Macedonia Albanians Build Huge Balkan War Memorial

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By Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Construction has begun on a vast memorial in the west of the country to Albanians allegedly killed by Serbs in 1913, which could cause discontent in Belgrade.

The complex, stretching out over 3,000 square meters near the village of Zajas, will be dedicated to some 500 Albanians from the region who perished in 1913 during the second Balkan War and who are believed by some to have been executed by Serbian forces.

The grand memorial will incorporate an Albanian flag on a 30-metre-tall pole, a five-metre-tall bronze monument called the ‘Albanian Mother’, and some 500 surrounding cylindrical tombstones.

The ethnic Albanian-dominated municipality of Zajas also plans to turn a nearby building into a museum dedicated to the victims who are believed to be still buried in no less than nine mass graves in the region.

While the memorial is planned to be finished by the end of the year, the exhumation of those believed to be buried in the mass graves may take years to complete.

“The bodies of all fallen fighters that are still buried in wells, mountains and mass graves will be transferred to the memorial complex. We will not leave a stone unturned until we find them,” the head of Macedonia’s junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration, Ali Ahmeti, was quoted as saying recently.

The village of Zajas is Ahmeti’s birthplace.

His brother, Vedat, said that according to village legends, the well in their family house alone may hide some 40 bodies.

“You can imagine what kind of ordeal Zajas went through [during the Balkan wars] when even six weeks after the killing, the area was still full of mothers and wives mourning for their loved ones,” Vedat Ahmeti told the Dnevnik daily.

The construction of the complex, approved by the municipality, is expected to cost some 200 thousand euro, mostly coming from donations from local businessman. The memorial should be open by the end of the year.

Unlike in the first Balkan war of 1912 when several Balkan states fought side-by-side to oust the weakened Ottoman Empire from the Balkan peninsula, the second Balkan war broke a year later when Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece, unhappy over its share of spoils in Macedonia from the first war.

Much of the conflict, tainted by frequent massacres on all sides, took place on what was then the geographical region of Macedonia, of which only one part is today’s Republic of Macedonia.

Albanian and Serbian scholars today have conflicting views over whether the then Serbian army and paramilitary committed a series of massacres of the Albanian population in Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania.

Last year Macedonia allowed a big Serbian state ceremony to take place at a Serbian war memorial at Zebrnjak hill, near the town of Kumanovo, marking the anniversary of the 1912 Kumanovo battle where the Serbian army defeated Ottoman forces.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic attended the ceremony along with Macedonian state officials. However, no representatives from the junior ruling Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, were present.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (forner the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes.

BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention.

Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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