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New mosque causes ethnic rift in southwest Macedonia

June 13, 2012

Source: SETimes, 11/06/2012

Plans by an Islamic community to build a new mosque in southwest Macedonia is causing an ethnic rift.

By Goran Trajkov for Southeast European Times in Skopje — 11/06/12

photoTwo ethnic communities in Lazac, near Bitola, are at odds over the mosque. [Radio Free Europe]

A village mosque that is to be built in Lazec, near Bitola, in southwestern Macedonia, has been creating tension for years in the ethnically mixed village, where 120 Macedonians and 80 Albanians live. The two groups cannot agree on the location of the new mosque.

Lazec Macedonians said the original planned location that the Islamic community wants to build coincide with the foundations of the St George Orthodox Church.

Tensions further escalated after the municipality council of Bitola decided to approve the mosque at the village entrance. Macedonians from Lazec said that they are not against the construction of religious buildings, but they oppose the planned location.

“We want the mosque to be built next to the church, which will satisfy the request of the Macedonian people from the village, and will send a message that the village is multi-ethnic, where Macedonians and Albanians live together. Albanian residents again asked that the mosque be located at the village entrance, which hurts the Macedonians who say that if the mosque is built at the entrance to the village it will signal that only Albanians live here,” Orce Dandushevski, Lazec community president, told SETimes

The representative of the Islamic religious community from Bitola, Mufti Plumi Veliu, said that the community is waiting for a suitable moment to start the mosque construction.

“The technical documentation is complete and sent to competent authorities, so the construction work should start soon. Reactions as always will be present, but everything is ready to start the construction work. We hope there will be no problems, because the location is determined by the state,” Veliu told SETimes.

Meanwhile, multi-ethnic co-existence in Lazec has significantly diminished. Both communities cut contact with each other — even in everyday needs. The village now has two shops, one so-called Macedonian, the other Albanian.

“The mosque … started damaging interethnic relations in Lazec six years ago …. Now everyone abides by the rule that everyone shops in their own store, even for bread. … The residents of Lazani blame politics for the situation,” Orthodox priest Father Oliver told SETimes.

“It’s nice to have a religious object in this village, no matter where the location because we will have a place in the village to pray and to bury our dead. Until now we were going to the village Kisava, 5km away,” Lirim Rusidoski, an Albanian Lazec villager, told SETimes.

Macedonian residents of Lazec say that they will either move out of the village and leave everything behind, or go abroad.

Vasco Despotovski, a village resident, said that half the village is already planning to emigrate.

“Another family left the village two days ago. We knew the family and we lived [side by side], but because of the mosque dispute they left. The pressure is huge,” Despotovski told SETimes.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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