Macedonia Next?

By Caplan, Richard | The Nation, December 14, 1992 | Go to article overview

Macedonia Next?


Caplan, Richard, The Nation


Skopje, Macedonia

As the international community concentrates its efforts on tightening the sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro, it is ignoring a crisis in neighboring Macedonia that threatens to plunge the entire southern Balkans into war. Recent clashes here between ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian police, and the turmoil that has ensued, are fueling concerns that widening ethnic divisions could undermine the fragile peace in this former Yugoslav republic.

The violence--sparked by a police crackdown on the black market November 6--was a blow to the moderate coalition government of Branko Crvenkovski, which counts among its ministers four Albanians and one Turk. Despite Crvenkovski's politics of inclusion and despite formal constitutional guarantees for all nationalities living in Macedonia, many Alanians--the country's largest minority--are frustrated with the lack of palpable change in their economic and social status. They are also frustrated by the inability of their leaders to gain passage of legislation that, in their view, would redress the situation. In particular they have sought to lower the residency requirement for citizenship from fifteen to five years, which would help numerous Albanians who have lived abroad as so-called guest workers or have emigrated from neighboring Kosovo to escape the harsh conditions there--including Serbian repression. One week after the Skopje riots, Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, was itself the scene of violence when Albanian militants attacked a Serbian military post.

Under more favorable circumstances Macedonians and Albanians might harmoniously pursue their respective interests; relations between the two groups have been fairly good. Circumstances at the moment, however, are anything but favorable. Greek hysteria over the use of the name Macedonia, which Athens fears will underpin territorial pretensions to its northern province by the same name, has so far prevented international recognition. As a result of this diplomatic wrangling, Macedonia remains off-limits to international assistance and private investment while at the same time enduring a crippling Greek embargo. Predictably, the economy is screaming. Half the country's factories have been at least partially idled for lack of oil, unemployment hovers at about 20 percent--even higher among Albanians--and there are strikes daily.

The combined effects of mounting ethnic tensions, nonrecognition and an economy in tatters are creating pressures for the adoption of more extreme positions. …

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