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In Macedonia, Uneasy Cohabitants Long for the Past

Posted July. 08, 2005 05:19,   


It was not easy to get to Macedonia from Kosovo.

Late in the afternoon of July 5, we reached the border with an invitation from the International Organization of Migration (IOM), but were stopped by border guards who told us that the IOM itself needed to present the documents.

We had no choice but to drive back on the road we had traveled south from Pristina for over an hour and a half. We were finally able to cross the border the next day in the afternoon.

Skopje, the capital, seemed not much different from other peaceful, small European city. It had a vastly different atmosphere from that of impoverished and chaotic Albania or the very volatile Kosovo.

However, Macedonia is infamous even among Balkan countries for human trafficking and organized crime. Assassination is considered a “specialty” of Slavo-Macedonians. The country still lacks the features of a true nation even though more than a decade has past since its independence.

The Macedonian population consists of Slavs, who account for 65 percent of the population, Albanians, Serbs, and other minorities. After the fall of the Yugoslavian federation, Macedonia fell prey to “the four wolves” – Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, and Serbia.

In particular, Greece started pressuring Macedonia by saying that Slavs should not be allowed to use the name of the kingdom of Alexander the Great, who was a Greek, because the “Macedonian race” was no more than an invention of Slav communists. Shortly after Macedonia’s independence, Greece blocked the borders and even aid from European countries. Greeks still call Macedonia “Skopje.”

The conflict in Kosovo from 1998 to 1999 added to the crisis of Macedonia. Over 600,000 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo crossed the border to Macedonia at once, turning western Macedonia into a refugee camp. After NATO forces left, Skopje became a sex tourism spot for foreigners living in Kosovo.

In 2001, an uprising by insurgents made up of Albanians, who take up over 20 percent of the population, pushed Macedonia to the brink of civil war. After this crisis, the country became a vulnerable nation where weapons and drugs are easily available anywhere in the country.

Since the Albanian uprising, the Macedonian government has followed the mediating conditions proposed by the EU and has consisted of a Slav prime minister and an Albanian deputy prime minister. The two races share ministerial and vice ministerial posts, too. Their state may be described as a “strange cohabitation.”

Macedonia has managed to avoid a serious crisis, but it still has a thorny road ahead. The most serious of its ailments is deep-rooted corruption. Klime Babunsky, who leads a press group called Pro Media, said, “Criminal organizations are behind trans-border human trafficking and drug and arms smuggling and they are protected by the police, politicians and other powerful people.”

The multi-racial cohabitation experiment in Macedonia is full of uncertainties and volatility, but depending on how things pan out in the future, it could serve as a model for neighboring countries with similar problems. Last year, the U.S. became the first nation in the world to acknowledge the name, “Macedonia” over “FYROM.” Words abounded that it was a gesture of compensation for Macedonia’s promise to become a democracy.