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Europe Wednesday, 2 December, 1998, 21:14 GMT
Macedonia's Albanian relations
Joanna Robertson reports from one of the crossroads of the Balkans: the old Ottoman bridge in Skopje
This edition of Crossing Continents crosses borders too, as Joanna Robertson reports from Macedonia and Albania.

Listen to the programme in full

Yellow indicates areas of Macedonia and Montenegro with majority-Albanian populations
Traditionally seen as the crucial piece in the Balkan jigsaw puzzle, the Republic of Macedonia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, is as controversial now as it ever has been. Historically, it's been the hottest territory in the area, endlessly fought over and endlessly debated. Even today, its stability is seen as essential for peace in the region as a whole.

Travelling between Debar in Macedonia and Peshkopi in Albania, Joanna finds out just how porous the border is, and how much is shared by comunities on both sides of the line.

At the annual folk festival in Peshkopi, it's clear how far people of Albanian descent from Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania still feel a strong sense of unity. Wherever they are - in the Balkans, in Italy, or even in the large Albanian community in the United States - Albanians continue to adore the same heroes and commemorate the same history.

The Albanian national hero Skanderbeg looks out across Tirana
It's a history with as many villains as heroes, however, and today the situation is tense. Albanian communities in Macedonia are deeply disturbed by events in Kosovo and there are suspicions that many of the young men in the region are lending support - sometimes actively - to KLA fighters there. And there are accusations that arms and money are being smuggled through Macedonian territory into Kosovo.

Like their counterparts in Kosovo, many Albanians in Macedonia claim that they suffer discrimination and oppression as an ethnic minority. Even the number of ethnic Albanians is a controversial subject: estimates of their presence in Macedonia vary between 29% and 40% of the population as a whole, and the precise figure is hotly debated.

In the recent parliamentary elections, Macedonian natinalists became the senior partner in the governing coalition. But the ethnic Albanian parties, and the votes they represent, are now exercising greater influence.

Ethnic Albanians across the Balkans have been politicised by events in Kosovo
Still, other non-Albanian Macedonians are unnerved by this new militancy, and some fear that Albanian nationalism could tear their carefully-balanced nation apart. Moreover, they're concerned about rocky external relations with Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece, and struggling with dreadful economic conditions; unemployment in the country as a whole is running close to 40%.

Finally, Joanna talks to Skopje-based Albanian writer Teuta Arifi about the enduring culture of honour and blood feud. Laid down in the fifteenth century in an attempt to limit bloodshed, the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini prescribes elaborate rules of engagement and revenge - and it's still very much alive.

Popular Albanian folk song, Peshkopi, November 98
folk festival extol pride in Albanian identity...
The Kanun explained, Skopje, October 1998
"the honour of the host means you can't kill a guest..."
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