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A tale of two successes

Kosovo and Chechnya will make the headlines for some time to come. Two neighboring "wars that didn't happen" make the case for preventive action.

Macedonia, one of Yugoslavia's poorest republics, was the only one to gain independence without violent conflict and emerge as a multi-ethnic democracy. After first rejecting Macedonia's request for recognition in 1992, the West, in the wake of Bosnia's tragedy, pursued a preventive strategy. It included:

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*The world's first multilateral preventive deployment force, positioned along the border with Serbia, starting in 1993.

*A European mission in the country encouraging dialogue and helping resolve issues among political leaders and ethnic groups, ensuring minority participation.

*US negotiation of the Greece-Macedonia dispute over Macedonia's name and flag.

*International nongovernmental groups working with civil society on cross-ethnic projects, conflict-resolution training, organization of elections, and independent media.

*Regular meetings of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, UN, and international humanitarian groups to coordinate efforts.

An in-depth study of the Macedonia story ("Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Seized," Carnegie Commission) credits the effort with "mixed, but positive results," and Macedonia has so far survived the tensions surrounding the influx of Kosovar refugees. The question is whether it will be able to manage its ethnic politics into the future.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, soaring tensions in Tatarstan - home of Russia's largest ethnic minority - made war seem as likely as in Chechnya. Young Tatar nationalists in the mostly Muslim region announced a referendum on independence. Moscow called it illegal and threatened military action.

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Third-party efforts were undertaken to prevent an escalation into war, says William Ury, one of the negotiators. Part of the effort involved sharing with the Tatar leadership legal models from around the world for reconciling sovereignty with association within a federation.

The referendum was held and the vote went overwhelmingly for independence, but the next day the two sides negotiated terms for interdependence. They arrived at an agreement using creatively ambiguous language in two Constitutions. "Tatarstan won a great deal of autonomy," Dr. Ury says, "and went on to become one of the more prosperous parts of the Russian Federation."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society