Inter-ethnic tensions rising in Macedonia

For many ethnic Albanian citizens of Macedonia, much of the autonomy and integration promised under the Ohrid accord has yet to be realized. Many say that the ethnic Macedonian-dominated...

Tensions were high in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Tuesday, less than a week after the murder of five Macedonians near the capital of Skopje. Speculation about Albanian-led gang-style executions were reinforced by threats from a so-called “Army for the liberation of Albanian lands” to launch new attacks.

Recently unknown “The Army for Liberation of Occupied Albanian Lands”, in a statement published by Macedonian media, gave the government an ultimatum to withdraw in two weeks from what it called “occupied Albanians lands” or face reprisals.

The “army’ said it has decided at the meeting of its “general staff” it would attack “Slavo-Macedonian police and military structures” if they don’t withdraw from the territory inhabited by ethnic Albanians. -Another same kind concerned ultimatum the aforementioned army has given to the Kosovo ethnic Albanian government, demanding to take control of northern troubled region of Kosovo, otherwise they will engage.

On 16 April, hundreds of angry young Macedonian Slavs marched in Skopje to protest the Smiljkovci killings. They chanted nationalist slogans and blamed ethnic Albanians for the deaths. Riot police later clashed with the stone-throwing demonstrators and prevented them from marching across a bridge to a mainly Albanian neighbourhood in the capital. The police action won praise from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). -Ethnic Albanians, who make about 25 percent of Macedonia’s two million population, are concentrated mostly in the west of the country bordering Albania, but there are numerous cities, like Skopje, with mixed population. Five fishermen, four who were in their late teens or 20s and one was 40; they were found dead Thursday night on the shore of an artificial lake near the village of Smiljkovci outside the capital, Skopje. They were buried on Saturday.

Macedonia was tense Sunday as police officers searched for the killers and possible motives. While no evidence links the killings to ethnic tensions or to two episodes of ethnic violence this year, the riot police were deployed on Friday as angry protesters blocked a road, broke the windows of a TV channel’s vehicle and threw rocks at passing buses.

Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said Saturday that ballistic experts had found that three types of firearms had been used — implying multiple killers — and that the victims had no criminal records.

©Demotix/THEFrontliner

©Demotix/THEFrontliner

The latest incident came a month after an off-duty Macedonian policeman killed two ethnic Albanians in a dispute over a parking space in the city of Gostivar. Those killings set off several days of rioting and street fights between youths with iron bars, clubs and knives, resulting in dozens of injuries. A court has still not ruled whether the Gostivar killings were connected to the men’s ethnicity. The police still haven’t discovered the perpetrators and about one thousand Macedonians protested in Skopje Monday evening, smashing windows on the government building and clashing with police. Six people, including three policemen, were injured in the clashes and fourteen protesters were arrested as police blocked demonstrators from marching onto Albanian section of the city.

Ethnic Albanians rebelled in 2001, demanding more rights and regional autonomy, gaining concessions from the government under international mediation. But tensions have been running high ever since. Macedonians are Slavs and the mysterious army has accused prime minister Nikola Gruevski of “daily violations of the rights of Albanians”, of “spreading anti-Albanian ideology, staging attacks on innocent Albanians and of blocking Albanian villages”.

About one-quarter of Macedonia’s population is Albanian, and most of them are Muslims. Ethnic Albanian rebels waged an eight-month armed insurgency in 2001 for increased autonomy in which some 80 people died. A peace agreement, brokered by international envoys in the southwestern city of Ohrid, ended the 2001 conflict. While the agreement encouraged Albanians to integrate politically, a societal chasm remains.

“The ethnic communities live more separated than ever,” said Biljana Vankovska, a political scientist at Skopje University. “Ohrid institutionalized ethnicity to such a degree that there is no room left for any integration or common action among groups,” she said.

The Ohrid agreement brought about the decentralization of power in the Balkan state of two million, with some municipalities reorganized along ethnic lines. “The distrust between communities is growing,” Ms. Vankovska said. “I don’t see any glue to bring them together, except for NATO and the E.U.” Even though the incident comes shortly before the NATO summit meeting in Chicago on May 20, analysts said there probably won’t be any impact because Macedonia is unlikely to be invited to join the alliance. Macedonia’s inclusion in NATO has been vetoed by Greece, which rejects the use of the name Macedonia. Greece says the use of the term implies a claim to Greek territory with the same name. Athens has also blocked an invitation to Macedonia to begin talks to join the European Union.

For many ethnic Albanian citizens of Macedonia, much of the autonomy and integration promised under the Ohrid accord has yet to be realized. Many say that the ethnic Macedonian-dominated government never recognized the need for increased language rights and autonomy for minority communities and complain that it formally respects the Ohrid process without showing the political will to implement it effectively.

“For these 10 years, the government has only been pretending that it’s trying to integrate minority groups,” said Bekim Kadriu, an international human rights law professor at the South East European University in Tetovo, 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, north of Skopje. “But at the same time, it obstructs the process” Mr. Kadriu said.


©Demotix/THE Frontliner

Vedat Xhymshiti; is an independent journalist and war correspondent. He has reported on a number of Middle Eastern conflicts from the Arab Spring in 2010 to the current Syrian civil war. He has been published in various media including Der Spiegel, NY Times, TIME, Paris Match, Le Monde ect. He is specialized in International Relations and Diplomacy. Xhymshiti is also a print media critic, a columnist for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, and founder of THEFrontliner.net

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