.”[14]

Without a strong, solidly supportive anchor at its southeastern end, no Muslim revival in former Ottoman lands along the 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 irridentist, and detrimental to stability in the Balkans.

Bulgaria – Of the country’s 8 million inhabitants, ethnic Turks account for just under ten percent (750,000). Their numbers were reduced through forced emigration under the Zhivkov regime in the 1980s, but many have returned following Bulgaria’s entry into the EU. 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 counties that are situated between Turkey and 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.”[15]

In addition to the religious revival, the Pomaks are establishing a new form of ethnic identityand demand the recognition of their separate nationality.[16] Some Pomak activists assert that, far from being “Islamized Bulgarians,” they are descended from ancient Thracians.[17] Others assert Arab descent and an Islamic identity that antedates Turkish conquest. Some Bulgarians see the assertion of a separate ethnic identity 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.”[18] Even pro-Western sources in Sofia concede that “it is stretching credibility to imagine” that Bulgaria is not a target of radical Islam.[19]

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – 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 Slavs. Following the signing of the Ohrid Agreement that ended the 2001 Albanian 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 ethnically-based police force. Having secured their dominance along the borders of Albania and Kosovo, the current main thrust of the Albanian ethno-religious enroachment 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.[20] 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.”[21] 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.[22] Both demographically and politically, the Republic of Macedonia has a precarious present and an uncertain future. In the long term its stability and sustainability is open to doubt.

Kosovo – Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton warned a year ago 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.”[23] 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.”[24]

Since the 1999 US-led NATO intervention, Kosovo has become the crime capital of Europe.[25] Crime is the province’s main economic activity: hard drugs (primarily heroin), followed by human trafficking, associated sex trade, and arms smuggling.[26] But 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.[27] As a result, according to a 252-page report compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies in April 2006, Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations 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 intollerance, a major source of irridentism and regional instability – and a key pillar of the Green Corridor.

Sanjak – 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 square kilometers along the border between Serbia and Montenegro, linking Kosovo to the southeast with Bosnia to the northwest. The demographic picture of the region is exceptionally complex. According to the census in Serbia (2002) and Montenegro (2003), the population of Sandžak was 420,259. Of that number 235,567 lived in Serbia and 184,692 in Montenegro. Bosniaks and Muslims-by-nationality 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.

The leading figure in local politics is Muamer Zukorlic, an Arab-educated imam with pan-Islamic credentials. Zukorlic is in dispute with the leadership of the Islamic Religious Community of Serbia (IVZ), the authority of which he refuses to accept. The leaders of the IVZ, reis-ul-ulema Adem Zilkic and his predecessor Hamdija Jusufspahic, are powerless to bring Zukorlic to heel because he is supported by the Muslim leadership in Sarajevo and well-endowed from foreign (mainly Arab) sources. While both sides in the dispute claim to be opposed to Wahhabi infiltration, Zukorlic’s position is ambivalent. Even after a secret Wahhabi training camp stocked with weapons and explosives was discovered 20 miles from the city of Novi Pazar he said that the problem was “blown out of proportion. 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.

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] Izetbegovic meant business. 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] It warned that hundreds of foreign mujaheddin, who had become Bosnian citizens and remained there after fighting in the war, presented a major terrorist threat to Europe and the United States. Among them were hard-core terrorists, some with ties to bin Laden, protected by the Muslim government. 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 are the veterans of El Moujahed brigade of the Bosnian-Muslim army. It was established in 1992 and included volunteers from all over the Islamic world . The unit was distinguished by its spectacular cruelty, including decapitation of prisoners to the chants of Allahu-akbar.[37] El Moujahed was the nursery from which an international terrorist network spread to Europe and North America. After the end of the Bosnian war, many Muslim volunteers remained.[38] The Bosnian-Muslim government circumvented the Dayton rules by granting Bosnian citizenship to several hundred Arab and other Islamist volunteers. Less than a year after the war’s end they were well established, having taken over Serbian-owned properties and married local women, sometimes by force.[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] Osama Bin Laden’s links to the Bosnian Muslims were known to the Clinton Administration, but they were tolerated by Washington.[41] The Millennium Plot at the end of December 1999, the narrowly averted al-Qaida attempt to blow up Los Angeles International Airport, was planned by a cell operating in Montreal – most of them veterans of the Bosnian war – and the operation was controlled out of central Bosnia.The Bosnian Connection was also present in the bombing of the Al Khobar building in Riyadh[42] and in a plot to blow up U.S. military installations in Germany.[43] 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.[44]

Iran had already obtained a foothold of its own in Bosnia when the Clinton Administration got Teheran’s help in supplying the Muslim army with weapons.[45] This was done in violation of the UN arms embargo initially demanded by the U.S. and behind the back of its European allies.[46] The CIA and the Departments of State and Defense were initially kept in the dark.[47] Iranian intelligence operatives came with the weapons. The result is a symbiotic relationship between the ruling Muslim establishment in Sarajevo and the Tehran regime.[48]

Last but not least, Bosnia remains a staging post for thousands of illegal Muslim immigrants from the Middle East making their way into Western Europe.[49] Izetbegovic stepped down in 2000, but the hard-liners who have internalized his teaching and his vision remain active at all levels of Bosnia’s Muslim nomenklatura. 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.”[50] Western law-enforcement officials concede that the region has become “a paradise” for Islamic radicals.”[51]

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 from the region 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.”[52]

The problem with such optimistic assessment is not that it is totally wrong but that it becomes less right with each passing day. 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.”[53]

The U.S. policy in Southeast Europe over the past two decades has 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.[54] 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.”[55]

“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:

(a) Pan-Islamic agitation for the completion of an uninterrupted Transverse by linking its as yet unconnected segments.

(b) Destabilization of Bosnia resulting from constant Muslim demands for the erosion of all constitutional prerogatives leading to the abolition of the Republika Srpska.

(c) Growing separatism among Muslims in the Raska region of Serbia, manifest in the demand for the establishment of an “autonomous” Sanjak region.

(d) Continuing intensification of greater-Albanian aspirations against Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece, and rump-Serbia.

(e) Further religious radicalization and ethnic redefinition of Muslims in Bulgaria, leading to demands for territorial autonomy in the Rhodope region.

(f) Ongoing spread of Islamic agitation, mainly foreign-financed, through a growing network of mosques, Islamic centers, NGOs and “charities” all along the Route.

(g) Escalation of Turkey’s regional ambitions and Ankara’s quiet encouragement of all of the above trends and phenomena.

In all cases the immediate bill will be paid by the people of the Balkans, but long-term costs of the Green Corridor will haunt many Western policy-makers for decades to come.

Endnotes:

[1] The term “Zelena transverzala” first gained prominence 25 years ago, just before the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo in 1984. The organizing committee of the Olympics – dominated by Bosnian Muslim members of the Communist Party (“League of Communists,” SKJ) – decided to give the sports hall built for the event an unusual name, “Zetra.” This was the acronym for the Green Corridor (Zelena-TRAnsverzala); it supposedly referred to the belt of urban parkland in central Sarajevo. Some observers – including Bosnian anti-terrorism expert Dzevad Galijasevic, himself a Muslim – believe that the choice of the name was not incidental, and that its Islamist-geopolitical connotations were anything but unknown to those who had selected it.

[2] In a 2001 report by the Italian security services, the dorsale verde is defined as “the project of Islamic colonization of the Balkans that aims at the gradual establishment of a green corridor to include all regions in which predominantly Muslim ethnic groups prevail.” Cf. Fiorenza Saranzini: “Soldi e moschee, Osama avanza nei Balcani.” Corriere della Sera, November 8, 2001, p. 11. See also “Come nasce la dorsale verde” in Limes, 3/1998, pp. 15-27

[3] Massimo Nava, “Il nostro Afghanistan”, in Limes Quaderni Speciali 4/2001, pp. 177-185

[4] Cf. Laura Iucci: “La Bosnia resta un serbatoio di terroristi.” Limes (Rome), No 6-2003, pp. 203-208.

[5] Sir Alfred Sherman: “Let’s Remove the Blinkers.” The Jewish Chronicle (London), September 30, 1994.

[6] Shaul Shay, Islamic Terror and the Balkans. Transaction Publishers, 2008.

[7] John R. Schindler, Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad. Zenith Press, 2007.

[8] Alija Izetbegovic, Islamska deklaracija. Sarajevo: Mala muslimanska biblioteka, 1990.

[9] “The attitude of the Muslims toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master toward slaves,” a British diplomat, H.E.W. Young, reported as late as 1909, “whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed.”

[10] All data based on official statistics, adjusted for Panonian (non-Balkan) regions of Serbia and Croatia.

[11] The region’s once-thriving Jewish community was destroyed during World War II, with the enthusiastic participation of two Waffen SS divisions, Hanjar (Bosnian-Muslim) and Skenderbey (Kosovo-Albanian).

[12] It now stand at -0.83 percent in both Bulgaria and Greece.

[13] Bassam Tibi, “Turkey’s Islamist Danger.” Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2009.

[14] “The Role of the Balkan Muslims in the Shaping of Europe,” Muslim Media Network, May 4, 2008.

[15] Christopher Deliso, The Coming Balkan Caliphate. Praeger, 2007, p. 106.

[16] In November 2008 the “Justice Federation,” a Pomak NGO in the town of Gotse Delchev, declared at a press conference that Pomaks were separate ethnicity and demanded their own TV channel and political party.

[17] This claim is similar to the Albanian assertion of “Illyrian” descent: by implication, Orthodox Christian Slavs (Serbs, Bulgarians) are the relative “newcomers,” whose claim to the land is therefore more tenuous.

[18] FOCUS News Agency, January 10, 2009: www.focus-fen.net/index.php?id=n166573

[19] Clive Leviyev-Sawyer,“Radical Islam in Bulgaria?” The Sofia Echo, April 16, 2007.

[20] Deliso, op. cit., p. 84

[21] The Washington Times, June 22, 2001.

[22] “Fissures in Balkan Islam,” The Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2006.

[23] Voice of America interview, February 17, 2008.

[24] Lewis Mackenzie, “We Bombed the Wrong Side in Kosovo.” The National Post, April 6, 2004.

[25] Less than a year after NATO intervention, on 10 March 2000, the UN human rights rapporteur Jiri Dienstbier declared that “Kosovo is in chaos,” having become “a mafia paradise.” Reuters, 20 March 2000.

[26] Cf. Norbert Spinrath, president of the Association of German Police Officers, in Der Spiegel, December 15, 1999. In March 2008, a similar picture was presented in a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

[27] Cf. The American Council on Kosovo’s information resources on: www.savekosovo.org

[28] “Terrorists use Balkan corridor.” International Herald Tribune, April 18, 2006.

[29] The Jerusalem Post, September 14, 1998.

[30] USA Today, November 26, 2001.

[31] The Sunday Times (London), March 22, 1998.

[32] The Washington Times, May 4, 1999.

[33] In a November 2008 progress report, the European Union said “corruption is still widespread and remains a major problem in Kosovo… due to insufficient legislative and implementing measures.”

[34] Cf. Lieutenant Colonel John E. Sray, USA, Selling the Bosnia Myth to America: Buyer Beware. U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS, October 1995.

[35] The Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2001.

[36] AP, November 21, 2001.

[37] Videos of such gruesome spectacles are circulated through Islamic centers and Internet sites in the West.

[38] The Washington Post, November 30, 1995.

[39] “Mujaheddin Remaining in Bosnia,” The Washington Post, July 8, 1996.

[40] “Le troisième membre du ‘gang de Roubaix’ se revendique proche du FIS.” Le Monde, October 6, 2001.

[41] L’Express, December 26, 1996.

[42] The New York Times, June 26, 1997.

[43] The Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2001.

[44] John Schindler, author of Unholy Terror, in World Magazine, Vol. 22, No. 35, September 27, 2007.

[45] “Clinton-Approved Iranian Arms Transfers Help Turn Bosnia into Militant Islamic Base,” U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, January 16, 1997.

[46] See “Fingerprints: Arms to Bosnia, the real story,” The New Republic, October 28, 1996.

[47] “U.S. Had Options to Let Bosnia Get Arms, Avoid Iran,” The Los Angeles Times, July 1, 1996.

[48] “Iran, Bosnia to Exapend Ties.” IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting), December 21, 2003.

[49] “Bosnia opens the door to Europe for Iranian illegal immigrants.” The Times (London), August 31, 2000.

[50] “Terrorist Cells Find Foothold in the Balkans,” The Washington Post, December 1, 2005.

[51] Gregory Katz, “Terrorists said to be getting aid in Balkans,” Houston Chronicle, December 27, 2005.

[52] Chronicles Online, April 6, 2006. www.chroniclesmagazine.org

[53] Raphael Israeli: From Bosnia To Kosovo: The Re-Islamization Of The Balkans. Ariel Center for Policy Research, Policy Paper No. 109, 2004.

[54] Cf. a “programmatic” article on the U.S.-sponsored Greater Middle East by two New Republic editors, Jacob Heilbrunn and Michael Lind: “The Third American Empire.” The New York Times, January 2, 1996.

[55] Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the OIC, as quoted by Reuters, February 19, 2008.


Originally published on 2010-02-11

Author: Srđa Trifković

Source: The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies

Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.

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