There is a significant risk of rebellion by the Albanians in Macedonia. 2001 brought ethnic tensions to a climax as a violent insurgency caused more than 170,000 ethnic Albanians and Macedonians to flee from their homes. This insurgency was led by the nationalistic Albanian NLA party in response to perceived discrimination by the Macedonian government. Eventually order was restored and a treaty was signed increasing Albanian's rights. The 2002 elections ended with a number of former NLA members obtaining political posts in Macedonia's more minority-tolerant government. Despite these advances, discrimination remains in many sectors including police/military recruitment, education, the judiciary system, and powerful positions in the government and civil service sectors.
Albanians live concentrated in the northwestern part of the country, in a region that borders Albania and Kosovo, two areas inhabited by other Albanians. There are several political parties that represent the Albanian minority in Macedonia, all of them very active in national and local politics, together with a plethora of cultural and religious organizations. The Albanians in Macedonia feel they are excluded and that their rights are not respected; measures aimed at the protection of their cultural and religious tradition exist but are at times poorly applied. Conditions have improved drastically in the past two years, brought about by government initiatives negotiated in a treaty ending the 2001 insurgency.
The risk of protests is higher than the risk of rebellion. The Albanians see themselves as marginalized by the governments in Skopje and feel that more should be done to improve their condition. They perceive that there are restrictions against their legitimate freedoms. Support for their claims comes from the Kosovo Albanians, however the situation in Macedonia is different than the one in Kosovo. Macedonia is a democratic country with internationally recognized free and fair elections. Oppression seems to be diminishing as change is being initiated through political venues. Ethnic tensions remain high, however it appears Albanians and Macedonians are making progress via more peaceful routes since the 2001 insurgency.
The northwestern region of Macedonia, centered on the city of Tetovo, is the place where most Albanians live and where they make up the majority of the population (GROUPCON = 3). They speak Albanian (LANG = 1), a language totally different from Macedonian, and are in majority Muslim, as opposed to the Macedonians who are Eastern Orthodox (BELIEF=1). The Albanians and the Macedonians have a long history of coexistence, for the most part peaceful. During the times of the Yugoslav federation, the Macedonian Albanians had very close relationship with the ones in Kosovo, with Pristina being the regional cultural capital. When Macedonia became independent, in 1991, the Albanians started to demand more cultural and political rights, and the past decade has been marked by a slow progression toward the fulfillment of these demands.
The Albanians are organized politically and their representatives have been members of all post-communist governments in Skopje. They are also active at the local level. However, the Albanians are underrepresented in the state apparatus, in the military and the police. There are restrictions in regard to the education in Albanian, and social prejudice to the practice of Islam. Amnesty argues that in general the police is using torture in its investigations, and several Albanian suspects have died while in custody over the last several years.
The cultural demands of the Albanians in Macedonia have been focused on the right of education in their mother tongue at the university level. They founded the Albanian University of Tetovo in 1995, but this institution has been considered illegal by the government. In 2000, the project of a trilingual university was approved by EU, OSCE, and the Macedonian government, and it seemed to be a solution to this education problem. They also demand to be more represented in the police and in the military, which are perceived now to be instruments in the hands of the Macedonian majority. Some minor groups also claim federalization but most ask for regional autonomy with widespread powers (AUTGR400 = 1).
The Albanians are very well organized. The first political parties claiming to speak for the minority appeared as soon as communism made its way out. The Party of Democratic Prosperity, the Democratic Party of Albanians, the National Democratic Party, the Democratic Alliance of Albanians are among the organizations that represent the Albanians in Macedonia; some of them came to life as a consequence of a split within older parties, and most of them are competing against each other in the elections. Their message extends from a very inclusive and tolerant one to a more nationalist tone. The National Liberation Army (NLA) is responsible for the violent insurgency of 2001. It remains a formidable force in Macedonian politics as members have representation in the Macedonian government. Albania has spoken in the name of the Albanians in Macedonia in international forums and defended their demands.
The Albanian political parties and the Macedonian government continue to negotiate agreements that would significantly improve the situation of the minority. There is progress towards the reduction of discriminatory acts and activities against the Albanians. At the very least, the situation is considerably better than it was in 2001.
The creation of a Macedonian Identity
As late as 1945, ethnic Macedonian identity was something that still inhabited the realm of ambiguity. The Bulgarian occupation during WWII "had disillusioned many if not most Yugoslav Macedonians", while the Yugoslav Communist movement under the direction of Josip Broz Tito steadily increased in popularity and strength (Poulton, Balkans, 49). The distaste of being Bulgarian when under Bulgarian domination, or being Greek or Serbian in times of their growth in influence, attracted the peoples of Yugoslav Macedonia into the Communist camp. In 1943, the Communist Partisans promised republican status to Macedonia in a future Yugoslav federation.
In 1944, the region was firmly under Communist control, and in 1945, Vardar Macedonia was recognized as one of six republics in the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia (FSRY). As a republic of the FSRY, the Slavs of Macedonia were regarded as a unique people distinct from Serbs, Greeks, or Bulgarians. This formation, in the eyes of Communist leaders had its advantages for the FSRY. A separate Macedonian identity would act to limit Serbian influence in the FSRY, would undermine any Greek or Bulgarian claims to Vardar Macedonia, and further would allow Yugoslavia to claim that Macedonian minorities existed in Greece and Bulgaria (Perry, "Balkan Problem," 36).
Once a distinct ethnic Macedonian identity was announced, the next phase of the process was to actually develop or create this identity. FSRY leaders, under the direction of Josip Broz Tito, used the "full weight of the education system and bureaucracy" to introduce variations in the language used by Macedonians in order to differentiate it from Serbian and Bulgarian (Poulton, Balkans 50). The bureaucracy also created a new history for the Slav Macedonians, which sometimes even attempted to link the ethnicity of Slav Macedonians to Philip II and Alexander the Great. In a "rare occurrence of atheist State cooperation with organized religion", the FSRY also directly assisted in the creation of the autocephalous Macedonian Orthodox Church in 1967 to undermine the influence of neighboring Orthodox Churches (Poulton, Balkans 50).
Gow, James, and James Pettiler. "Macedonia: Handle with Care" Jane's Intelligence Review. vol. 5 (Sept. 1993) 387-388.
Mickey, Robert W., and Adam S. Albion. "Success in the Balkans? A Case Study of Ethnic Relations in the Republic of Macedonia". Minorities: The New Europe's Old Issues. Ed. Ian M. Cuthbertson and Jane Leibowitz. Institute for Eastwest Studies, 1993. 53-98.
Perry, Duncan M. "Macedonia: A Balkan Problem and a
European Dilemma". RFE/RL Research Report. 1.25 (19 June 1992): 35-45.
--- "Macedonia". RFE/RL Research Report. 3.16 (22 April 1994): 83-86.
Poulton, Hugh. The Balkans: Minorities and States in Conflict. London: Minority Rights Group, 1991.
"The Republic of Macedonia after UN Recognition". RFE/RL Research Report. 2.23 (4 June 1993): 22-30.
Troebst, Stefan. "Macedonia: Powder Keg Diffused?" RFE/RL Research Report. 3.4 (28 Jan. 1994): 33-41.
Lexis/Nexis: All news files August 1994 to Dec. 2003.