The Balkans, Interrupted

The Protests in Macedonia are Only the Beginning

Visitors walk on an art installation inside a bunker near Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 24, 2015.  Dado Ruvic / Reuters

Like most terrorists, he was young. He had been born in the days just before bitter hatred engulfed his country; not long after his birth, his father had been seized by authorities and killed, along with scores of other Sunni Muslims. Two weeks ago, the 24-year-old son marched into a police station reportedly shouting the jihadist war cry “Allahu Akbar!” and then opened fire, killing one officer and wounding two others, before he was killed in a firefight with police.

Over the weekend, 350 miles to the south, eight more policemen were killed along with 14 suspected terrorists in a raging gunbattle near an international border created in the aftermath of World War I that radicals no longer recognize.

Another day in Syria or Iraq? No, this happened in Europe, an easy day’s drive from Vienna. The first attack, in Zvornik, a town in Bosnia’s Serb entity, was a shocking reminder of the potential influence of radical Islam in the region, especially in the wake of the rise of the Islamic State (also called ISIS). Only a small number of Bosnians have been radicalized, and even fewer have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq. But in the still-fractured Balkans, it doesn’t take many radicals to destabilize a country.

Nor is radical Islam the only threat to years of work and billions in investment in the region by Washington and its European partners. In the wake of the standoff with the West over Ukraine, Russia has stepped up its own role there, with incendiary appeals to Orthodox Slav solidarity. Indeed, Moscow has voiced staunch support for the embattled government in Macedonia, where the second shocking incident occurred. The weekend’s firefight, replete with grenades, snipers, and automatic weapons, took place in the town of Kumanovo near the border of Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo. The government described the fight as a battle between the police and “one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the Balkans,” presumably meaning Albanian radicals. The

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