Magazine article New Internationalist

How a War Begins: Untangling Macedonia's Ethnic Conflicts

Magazine article New Internationalist

How a War Begins: Untangling Macedonia's Ethnic Conflicts

Article excerpt

Ohrid, western Macedonia, is a holiday resort vainly preparing for the tourists whom everybody knows aren't coming this year. Foreign bookings at its lakeside hotels have all been cancelled. Their facades stare emptily across the water at the mountain-ranges of southern Albania.

In the small hours of a Saturday morning one bar down by the harbour is playing Serbian music to a clientele of Macedonians, all young and mostly drunk. One group invites me to their table. They eagerly explain that their leader has killed many Albanians. Shaven-headed, with one pierced eyebrow, this 'leader' has Jesus Christ tattooed on one shoulder, a gremlin on the other. I ask him exactly how many he has killed. 'Three or four,' he answers, airily. 'Which?' I ask, 'Three? Or Four?' 'Eight,' he replies, rising to his theme. Entrance- and exit-wounds are described in detail. His girlfriend reassures me he's just a boy really.

Is this teen self-dramatization plus alcohol, or is this the stuff death-squads are made of? A clear answer to that, as to so much else in Macedonia, is very hard to give.

I tell this story to Tome Dzamtovski, director of Radio Ohrid, who is in his mid-thirties. He grimaces. 'It's true. There is this hate now. It is new. The young Albanians are the same. But I still hope some collective wisdom will prevail. We're nothing like Bosnia - there's no history of this hatred in Macedonia.'

That's a valid point. Until February of this year Macedonia and Slovenia were exemplary: the only countries to extricate themselves peacefully from the post-Yugoslav nightmare.

But since then rebels along the northern border with Kosovo have taken up arms, demanding full legal rights for the country's Albanian minority (30 per cent of the population). With no tourists, a stalled economy and unemployment over 40 per cent, tempers are shortening.

Macedonians maintain that their constitution, which the Albanians and the European Union (EU) now insist must be renegotiated, was drawn up in painstaking consultation with the Council of Europe and other EU bodies. …

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