Albanian-Macedonian conflict inflamed by new encyclopedia
But Albanians insist they have been there longer, and so have ancestral rights to the land.
Dzevded Ljvarasi is an Albanian whose family has lived in the territory today called Macedonia for generations. But eight years ago, he moved from his remote village to the mostly-Albanian city of Tetovo, as he feared his former neighbors would turn on him.
In January 2001, Albanian fighters attacked and killed eight Macedonian policemen.
Macedonians set fire to Albanian-owned shops and mosques in revenge. The final peace agreement gave Albanians more rights; they in turn promised to give up their demands for secession.
“We have lived here together for centuries, but the violence in 2001, it just happened suddenly,” Dzevded Ljvarasi recalls. “It just takes a spark and everything is ruined.”
And that spark was recently reignited with the publication of an encyclopedia by the Macedonian Academy of Science. It claimed that Albanians were mountain farmers, who arrived in this area in the sixteenth century.
The encyclopedia also said that Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the Albanian uprising in 2001, was a war crimes suspect, which he strongly denies. At the time, Albanian protestors took to the streets and burnt the Macedonian flag. The situation worsened when the Albanian prime minister later called for all areas where Albanians lived to be united.
Gzim Ostreni was chief of staff of the Albanian National Liberation Army in 2001. He has since replaced bullets with words and now heads one of a handful of Albanian political parties in the country.
“In 2001 we were forced to use force although we knew it wasn’t a democratic way to fight,” Ostreni says. “But we had to fight against state terrorism, so all ethnic minorities could live together with the same rights in this country. Today Albanians in Macedonia feel the state is their own.”
But neighboring Serbs are unconvinced. Political and military analyst Zoran Dragisic asserts that if Macedonia becomes part of the Euro-Atlantic community, the situation could be handled inside Macedonia.
“Eventually this problem will appear on the surface of our political life,” Dragusuc told RT. “I am not optimistic in general…”
Political analyst Albert Musliu disagrees. He says European integration would finally dissolve all Albanian desires to break away:
“Even if Albanians and Macedonians split here, it will just prolong the joining of the European Union, which Albanians see as a place where they can freely commute and live with their brothers in language.”
Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia’s population of two million. Most of them still do not feel integrated – which is why a spark has so much to inflame.