2/04/2001 - Trepça.net

Respect, not repression

Putting down Albanian fighters won't solve Macedonia's problems


 
The Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, March 27, 2001
 
by Arben Kallamata

Despite a cease-fire declared by Albanian fighters, the Government of the Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia is determined to decline the offer for dialogue. Unconditional support from the international community in face of a new violence in the Balkans, has convinced Macedonian policy makers that they are on the right track. 

Scared by the prospect of another Balkan war and following the established cliches that hold Macedonia as the best form of democracy in the region (after Greece, of course), many western governments didn’t think twice before giving a green light to suppress the rebels. 

Macedonia is taking full advantage of the situation. It is acting quickly, in order to give an end to the situation before others starts thinking; crash any kind of ethnic dissent before people know what the real cause of the conflict was. That’s why they don’t want to hear about talks.  Talks delay action and damage the image of democracy Macedonia has been so anxious to build. Talks would give people time to see how this icon of Balkan democracy has performed during its first decade of existence. 
 
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as the very name indicates, emerged as an independent state from the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The name also indicates the country is so new, that it hasn’t had time to find out what to call itself. 

The controversy about the name was the centre of a heated debate at the United Nations, where the other icon of Balkan democracy, Greece, was strongly involved. Irrational as the debate was, it reflected the lack of a clear identity for the country and the people who lived there. 

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is dominated by a people that call themselves “Macedonians”. They are a Slavic people, whose language is a dialect of Bulgarian, and whose cultural orientation is very close with that of the Serbs and Bulgarians.  They have nothing to do with Alexander the Great’s Macedonia; that’s why Greece was so active in denying them that name. 
 
“Macedonians” make up around 2 thirds of a population slightly more than two million. As is always the case in the Balkans, the exact figures are disputed by all the ethnic groups. However, it is generally accepted that roughly one third are Albanians. Between the blurred thick line that divides these two fractions stand an array of minorities - Serbs, Gypsies, Turks. 

Like most of other people in the Balkans, from the 15th to the end of the 19th Century the population that lived in the territory now called Macedonia were subjects of the Ottoman Empire. After the Turks, they didn’t have time to look for an identity, because they immediately fell subject to a new and artificial country – Yugoslavia. 

A Republic of Macedonia was created after WWII, under Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia. In the early 1990ties, when Yugoslavia fell apart, that Republic declared itself independent, keeping as a President the man that used to be its Communist leader in Tito’s time.
 
The new country survived, due to a curious combination of luck and obscure international geopolitical interests. Considered an artificial creature by its neighbors, Macedonia was able to gain international recognition. Milosevic’s Serbia was too busy with its wars in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, and didn’t want to open another front in the South.
 
It would rather have a strong ally, as Macedonia proved to be. Bulgaria, which believes that those who are referred to as Macedonians are nothing but Bulgarians, was shaking amidst the economical and political chaos following the fall of Communism. So was Albania, whose domestic instability didn’t leave much space for outside worries. 
 
The only serious resistance against the newly created state was Greece, which mounted a ridiculous opposition to the name. Macedonia was accepted by the UN as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In their efforts to maintain some economical stability in the country, Macedonian politicians saw the new links to the west – European Union and United States, as the only way out. In exchange to financial and some military aid (the presence of a limited number of UN troops) they offered “unconditional” democratic changes.

They did a lot, but “somehow” they forgot to democratically address the one, key issue to the existence of their state – that of nationalities. They ignored and continue to ignore the presence of the Albanians who are not only large in number, but also a considerable economical force. 

Albanians were not a part of the referendum that declared Macedonia an independent state. They wouldn’t agree with the referendum question that made it possible for Macedonia to re-enter Yugoslavia again in the future. Albanians were also left out of the democratic process during the drafting of the country’s constitution.
 
The reason: they disagreed with the definition of Macedonia as a state of Macedonian people only, a definition that clearly indicates the intention of ignoring the Albanian one third of the population and other minorities.  What is stated in the constitution is promptly applied in practice. Though one third of the population, Albanians occupy only 3 percent of the Macedonian government administration.

Unofficially, Macedonians would explain this as result of lower education level of Albanians - and that might be true, to some extent. Dominated by the Slavs, Albanians in the region have been for a long time left in obscurity. An example of that is the constant refusal of the Macedonian government to allow Albanian educational institutions.
 
In 1992 a group of Albanians wanted to re-open a Teacher’s College, shut down by Yugoslavia in 1986. They were denied, as they were denied a request two years later to open their University in Tetovo.  The leader of the educational movement, a professor, was sentenced to two years in prison and sent to join other co-nationals considered as conspirators.

The treatment of the Albanians as second-class citizens has had is toll in the relations between the two major ethnic groups. What the editor of a leading Macedonian magazine described to the New York Times as two nationalities that are “sociologically distant and don’t like each other very much”, are in reality two groups encouraged by all political and social-economical circumstances to hate each other.
 
So much so, that the Macedonian government is not surprised, let alone worried, to hear its own Macedonian citizens chanting in chorus at a soccer stadium in Tetovo: “Za shitari, kazna komora” - “Gas Chambers for Albanians.”

It might be easy to point fingers, name rebels and terrorists, send tanks and suppress resistance in the name of peace. The difficult part is to build an environment of decent respectful relations between people, and eliminate hate through understanding and cooperation. This is something that, so far, the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia hasn’t been able to do, and is unlikely to do by killing a handful of rebels, even if it names them as terrorists.