By Misko Taleski
Macedonia showed its capacity to deal with an interethnic challenge during the incident at Skopje’s medieval Kale fortress earlier this month, but many are now calling for more actions to prevent the politicalisation of religious and cultural issues.
On February 13th, about 100 Albanians, led by Skopje’s Chair municipality president and Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) parliamentarian Izet Medziti tried to demolish the steel framework of a museum on the fortress grounds.
Kale is an archeological site that Albanians contested in attempting to prove their alleged Illyrian, and therefore native, origins, while Medziti is known for spearheading the vahabbi overtake of five mosques and constructing three mosques of questionable legality.
The attempted demolition was followed by a peaceful protest of mostly young Macedonians in support of building the museum. Albanian NGOs, who were also scheduled to protest, saw their presence as provocation and clashed with them, injuring eight.
President Gjorge Ivanov and other officials said violence must be denounced and called on the authorities to sanction the violators. Ivanov told SETimes of the “worrisome” presence of many minors at the incidents, “which points to the need for parents to be responsible their children’s activities”.
Ivanov also acknowledged the political dimension of the unrest. “This is an appeal not to let such events take place because when elections are even considered, the political scene seems to boil.”
The generally cautious response by police and Deputy Internal Affairs Minister and DUI member Dzevad Buchi’s freeing of arrested Albanians fuelled the public’s anger amid questions about equality under the law.
“There was anxiety and tension. I had to calm the situation,” Buchi said.
Government Commission for Relations with Religious Communities President Valentina Bozinovska said that mistaking cultural objects for objects of worship is a pretext to create incidents, and called the attempted demolition an act of vandalism.
“It is not a church, but a museum of Macedonia’s cultural heritage atop the 13th century church foundations, which will house all artifacts found at the medieval fortress — something the government is required to do by Macedonian law аnd by international conventions,” Bozinovska told SETimes.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Slobodan Casule told SETimes the incidents represent additional pressure to weaken the governing coalition.
The opposing view holds that the governing coalition parties VMRO-DPMNE and DUI are trying to energise their base of voters.
The coalition subsequently issued a joint statement calling for open political dialogue within the framework of political institutions, and said the institutions have the capacity to solve such a sensitive question.
“We have to show with our conduct that we are deserving citizens of our country, Macedonia, and are ready to sacrifice our narrower party or ethnic interests for the sake of the country’s stability, peace and the well-being of the citizens,” Democratic Reconstruction of Macedonia party President Ljiljana Popovska told SETimes.