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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Macedonian Albanians' grievances
Balkans map
BBC News Online's regional expert Paulin Kola outlines the root causes of the ethnic Albanian grievances.

Most Macedonian Albanians say that all they want is to be equal to ethnic Macedonians. They say they want:

  • To be recognised as equal by the Macedonian Constitution
  • Albanian to be an official language
  • A state-funded university.

But most Macedonians argue that what their Albanian countrymen really want is the destruction of Macedonia and the creation of a "Greater Albania".

Official figures put the overall number of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia at about 23%. Albanians say they make up more than 40% of the population.

Yet less than 10% of the workforce is made up of Albanians, according to a government report released in May 2000.

In the police force and the military ethnic Albanians make up only 3.1% of the employees.

Albanian demonstrators
Rebels have found support
A similar situation exists in other sectors of public life, including the judiciary and the health system.

Economically, Macedonia's Albanians are generally self-reliant, with many being self-employed.

But they say that when they have a grievance, they face an administration that is so disproportionately Macedonian that they are made to feel "alien".

Dismissing charges of discrimination, the government argues that this is in part due to the fact that education levels among Macedonia's Albanians are generally lower than amongst ethnic Macedonians.


This brings to the fore the Albanians' second major grievance - education in their mother tongue.

For the past decade, Albanians in Macedonia have been unanimous in demanding the creation of a university with Albanian as the primary language.

Since 1994, they have consistently clashed with the authorities after establishing such an institution just outside the mainly ethnic Albanian city of Tetovo, which the government deemed "illegal" and took steps to close down.

A compromise brokered by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe - that a private university be set up in lieu of a publicly-funded institution - appears to have satisfied only part of the ethnic Albanian elite.

The authorities fear that an Albanian language university would set the country on a path towards separatism.

More generally, however, they argue the Albanians enjoy every single right a national minority is entitled to.

Constitutional position

This infuriates the Albanians further for they do not accept being a national minority.

They fiercely oppose Macedonia's fundamental law which defines the republic as a state of Macedonians, and other minorities.

They want the constitution to define Macedonia as a state of its citizens, regardless of ethnicity, or alternatively to become a binational entity.

But Macedonians fear that the creation of a binational entity would encourage the Albanians to secede.

Ethnic Albanians allege that the constitution reduces them to second-class citizens and must be amended.

Albanians say the authorities consistently deny them the right to "feel Albanian" and to display national symbols. They want to have the right of veto over parliamentary decisions centring on Albanian issues.

'Greater Albania'

With the failure of a political resolution to their problems, there is now growing support for the rebels, even among Albanian politicians.

The rebels argue that only through the use of force will Macedonian authorities be forced to satisfy their well-publicised demands - which are identical to those of the Albanian politicians in Skopje.

However, there are suspicions, not confined to the Macedonians alone, that the rebels' real aim is to carve up a slice of western and northern Macedonia and attach it to Kosovo.

Although its spokesmen insist this is a home-grown grouping, the rebels are said to be an offshoot of an old rebellious movement which gave birth to the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army.

This parent group - the Popular Movement for Kosovo (LPK) - is long known to have favoured an armed struggle to bring about Kosovo's independence and the unification of Albanians, particularly those of former Yugoslavia.

The rebels vehemently deny plans to carve up Macedonia. But, curiously, they have invited Nato to oversee their demilitarisation in the event of a peace deal. Many analysts agree that, were Nato to be deployed between the two communities, this would inevitably lead to a de facto separation.

Although most of Macedonia's Albanians say they have reconciled themselves to life within a Macedonian state, increased support for the rebels may shift public opinion back towards an "Albanian togetherness" as existed in Communist Yugoslavia.

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19 Mar 01 | Europe
15 Mar 01 | Europe
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