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    Macedonia’s political crisis takes an ethnic turn

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    SKOPJE: A political crisis that has paralysed Macedonia for two years is sliding into an ethnic dispute, with nationalists taking to the streets over a series of demands by the country’s Albanians.

    The issue seemed to be closed after 2001 when, following a seven-month ethnic Albanian insurgency that left more than 100 people dead, a peace accord provided more rights for the minority.

    Albanians account for around a quarter of Macedonia’s two million people.

    But a deadlock following December’s snap election, part of a deal brokered by the European Union aimed at solving long-running political troubles, has threatened to reawaken the demons in the former Yugoslav republic.

    The crisis erupted in 2015 when the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM) and the ruling conservative nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party exchanged accusations of corruption and wiretapping.

    An acrimonious conflict ensued between the two predominantly-Slavic parties, lacking any ethnic connotation and watched over by smaller Albanian parties, themselves divided.

    The election changed all that—but not in the way the EU hoped for. The polls gave no clear majority, with the conservatives taking only two more seats than SDSM. The Albanian groups emerged in the role of kingmakers.

    After several meetings over the border in the office of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, these groups settled their differences and created a joint platform, notably demanding that their language obtain official status across Macedonia.

    Currently, the language is only official in areas where Albanians make up more than 20 percent of the population, in line with the 2001 peace deal.

    Undermining Macedonian sovereignty?
    The Albanian demands were accepted by SDSM leader Zoran Zaev, in a bid to gain power after 10 years of rule by conservative leader Nikola Gruevski, his arch enemy.

    But on March 1, President Gjorge Ivanov, an ally of Gruevski, refused to give Zaev a mandate to form a government, saying the Albanian platform undermined “Macedonia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence”.

    The move was swiftly denounced by the opposition as a “coup” and condemned by both the United States and the European Union, which Macedonia aspires to join.

    Thousands of Macedonians agree with the president and have since taken to the streets, chanting patriotic slogans and calling for the country’s unity to be preserved.

    The demonstrators, mostly middle-aged men and women waving the red and yellow national flag, fear the Albanian demands will lead to the “federalization” and potential break-up of the small country.

    “There is no end to ethnic Albanians’ demands. Step by step, there will be a Greater Albania and no Macedonia,” said Lidija Vasileva, a fashion designer from Skopje who is a regular at the protests.

    “This is our homeland, we do not have another one,” said well-known singer Kaliopi Bukle at a rally.

    Russia has supported the protesters and denounced Tirana, accusing it of acting with “the map of the so-called Greater Albania” in mind. Albanian authorities vigorously deny the accusation.

    Apart from Macedonia, there are ethnic Albanian minorities in Montenegro, Greece and southern Serbia. In Kosovo, which borders Macedonia, they make up around 90 percent of the population.

    ‘Escalation possible’
    Albania, a solid NATO ally, has defended its role.

    To be concerned about “the situation of Albanians beyond our borders is a constitutional obligation,” Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati told AFP.

    And writing on Facebook, the prime minister said Albanian “is not the language of the enemy, but of a constituent people of Macedonia.”

    “Without Albanian, there is no Macedonia,” he added, in a stance that has unanimous support in Albania.

    But for independent Serbian analyst Aleksandar Popov, this “pan-Albanian platform” negotiated in Tirana is “dangerous” for the Balkans.

    “There are already protests and an escalation is possible, even a conflict,” he said.

    Early on Tuesday, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a building in the southern Macedonian town of Bitola where the Albanian alphabet was standardized in 1908.

    “We do not need these kind of incidents,” said Nuser Arslani, head of the museum, as Tirana urged Albanians in Macedonia “not to fall into the trap of provocations”.

    Ali Ahmeti, a former rebel leader and now head of the main Albanian party in Macedonia, DUI, has called for “restraint” in order to avoid “inter-ethnic conflict”.

    For analysts, only new elections or a broad coalition government can stem the spiral—two options that for now are hypothetical.

    AFP

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    6 Comments

    1. michael danias on

      The Macedonian Slavs need to get used to the fact that the Albanian population within FYROM is there to stay and will only grow. They either assume an antagonistic role and end up in a civil war or assume an inclusive role which safeguards Albanian language and identity at the same time safeguards the Slavic heritage. Both groups need to coexist on the lands of FYROM together in a peaceful manner. The nationalistic approach of the Slavic population will only get them into trouble via a civil war. The Albanians have proven resilience over many centuries. They have an ancestral connection to FYROM which is over 7000 years old, a lot longer than their Slavic co-occupiers. It’s not about Greater Albania. The Albanians of FYROM have no intention of separating. What they want is equal recognition and a stop to a false culture which has been engineered by the Slavic population. They cannot identify with an imposed falsified Hellenic culture. They want a neutral landscape. It’s a composite country made up of Slavs,Albanians, Vlachs, Turks, Romani, Serbs and Pomaks. The last census was in 2002. That’s 15 years ago. Back then these groups were at 35% of he population. Right now if FYROM were to conduct a census it would cause a cultural earthquake. They need to be all inclusive. The Gruevski master plan of Skopje 2014 is a polarizer. No group other that than the nationalistic Slavs can identify with it. Gruevski exacerbated a volatile phenomena that has been fed for decades by the diaspora community since the umbilical cord to Bulgaria was cut by Tito. The educated Slavs know their roots. The not so educated Slavs are vulnerable to propaganda. The nazification of Fyrom has been fueled by the VMRO-DPMNE. They and they alone have embarked on the insanity that is Antiquization. Their school curriculum has been contaminated. Imagine teaching an Albanian child that his ancestor is a Greek by the name of Alexander the Great. It bad enough trying to get the Slavic community to believe it but they do. Both groups cannot even pronounce the historical Greek names. They are foreign words that have been imposed by one man and one party – Gruevski and the VMRO-DPMNE.Politicians like Zaev and Georgievski offer hope. Unfortunately when they speak out they are accused of being traitors and undermining the cultural fabric.What cultural fabric? It’s a fabrication. The VMRO-DPMNE was founded as a mirror modern day version of the Patriot liberation organization the IMRO. Staunchly Slavic in ethnicity. Staunchly unionist with Bulgaria. Gruev & Dalchev who are now national heroes of Bulgaria and FYROM used to pass death sentences on any Slavs claiming that the blood of Alexander The Great ran through them. If they were still around half of the population of FYROM would be dead. They are culturally gluttonous. Not only do they want to embrace the Slavic culture that is within them but they also want to steal an older culture which they not connected to. They cannot have both. Its either one or the other. If it’s Hellenic culture then apologize to Bulgaria and give them back their history. If its Bulgarian culture then keep Gruev & Dalchev,drop Alexander and apologize to Greece. This is not like sexuality. You cannot be Bi-Historical. You are either one or the other. It is understandable why the Albanians are so angry and frustrated. I fear the worst. 2001 was merely a warning. If Ivanov and Gruevski continue trying to protect their Hellenistic stolen culture they will end up in a civil war. The reason the country is failing is because it is based on artificial foundations. Rotten to the core. Deluded in all aspects. They need to demolish those grotesque reproduction Italian made statues, rename their airport, change their flag,rename their highways, burn their heretic encyclopedias, change the school curriculum, drop the irredentist platform and the country will thrive. A nations can only be established on correct cultural foundations. FYROM is sitting on stilts and is about to collapse.

    2. michael danias on

      The country has already destroyed itself. When they allowed Gruevski to erect cheap Italian statues of Hellenic figures the place was doomed. we said nothing. He spent 680 million euros of our money falsifying a history. Anything that happens to Macedonia now is the fault of the Antiquated population who have been brainwashed and Gruevski. I wonder what Gruev and Delchev would have made of this mess. The diaspora criminals in Australia, USA and Canada are also to blame through their lack of education and ultra nationalism. They left here with a suitcase of old clothes and now fancy themselves as history professors. Let the Albanians have it. your greed for hellenic history and digging for something older that wasn’t there has cost you your country. Admire Gruevski’s statues and read your false encyclopedias because that’s all that is left.
      “Goce Delchev and Dame Gruev used to pass Death Sentences to those who claimed the blood of Alexander runs in us“. You made Greater Albania possible by your actions. Don’t blame Albania. Don’t blame the Greeks. Don’t blame Zaev. Don’t blame Georgievski. Blame yourselves. You fly a flag with a Hellenic symbol (the star of Vergina). Shame on you. Our flag is a gold lion on a red background not some Hellenistic symbol. You are all embarrassing.

      • Michael Danias, instead of brushing aside historical quarrels and identity disputes and supporting your Christian-European kinsmen, you blindly obsess with these stupid non-issues that don’t really matter at the moment. What matters is that the Republic of Macedonia may be flooded with Anti-Greek Muslim Albanians, and you’re happily cheering this on because of petty historical garbage blinding you. You’re really fine with having a border with islamic expansionists?