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Macedonia: Impact of the Kosovo war on the relationship between the Macedonians and ethnic Albanians living in the Kumanovo region (1999-August 2000)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 18 August 2000
Citation / Document Symbol MCD35196.E
Reference 7
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Macedonia: Impact of the Kosovo war on the relationship between the Macedonians and ethnic Albanians living in the Kumanovo region (1999-August 2000), 18 August 2000, MCD35196.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ad6730.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
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.

Kumanovo is among the Macedonian cities with an Albanian majority (Tanjug 11 Mar. 1999).

According to Iso Rusi, a journalist with Skopje-based Fokus magazine, the population of Kumanovo and Skopje's Crna Gora quarter was considered to be "anti-NATO" (IWPR 2 June 1999). With respect to Kumanovo, Xinhua indicated that the northern Macedonian city had been used as a NATO military base during its air campaign in Yugoslavia (30 Mar. 1999).

A spokesman of the Macedonian armed forces stated on 23 February 2000 that "the combat readiness of our Kumanovo Corps has been increased by one notch, which means [that] the soldiers and officers of this part of the army have intensified their guard and monitoring" (RFE/RL 23 Feb. 2000). This measure is related to a concern expressed by the Macedonian authorities that ethnic tensions in Kosovo could affect Macedonia (ibid.).

In the first three months of 1999, 14 "violent conflicts" between young Macedonians and ethnic Albanians were reported involving secondary school students in Skopje and Kumanovo (IHF-HR  1 June 2000) despite the presence of police officers in and around schools (Tanjug 11 Mar. 1999). According to Tanjug, a Belgrade-based state news agency, these conflicts were causing increasing anxiety among the Macedonian population (ibid.). Commenting on this wave of  "fights" between Slavic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, Iso Rusi states that:

[they] are unusual in many ways-most important, because they are clearly along ethnic lines. This is the first instance of such an open hostility and violence between the two largest populations in the country (IWPR 18 Mar. 1999).

Analyzing how the situation in Kosovo affects Macedonia, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) stated in a 2 August 2000 report that:

The future of inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia is directly influenced by events in Albania and Kosovo. Arguably, Kosovo has more influence on ethnic Albanians in Macedonia than in Albania. Macedonia and Kosovo were part of the same state until 1991. Until 1912, both Macedonia and Kosovo belonged to the Ottoman Empire, from 1912 until 1918 they were part of Serbia, and from 1918 until 1991 both were part of Yugoslavia. Ties between the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and Kosovo became especially strong after an Albanian-language university was established in Pristina, to which many ethnic Albanians from Macedonia went. Due to increased mobility, family ties and close relationships developed between many ethnic Albanians from the various parts of Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanian political leaders from Macedonia such as DPA Chairman Arben Xhaferi spent many years in Pristina.

Macedonia's ethnic Albanians displayed a great degree of solidarity towards their brethren from Kosovo during the recent crisis. Since the Macedonian government dragged its feet before finally deciding to set up refugee camps, ethnic Albanian families throughout Macedonia accommodated most of them. Macedonia's ethnic Albanians were highly supportive of NATO military action

against Yugoslavia, and they support Kosovo independence. An estimated 14,000 Kosovo Albanians remain in Macedonia.

There can be no doubt that Kosovo's future will affect Macedonia. The question is whether self-rule or independence for Kosovo will destabilise Macedonia. If Kosovo becomes independent or even only quasi-independent, there is a risk that more radical ethnic Albanian politicians in Macedonia will demand fresh negotiations on their own status. It is conceivable that they will press for political or territorial autonomy for those parts of Macedonia predominantly inhabited by ethnic Albanians. In the worst case, Macedonia's future as a state could be put into question if such demands are complemented by the establishment of parallel structures or by a boycott of state institutions.

Potential problems in Macedonia could be aggravated by the fact that ever since Albania sank into chaos in 1997, large numbers of weapons have found their way into citizens' hands. This is certainly the case in Albania and in Kosovo, and it is quite likely that some of them ended up in Macedonia. A further problem is the unchecked criminality in the region. The Macedonia-Yugoslavia border is rife with smugglers and radicalised elements of the former Kosovo and Serbian military units. The increased smuggling and corruption will present tremendous obstacles to stabilising domestic politics.

On 30 March 1999, Xinhua reported a demonstration in Kumanovo of more than 2,000 Macedonians denouncing the NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia. The Chinese news agency made reference to riots involving some Macedonian ethnic Albanians and some demonstrators which injured a policeman and two protestors (ibid.).

For additional background information on Macedonia's ethnic Albanians, please consult the report entitled Macedonia's Ethnic Albanians: Bridging the Gulf, published on 2 August 2000 by the International Crisis Group (ICG).

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.

Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) [London]. Iso Rusi. 2 June 1999. "Skopje Bomb Mystery." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2000]

_____. Iso Rusi. 18 March 1999. "Fighting Breaks out in Macedonia." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2000]

International Crisis Group (ICG) [Brussels]. 2 August 2000. Macedonia's Ethnic Albanians: Bridging the Gulf. [Accessed 3 Aug. 2000]

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

[Accessed 3 Aug. 2000]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 23 February 2000. "Macedonia Puts Forces on Higher Alert." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2000]

Tanjug [Belgrade, in Serbo-Croat]. 11 March 1999. "Macedonia: Ethnic Albanians Said to Attack Children Wearing National." (BBC Worldwide Monitoring 11 Mar. 1999/NEXIS)

Xinhua. 30 March 1999. "Demonstrators Gather in Macedonia, Protesting Nato Strikes." (NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases

Unsuccessful attempts at contacting two oral sources.

Internet sites including:

Albanian World Wide Web

The Balkan Human Rights Web Pages

Central Europe Review

Le Courrier des Balkans [Paris]

Freedom in the World 1999-2000

Hokkaido University Slavic Research Centre

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

International Crisis Group (ICG)

Minorities at Risk Project

Minority Electronic Resources (Minelres)

Minority Rights Group International

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

Transitions [Prague]

U.S. Institute of Peace

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 http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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