By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Thousands joined a “March for Peace” in Skopje on Saturday against the spate of ethnically violent incidents between Macedonians and Albanians that happened earlier this month.
Protestors, including celebrities, intellectuals, NGO activists and the country’s head of state, called for an end to the incidents that have posed a challenge to the country’s fragile ethnic peace.
President Gjorge Ivanov was one of only a few politicians that joined the event.
The event started in Skopje’s main park, with performances by musicians from all ethnicities and the atmosphere set by the sounds of John Lennon’s famous peace song “Imagine” and Bob Marley’s “One Love”.
People carried the slogan “Together for Peace” written in Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, Roma, Vlach and other languages used in the country.
After, they paraded through city streets, passing the government building and the landmark Stone Bridge before returning to the park where the music continued.
“We simply want to live together, through mutual respect and understanding,” Petrit Saracini, a local musician and NGO activist, said.
From the beginning of March Macedonia has experienced the worst outbreak of inter-ethnic gang violence since the Balkan country narrowly avoided civil war in 2001.
Gangs of mainly young people attacked people in commuter buses and on the streets in capital and in other towns, leaving at least 15 injured. Police have apprehended about 30 suspects. No major incidents have been reported in the last few days.
However, the Macedonian embassy in Pristina, in Kosovo, was the target of a Molotov cocktail on Friday night. Kosovo authorities condemned the incident.
In 2001, Macedonia suffered a short-lived armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and the security forces. The conflict ended that year with the signing of the Ohrid Peace Agreement, an internationally brokered accord guaranteeing greater rights to the Albanians who make up about a quarter of the population of 2.1 million.