By Misko Taleski
Macedonian officials began accession dialogue with the EU on Thursday (March 15th), as the nation’s worst ethnic conflict in 11 years began to subside.
It is unknown if the tensions between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, in which at least 30 people were arrested, will be addressed in talks with the Union. But former Foreign Minister Slobodan Chashule told SETimes that he believes the Macedonian public and the international community will recognise the incidents as the actions of extremists, and are not a representation of Macedonia as a whole.
“The feigned incidents will have absolutely no influence at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago because everybody now recognises they have a background which the world rejects as a means to solve problems,” Chashule said.
Fighting occurred primarily in Skopje and Tetovo. The incidents began after an off-duty policeman, an ethnic Macedonian, killed two ethnic Albanian men over an apparent disagreement about a parking space in Gostivar.
Groups of Albanian youths retaliated with attacks on Macedonians in buses and at bus stops, fueling a cycle of violence. Security in several cities was increased to disarm roaming gangs carrying metal bars, baseball bats and knives.
Several football matches were suspended indefinitely after fans of the Macedonian champion Shkendija Tetovo attacked a group of schoolboys on Sunday and stabbed a police officer, according to media reports.
“The internal affairs ministry continues to undertake preventive measures and has increased its presence in the field, mostly in buses and around bus stops,” spokesperson Ivo Kotevski told SETimes.
The fighting prompted a statement from the EU, which warned against “emotional consequences” of continued unrest.
Analysts argue there are two causes of the fights — political parties aiming to return to power by abusing incidents for nationalist purposes; and by foreign security services, trying to destabilise Macedonia prior to the NATO summit in Chicago this May.
“There can be no repeat of the 2001 conflict because the Albanian minority is now integrated in the Macedonian society,” St Cyril and Methodius University Professor and political analyst Biljana Vankovska told SETimes.
One of Macedonia’s leading security analysts, Petar Shkrbina, told SETimes the latest developments are a result of the Albanians being emboldened to change the constitutional order of Macedonia.
“The first phase was a budgetary redistribution by ethnicity, and the second will be to federalise the country along the ethnic boundaries that are being re-drawn. That is why the attempt to falsify the census given their lacking numbers as well as to solve problems not via civil institutions but through mob rule,” Shkrbina said.
Citizens say they are afraid but also say they remain trustful in interethnic co-existence which has been built for years in Macedonia.
“It is obvious the incidents were an attempt to ruin the ethnic co-existence and destabilise the country by misusing young people. As peoples, Macedonians and Albanians have never fought before and should never in the future. Fighting, at a time when minorities’ rights and freedoms are advanced, would create more than a precedent with security implications, not only for Macedonia,” Skopje resident Jovan Trajanovski, 53, told SETimes.
The leaders of the ruling DUI party tried to calm the situation.
“Macedonia has a long tradition of ethnic tolerance and peaceful coexistence which dates back centuries. We will build a good future for all citizens based on this principle, and not based on criminal acts by a small group of individuals,” Deputy Prime Minister Musa Dzaferi said.