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Interethnic Violence in FYROM

March 21, 2012

By Stavros Tzimas, Kathimerini, 21.03.2012.

[Translated from Greek]

Tensions between Albanians and Slavomacedonians are rising.

It started at the end of last year in the stadiums of Serbia, where the European Handball Championship was being held, in which the national team of FYROM did well. In the stands, groups of fanatical young Slavomacedonians who had travelled, most with state funds, to support their team and overcome by a patriotic furore, shouted slogans against the Albanians of their country.

Then came the incidents of the carnival in the town of Vevcani, at the beginning of Lent, where Slavomacedonians, apart from the “funeral” of Greece, proceeded with festivities that Albanians took to be an insult to the Koran and reacted with dynamic demonstrations. The fuse, however, that menaces with setting fire to the fragile interethnic relations in the neighbouring country was lit a few days ago by the bloody incident in the mostly Albanian town of Gostivar, where a Slavomacedonian police officer shot and killed two young Albanians after a dispute over an illegally parked car.

The incidents spread with trouble in Skopje, Tetovo and other towns, provoking worries to the political leadership and the international community, as it awakens memories of the Spring of 2001. At night groups of young Slavomacedonians attack and beat Albanians on the streets, but even during the day masked men enter city buses from which they take out and beat up any Albanians, even people of an advanced age. However the Albanians have not remained with their arms crossed. In their capital, Tetovo, young men savagely beat up a seventeen year old Slavomacedonian girl, while other attacks have taken place in areas where the Albanian element constitutes a majority.

The Tsarsia neighbourhood of Skopje, on the shores of the Vardar, with its quaint bars and beautiful restaurants, was during the last years a place of meeting of the Slavomacedonians and Albanians. It was full of life. Lately it is deserted, people frightened from what they hear avoid visiting it, as do they avoid, especially at night, circulating in other neighbourhoods of the capital, but also in Tetovo. “You walk in the street and you do not know from where you will be attacked. Never have the relations between Slavomacedonians and Albanians been so bad since 2001”, says under guarantee of anonymity a female journalist.

The Role of Gruevski

The Prime Minister Gruevski, worried by the image that the country is sending out internationally, intervened, recommending calm to both sides, while he tried to play down the escalating incidents – as did the Media that are controlled by the government. However he himself is not without responsibility for the tension and the hostility between the communities, which menaces to destabilise the country, something that has not gone unnoticed by the international factor.

With the policy of antiquization as an official national ideology, he is feeding the nationalism of both communities and caused a strong reaction by the Albanians, who refuse to accept the role of a minority, considering themselves as a partner of the state with the same rights with the majority Slavomacedonian element.

The truth is that never since the founding of the state of FYROM, in 1992, have the Slavomacedonians and Albanians felt that they coexist as brothers is the same house. The pre-Gruevski leaderships, however, as Kiro Gligorov, Branko Cervenkovski, Vlado Butkovski, and even previous VMRO DPMNE governments, generally handled the delicate balance between the two communities with skill.

For the time being everyone avoids speaking of a new 2001, when the two communities in a similar atmosphere reached armed conflict. The conditions are certainly not the same. However the policy of Gruevski is pushing the Albanian society to a divergent orbit, in a period that the nationalist sirens in Kosovo and Tirana are sounding the vision of the unification of the Albanian nation within common borders.

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