Citizens call for calm in ethnically-mixed municipalities

01/04/2013

Officials in mixed-ethnicity municipalities can make efforts to keep nationalism in check.

By Aleksandar Pavlevski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 01/04/13

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Macedonians and Albanians voted March 24th in the local elections. [AFP]

After recent local elections increased ethnic tensions in the Macedonian municipalities of Struga and Kicevo, citizens and experts are calling for calm and the re-establishment of co-existence between Macedonians and Albanians.

In both municipalities, Albanians have constituted a majority since 2004, when the Law of Territorial Organisation redrew boundary lines. Kicevo's new mayor, Fatmir Dehiri, campaigned for the March 24th elections by posting photos of himself from 2001 dressed in fatigues and holding an AK-47 rifle.

"Macedonians fear the [election] results threaten Macedonia’s territorial integrity. The new Kicevo mayor Dehаri won by espousing in the campaign exactly the goal of creating a greater Albanian state," Vladimir Bozinovski, an analyst for the Institute for Democracy in Skopje, told SETimes.

"The people of Kicevo expect the new mayor to have an equal approach towards all citizens ... regardless of their ethnicity," Igor Minoski, a Kicevo resident, told SETimes.

The campaign was conducted with pronounced nationalist sentiment among both Macedonians and Albanians, according to Vera Todevska, 54, a resident of Kicevo.

"Many of us were surprised, but also encouraged, that the Macedonian ruling and opposition parties, who are bitter rivals, united for the first time to achieve victory. But [they] were outdone by the Albanian parties who appealed to the ethnic Turks and Roma as well as to the Albanian diaspora," Todevska told SETimes.

Opposition MP Bekim Fezliu from the Democratic Party of Albanians inflamed the atmosphere by giving an interview for the Bulgarian bTV in which he supported ethnically pure municipalities.

"Either we will kick them [Macedonians] out or they will kick us out. Perhaps there is room where you are [in Bulgaria]?" Fazliu said.

The statement caused a storm in the media, drawing demands to stop hate speech, and prompting calls by many citizens, civil society and commentators to show good will on both sides.

"The statements are unacceptable and politicians should know better than scoring cheap political points," Jove Kekenovski, professor at the Bitola University, told SETimes.

But some analysts said peace can be achieved.

"If the constitution and the laws are respected, there will not be a problem in Kicevo. After all, the legislative branch has the means to sanction any potential violations," Jove Kekenovski, professor at the Bitola University, told SETimes.

Kekenovski said Macedonians will be relieved that the city councils in both Struga and Kicevo are comprised of more Macedonian representatives now. Together with their Albanian colleagues, they will better monitor the work of the new mayors.

"The ethnic divisions must be put in the past, and [citizens] are already turning to the future," Kekenovski said.

The euphoria of the winners in Kicevo and the dissatisfaction of those who lost is understandable, according to Imer Ismaili, a professor at State University in Tetovo. The ethnic tension is a result of a policy that divided the citizens based on ethnicity -- something that the officials need to overcome, he said.

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"But the politicians should try to prevent the causes for division rather than fix them later," Ismaili told SETimes.

Saso Klekovski, senior advisor at the Macedonian Centre for International Co-operation, said that if there is little good will and if the relevant political actors undertake a dominant mode of functioning, life in ethnically mixed municipalities will be like in any other.

"In Gostivar, the mayor made a wise political move by coalescing with the party of the Turks and the opposition NSDP party. In Gostivar, Macedonians remained as the directors of the schools, if streets were renamed the new names were not of KLA fighters but of jointly acceptable names like 'Brotherhood' or 'Gostivar'," Klekovski told SETimes.

How will efforts by newly elected officials help to re-establish coexistance in Albanian dominated municipalities? Contribute to the discussion by leaving a comment.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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