By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Albanian community leaders in Macedonia are urging the public not to blame their community for the recent murders of five men before the police investigation has finished.
“We condemn the tendency to collectively blame Albanians for every negative occurrence in the country”, the NGO Zgjohu! (“Wake Up!”) said on Tuesday, urging the police to “prevent racist and nationalist abuse of Albanians by groups led by Fascist ideologies”.
Tensions peaked on Monday when the police prevented a mob of Macedonian youngsters from moving across the Vardar River towards an area of the capital mainly populated by ethnic Albanians.
The protest came four days after the murders of five men, which has sharply fuelled inter-ethnic tensions, feeding rumours that the men were killed by Albanians. Police have repeatedly said there is no evidence to support such claims.
Another NGO, Civil Center for Freedom, which has been at the the forefront of a Macedonian campaign against culture of firearms, also appealed for communal peace.
“Recent events have shown again that the situation in Macedonia is almost out of control,” the NGO said. “We must look to the future and draw lessons from the recent bloody history of the Balkans and Macedonia”.
In Skopje’s mainly Albanian municipality of Cair, locals condemn the murders but say they feel increasingly threatened for their own personal safety.
“I am horrified by the murders but Albanians should not be blamed by default for them,” Lefter, a pensioner from Cair, said.
Bujar, a car-wash owner from Cair, said he feared for his safety and for that of his loved ones. “I am scared that some maniac or hothead may come here and start shooting at people in broad daylight,” he said.
Belinda, a sociology student, said people “should let the police do their job before resorting to more violence that may result in more and more youngsters dying”.
In the centre of Skopje, Naum Radevski, a barber, said he suspects that the killings were a provocation engineered by “someone who wants total disorder and hatred between people”.
Tensions have run high since last Thursday when the police discovered the bullet riddled bodies of Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, on the northern outskirts of the capital at one local fishing destination.
The body of 45-year-old Borce Stevkovski was a short distance away from the rest.
The shocking incident, ahead of Orthodox Easter, seemed bound to cause more turbulence in the country between Macedonians and the country’s large ethnic Albanian minority.
Tension between the two communities has been rising since February when an off-duty Macedonian policeman shot dead two young Albanians in the northwestern town of Gostivar.
After that, the Balkan country experienced the worst outbreak of inter-ethnic gang violence since 2001, when it narrowly avoided civil war.