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Macedonia: Situation of Serbs and the Serbian Democratic Party; whether there were any reports of armed, subversive groups of Serbs formed as a result of the Kosovo conflict (1998-1999)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 13 September 2000
Citation / Document Symbol MCD35346.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Macedonia: Situation of Serbs and the Serbian Democratic Party; whether there were any reports of armed, subversive groups of Serbs formed as a result of the Kosovo conflict (1998-1999), 13 September 2000, MCD35346.E, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Estimates of the proportion of ethnic Serbs in Macedonia range from 2 to 2.4 per cent of the total population estimated at 2,009,000 (ICG 2 Aug. 2000; Country Reports 1999 2000; AFP 20 Nov. 1999; MRP 1 July 1999), approximately 48,000 people (ibid.). The Serb minority is concentrated in north-eastern Macedonia (ibid.; ICG 2 Aug. 2000), in particular in Kumanovo (AFP 20 Nov. 1999). Ethnic Serbs speak Serbian, which is distinct from Macedonian and are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church (MRP 1 July 1999).

Ethnic Serbs are not named among the protected minorities in the Macedonian constitution, although according to MRP the government is making "credible efforts" in this regard (ibid.).

Freedom in the World 1998-1999 makes reference to complaints of discrimination by Macedonia's national minorities, including ethnic Serbs (1999) while Country Reports 1999 speaks of "societal discrimination against minorities", including ethnic Serbs, and of the presence of "ethnic tensions and prejudices" in Macedonian society (2000). However, MRP claims that Macedonia has one of the best records in inter-ethnic relations (1 July 1999).

According to Freedom in the World 1998-1999, national minorities, particularly Albanians have complained about abuses at the hands of police and discrimination (1999). No further information could be found on abuse by police of members of national minorities in the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.


Representatives of political parties and associations defending the rights of ethnic Serbs claimed that the latter face discriminatory practices (hiring, dismissal, promotions) and harassment in the workplace (MRP 1 July 1999).

In state institutions, there are reports indicating "progress" in the representation of national minorities despite a "disproportionate" representation of ethnic Macedonians (Country Reports for 1999 2000; HRW 2000).


Orthodox Serbs along with the Vlach, the Turks and the Macedonian Muslims, claim to face religious discrimination in Macedonia (IHF-HR 1 June 2000), in particular they cannot "freely" practice their religion (Freedom in the World 1998-1999 1999), or attend services in Serbian (SRNA 25 Jan. 1999; IHF-HR 1 June 2000). According to Country Reports 1999, this situation is related to the fact that the Serbian Orthodox Church has refused to recognize the self-proclaimed Macedonian Orthodox Church (2000), while Human Rights Watch writes that each has refused to recognize the other (2000). Referring to this refusal, the Macedonian authorities refused entry into the country to Serb Orthodox priests several times in 1998 (Country Reports 1999 2000) and in 1999 (HRW 2000).


Although the Macedonian Constitution provides for primary and secondary education in the languages of the ethnic minorities, only primary education in Serbian is available (Country Reports for 1999 2000). However, MRP indicates that leaders of the Serb minority complained about discrimination in educational institutions and demanded more education in the Serbian language (1 July 1999).


Political parties and associations representing ethnic Serbs have called for more access to Serbian language media (ibid.). On 30 March 1998, the chair of the association of the Serbs in Macedonia claimed that T96, the only television with programs in Serbian, had not obtained a frequency in Skopje without indicating any reasons (Radio Sarajevo 27 May 1998).


Culturally speaking, representatives of the Serb minority have accused the Macedonian government of implementing a policy of assimilation of the Serb culture (MRP 1 July 1999). Additional and/or corroborating information on this claim could not be found in the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Political activities

There are references to registered political parties representing ethnic minorities, including ethnic Serbs (Country Reports 1999 2000). Minorities at Risk Project indicated that at least two political parties and an association had been created to defend the rights of ethnic Serbs (1 July 1999). On 27 May 1998, the association of Serbs in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia chaired by Nebojsa Tomovic was renamed "the Serb community in Macedonia" with the aim of reorganizing and unifying Macedonian Serbs, establishing a national community-like institution of Serbs and preventing confusion with other Serb organizations (Radio Sarajevo 27 May 1998).

The Democratic Party of the Serbs in Macedonia (DPSM)

Information on the DPSM can be found in MCD28779.E of 3 February 1998. On 15 May 1999, the chair of the Democratic Party of the Serbs in Macedonia announced that the party had 52,000 members after more than 22,000 people had joined following NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia (MRP 1 July 1999). No information on the ethnic background of the members could be found in the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

In 1998, the DPSM submitted a candidate list to the State Electoral Commission in its bid to participate in the Macedonian elections (MIC 15 Sept. 1998). However, no reports of DPSM candidates being elected or nominated to the legislature could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. On 12 June 1998, the DPSM along with other Macedonian political parties took part in consultations with President Gligorov to discuss the situation in Kosovo (MIC 15 June 1998). The president talked about the conclusions reached at a NATO ministerial meeting and the plan to dispatch forces to south-eastern Europe (ibid.).


In connection with a 18 June 1999 explosion in Skopje which destroyed a NATO truck parked outside a NATO command centre, the Macedonian police detained 10 ethnic Serbs and charged 5 of them with terrorism (AP 23 June 1999). The Macedonian interior minister indicated in a press conference that 10 ethnic Serbs from Mershic, a village in Skopje had been behind the explosion and 2 other individuals had worked as guards at the Gazelle shoe factory in Skopje (Kosovapress 24 June 1999). The guards, former officers in the Yugoslav armed forces, had reportedly come to Macedonia, married Macedonian citizens and initiated a recruitment campaign to "conduct subversive acts" in Macedonia (ibid.). One of the guards who was on the "most-wanted list" of the Macedonian police called a police precinct to claim responsibility for the attack (ibid.). The interior minister claimed that the accused individuals were associated with the Serb nationalist party in Macedonia (ibid.). During a search conducted at the houses of the suspects in a Macedonian village, the police discovered large quantities of arms (ibid.; AP 23 June 1999). The minister also alleged that agents of the Serb secret service had provided assistance to the local group and that the group was responsible for dispatching weapons to other groups formed to carry out attacks against NATO troops in Macedonia (Kosovapress 24 June 1999). The Macedonian Interior Ministry planned to ask Interpol and its Serbian counterpart to charge members of the group with participation in a "terrorist act" (ibid.). According to AP, Macedonian law provides for a penalty of at least three years in prison for acts of terrorism (23 June 1999). Despite the arrests, the police were continuing their investigation and looking for other suspects (ibid.).

A 20 May 1999 BBC dispatch reported the creation of "protection forces of unarmed volunteers" in the Serb villages of Mirkovci, Kuceviste (north-eastern Macedonia) and Cucer which were hosting Serb refugees from Kosovo (MRP 1 July 1999). The villagers claimed that they had no confidence in the Macedonian authorities and that the latter did not "seem to care about them" (ibid.).

There is a reference to "Serb special forces, paramilitary groups or armed Macedonian villagers who back the Serbs" described as a threat to U.S. troops patrolling near the Macedonian border with Kosovo (The Dallas Morning News 5 Apr. 1999).

A Yugoslav citizen and six Macedonian citizens of Serb and Albanian backgrounds were arrested in May 1999 and charged with "association for the purpose of hostile activities against the Macedonian state" (Dnevnik 22 May 1999). However, in a subsequent press conference, the DPSM leader protested their arrests and alleged that the Interior Ministry was "organizing raids, arresting and harassing the Orthodox population in the country's northern parts" (ibid.). Additional and/or corroborating information could not be found in the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

A 19 April 1999 article made reference to a 19-year-old ethnic Macedonian who had been recruited by a Serbian militia called "Black Hand" in Skopje (The Scotsman). The Scotsman also mentioned the case of the leader of the Party for Democratic Prosperity, a moderate Albanian party in Macedonia, who had been forced to hide after receiving death threats from "Serb paramilitary groups" active in Macedonia (ibid.). According to the Scottish newspaper, the Macedonian government was allowing Serb paramilitaries to recruit in Macedonia (ibid.).


A demonstration organized by the DPSM on 20 November 1999 to protest a possible visit of U.S. president Bill Clinton to Macedonia gathered over 1,000 people in downtown Skopje (Tanjug 20 Nov. 1999; AFP 20 Nov. 1999). During the protest, a DPSM official denounced the Macedonian Prime Minister for stating that there were no Serbs in Macedonia (ibid.). Radio Belgrade reported on 23 June 1999 that the DPSM had supported Macedonia's largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Alliance, in its plan to hold a protest in Skopje against Macedonia's position on Kosovo.

A concert aimed at denouncing the NATO air strikes was held in Skopje on 30 May 1999 gathering ethnic Macedonians alongside ethnic Serbs (MRP 1 July 1999). The AFP indicated that several demonstrations supportive of the Serbs had been held in Macedonia since the beginning of the NATO air strikes (ibid.).

Ethnic Serbs owning land near the Stenkovec refugee camp expressed their sympathy with "pro-Yugoslavia" demonstrators in Skopje by refusing to sell their land to enlarge the camp (Knight Ridder 28 Apr. 1999).

On 23 April 1999, the PDSM held an "anti-NATO demonstration" in Skopje which gathered between 5,000 and 10,000 people. No incidents related to this protest was reported (BHHRG 1999).

On 26 March 1999, 60 people, including the PDSM leader were arrested while they were taking part in an illegal demonstration in downtown Skopje aimed at denouncing NATO and the United States (The Orlando Sentinel 27 Mar. 1999). The police subsequently released him (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France Presse (AFP). 20 November 1999. "Macedonian Serbs Protest Ahead of Clinton Visit." (NEXIS)

Associated Press (AP). 23 June 1999. Konstantin Testorides. "Ten Ethnic Serbs Detained, Five Charged With Terrorism." (NEXIS)

British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) [London]. 1999. Macedonia 1999. Refugees and Politics. [Accessed 11 Sept. 2000]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999. 2000. [Accessed 11 Sept. 2000]

The Dallas Morning News. 5 April 1999. "Soldiers' Fears About Fate of Captured Mates Grow." (NEXIS)

Dnevnik [Skopje, in Macedonian]. 22 May 1999. "Macedonian Serbs Justify Attacks on Bases of NATO 'Occupying Force'" (BBC Summary 26 May 1999/WNS)

Freedom in the World 1998-1999. 1999. "Macedonia."

[Accessed 11 Sept. 2000]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2000. Macedonia.

[Accessed 11 Sept. 2000]

International Crisis Group (ICG) (Brussels). 2 August 2000. Macedonia's Ethnic Albanians: Bridging the Gulf. [Accessed 11 Sept. 2000]

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF-HR) [Vienna]. 1 June 2000. Human Rights in the OSCE Region: the Balkans, the Caucasus, Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2000. [Accessed 11 Sept. 2000]

Knight Ridder. 28 April 1999. Iso Rusi. "An Uneasy Mixture of Loyalties in Macedonia." (NEXIS)

Kosovapress [Pristina, in English]. 24 June 1999. "Kosovo Rebel Agency Says "Secret Service" Behind Bomb Attack on NATO."(BBC Summary 26 June 1999/NEXIS)

MIC [Skopje, in Englisha]. 15 September 1998. "FYROM: Seventeen Candidate Lists Submitted for FYROM Elections." (FBIS-EEU-98-259 17 Sept. 1998/WNC)

_____. 15 June 1998. "FYROM: Gligorov Holds Talks with Party Leaders on Kosovo." (FBIS-EEU-98-167 17 June 1998/WNC)

Minorities at Risk Project (MRP). 1 July 1999. Serbs in Macedonia. [Accessed 11 Sept. 2000]

The Orlando Sentinel. 27 March 1999. "Macedonian Police Arrest Serb Party Leader, Others." (NEXIS)

Radio Belgrade [in Serbo-Croat]. 23 June 1999. "Macedonian Opposition Planning Anti-government Rally on 24th June." (BBC Monitoring 24 June 1999/NEXIS)

Radio Macedonia [Skopje, in Macedonian]. 30 January 1998. "Serbs in Macedonia Criticize President's Plan on Corridor for Refugees." (BBC Monitoring 2 Feb. 1998/NEXIS).

Radio Sarajevo [Lukavica, in Serbo-Croat]. 27 May 1998. "Macedonian Serbs Lose Only Serbian-Language TV." (BBC Summary 30 May 1998/NEXIS)

The Scotsman [Edinburgh]. 19 April 1999. James Pettifer. "Macedonia's Black Hand Militia Perfect Tool for Serbs." (NEXIS)

SRNA [Bijelina, in Serbo-Croat]. 25 January 1999. "Macedonian Serb Leader Accuses Skopje of Violating Religious Rights." (BBC Monitoring 26 Jan. 1999/NEXIS)

Tanjug [Belgrade, in Serbo-Croat]. 20 November 1999. "Serbs Organize Anti-US Protest in Macedonian Capital." (BBC Summary 22 Nov. 1999)

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


Internet sites including:

The Balkans Human Rights Web Pages

Council of Europe, Directorate General of Human Rights, Minorities Home Page

Index of Joshua Project 2000 Peoples by Country

Minority Electronic Resources (MINELRES)

Minority Rights Group International (MRGI)

Organization for Security and Organization in Europe (OSCE)

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)


World News Connection (WNC)

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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