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INFO   :::  Reports - PAGE 4 > Albanians in Macedonia


Albanians in Macedonia

July 2001



The fact that Macedonia has been spared the kind of conflict that ravaged Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo has helped to create an illusion of a stable democratic state characterized by ethnic tolerance. The participation of Albanian national parties in the country's coalition governments and in its public life in general has led many to believe erroneously that the Albanian national community is fully integrated in all the segments of society.

Such an approach on the part of Macedonian political parties and the public in general, as well as on the part of a large segment of the international community, is a chief obstacle to a realistic appraisal of the current problems regarding the status and situation of the Albanian national minority.

The problems confronting Macedonia in the early years of its independence had a large bearing on the crisis of Macedonian national identity. In order to be able to deal with foreign policy problems, above all with territorial claims but also with the negation of a distinct Macedonian nation, Macedonians concentrated their efforts on building a nation state from within. The inevitable outcome of this policy was exclusivity and the division of society along ethnic lines.

Albanian political parties insist that the history of Macedonia is one of the domination by the Macedonian national community of the Macedonian Albanians. This domination has resulted in the total marginalization and ghettoization of the Albanian community in Macedonia. Nearly 95 per cent Albanians are more loyal to their own ethnic group than to the Macedonian state. Their attitude is quite understandable because that state has not only failed to recognize their identity but has also conducted a policy of repression against them.

In spite of the efforts of the Macedonian authorities and of many Western leaders to project Macedonia as a successful multi-ethnic state that was in no danger of destabilization, a number of Macedonian Albanian leaders have long been hinting out the possibility of serious clashes. The failure of political 'negotiations' between Albanian and Macedonian parties over the past ten years regarding crucial issues for the Albanian national community has led to a general deterioration of the situation and a radicalization of both communities.


The Causes of the Crisis

At the beginning of January, the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and Serbia, as well as the Army of Yugoslavia (VJ), made the allegation that members of the Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveda and Bujanovac (UCPMB) were being trained in camps situated in western Macedonia. The Macedonian Ministry of Internal Affairs strongly denied these allegations, dismissing them as the 'fruit of political games orchestrated by certain old-time generals still in the Yugoslav army'. However, soon after sporadic fighting broke out in January, the Macedonian authorities themselves adopted the favourite Serb phrase 'violence spillover' in their search for the main source of the crisis outside the boundaries of the Macedonian state. On 1 February 2001, Ekspres published the statement of Dordi Trendafilov, the spokesman for the Macedonian Ministry of Defence, that Macedonia had dispatched to the Yugoslav border extra forces to prevent any spillover to its territory of Albanian terrorism from southern Serbia and Kosovo. After the 17 February 2001 attack on Macedonian border guards in the village of Tanuševci, Pavle Trajanov, leader of the Democratic Alliance and former minister of internal affairs, said that the paramilitary formations in Macedonia, established years ago, were in constant touch with extremist groups in Kosovo and southern Serbia and that their main object was to spread terrorist operations in Macedonia.

Macedonian political parties believe that the Albanians are pressing for redefining their status as a constituent people in order to federalize Macedonia preparatory to secession in favour of a Greater Albania.

The Albanian community in Macedonia is not unanimous as to the causes of the current crisis. On the one hand, Albanian political leaders blame everything on the Macedonian state. The Macedonian government's response to their demands during the past ten years has resulted in growing discontent and even a radicalization of a segment of the Albanian population. In the view of Albanian political parties, the Constitution and its Preamble are the most problematic because they make it possible to abuse and violate the rights of members of the Albanian national community. On the other hand, some Albanian intellectual circles are inclined to attach much of the blame to the inappropriate policy of the Albanian national parties which put economic profit before the struggle for the interests of the Albanian national community.


The Influence of External Factors on the Crisis

Macedonian officials insist that Kosovo is the principal source of destabilization in the region including Macedonia. Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski told the ministerial meeting in Skopje on 5 April 2001 that the crisis in Macedonia had been imported from Kosovo and that any attempt to stabilize the Balkans would end in failure unless the international community cut away the roots of crisis in Kosovo itself. There are also views that the outbreak of fighting was partly to blame on the signing of the border agreement between the FRY and Macedonia.

According to Macedonian sources, Kosovo Albanians make up the bulk of the National Liberation Army (UCK) in Macedonia, the remainder being Macedonian Albanians who fought for the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) in Kosovo. They say that the NLA receives its logistic support, weapons and ammunition from Kosovo, Albania and southern Serbia. Ever since the outbreak of crisis in Macedonia, the international community has given the Macedonian government an opportunity to manipulate the influence of Albanian political leaders and extremist groups from Kosovo on the armed clashes. Albanian political leaders in Macedonia claim that this rhetoric of Western leaders plays into the hands of the Skopje regime.

The assumption that the discontent of the (primarily Kosovo) Albanians over the definition of the Kosovo sector of the FRY-Macedonia state border is the main source of the armed conflict is a simplification of the far more complex causes of the crisis. However, one should not dismiss the fact that the situation was greatly radicalized by the negative reaction of Albanian political parties in Macedonia and Kosovo to the signing of the agreement. The exemption of Kosovo and Macedonian Albanians from the negotiations on the Kosovo sector of the FRY-Macedonia border was seen as a provocation to Kosovo and the Albanians in general.

The international community's support to the Macedonian government to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country through 'moderate use of force' against Albanian armed formations only further radicalized the two communities. The arming of the Macedonian Army by some Western states was interpreted by the Macedonian public as support to the state in its struggle against 'terrorists'. On the other hand, the Albanians saw this as the green light to the Macedonian Army and police to use their weapons also against civilians in the event of a large conflict.


The Albanian Demands

Albanian political leaders have come out in favour of a political solution to the crisis. They insist that before any political dialogue takes place the refugees must be allowed to return, the military and police units stationed in the conflict zone must withdraw, there must be a general amnesty for all who took part in the fighting, and the NLA must be represented in the talks.

According to the DPA and the PDP, any political dialogue must focus on changing the constitutional-legal position of the Albanians in Macedonia. The fist, minimal demand of the Albanian political leaders is elevating the Albanians to constituent nation status. Consequent amendments to the Constitution and statute would establish Albanian as the second official language, address the question of higher education in the Albanian language, decentralize the country to restore authority to local government, and ensure proportional representation in state institutions.

In view of the almost unanimous attitude of Macedonian politicians to the Albanian demands for NLA participation in the talks and amendments to the Constitution and its Preamble, there is little likelihood of an early start of a constructive political dialogue without considerable pressure from the international community. Macedonian authorities are adamant that talks can be conducted only with Albanian political representatives and that NLA participation would amount to according legitimacy to terrorists. Macedonian political and intellectual circles maintain that the Preamble in no way derogates from the rights of the Albanian minority. In view of the fact that it is the only document referring to the Macedonian nation, they view the Albanian insistence on its amendment as a provocation and a gesture of ill-will. Some political circles consider that amending the Constitution and giving Albanians greater rights without first achieving the broad consensus of Macedonian political parties may further destabilize the country.


The Albanian National Question

Current international press coverage of the Balkan crisis is largely grist to the mill of all who hold that ongoing fighting in Macedonia (and southern Serbia) is conducted with the sole aim of establishing an ethnically pure Albanian territory incorporating Kosovo and parts of Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. Although one cannot dismiss the possibility that a Greater Albania/Kosovo concept is being espoused by certain 'ethic romantic' circles, a federalization of Macedonia does not feature on the list of demands of the two leading Macedonian Albanian parties. Their leaders have made clear that they want nothing to do with historical myths and that regionalism is the only constructive approach to the Albanian question. A precondition for this is the final solution of the status of Kosovo in keeping with the demands of the majority Albanian population.

The generally acknowledged fact that there are certain radical groups of Albanians using arms in order to realize their demands - groups which have been condemned by both Albanian politicians and the international public - can in no way detract from the demands of the Albanians in Macedonia who now envisage a solution solely within the Macedonian state.

The present situation has radicalized the Macedonian and Albanian communities in the extreme. According to a survey conducted by the Centre for Ethnic Relations, the percentage of Macedonians who would have refused to take part in an armed conflict has plummeted from nearly 90 per cent some five to six years ago to under 15 per cent at present. This drastic change in attitude reflects a reaction to the use of arms by Albanians as well as to the belated reaction of the international community to the deepening crisis, a crisis breeding manipulation and mistrust. On the other hand, Albanian sources say that support, especially among the young, for the NLA is on the rise, with more than 10 per cent of young Albanians in Macedonia ready to enlist. A survey by the Institute of Sociological and Political-Legal Research indicates that the current mood of the citizens of Macedonia is hardly conducive to a lessening of tension between the two ethnic communities.

The successful establishment of the new coalition government incorporating all relevant political parties, both Macedonian and Albanian, shows that the key problem of stabilizing the situation in Macedonia does not involve getting together politicians 'ready for dialogue'. Even at the height of fighting, the Macedonian and Albanian political elites urged a political solution and declared their readiness to embark on constructive dialogue to that end. However, they remain extremely mistrustful of each other on account of their radical public stands. It remains to be seen, after all that has happened, how to bridge the difference between the two extremely antagonized Macedonian and Albanian communities.


Belgrade, May 2001



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