Fear & Loathing in Macedonia

Today, there´s no war in Macedonia, and there hasn´t been for more than eleven years. So why do the people who fled their homes a few kilometers from the capital during the armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and government forces in 2001 still live in ‘temporary housing’? The refugees themselves and the people who today live in Aracinovo give very different answers. In that way, the Aracinovo case is emblematic for the overall atmosphere in Macedonia and for how the two largest ethnic groups in the country see each other.

Apparently, it´s now all coming to a head.

Freedom (audio)    

The Angelovskis seem to know how their two canaries feel. They know what it´s like to live in a too limited space, so they don´t lock the birds in their cage, but let them fly out of it whenever they want. Then the birds flap around the 10 or 12 square meters large room – from time to time taking a rest on the desk lamp or pot plant before again throwing themselves into the air, and after more criss-crossing finally returning to the cage. That is their home, after all. 

In the same way, the tiny room on the third floor of a students´ home in Macedonia´s capital, Skopje, is also home to the Angelovski family - after all.

When you´ve got children, you have to create an environment which feels like the one in normal homes”, explains Diana, in her late 30es, alluding to her two daughters.

Creating normality (audio)   

That´s why we´ve got pets, and why we´ve made sure to have internet”, Diana says – ducking to not get in the way of a bird - and points to the most prominent furniture in the home: a computer. When the Angelovskis sit in front of it, surfing the internet or writing e-mails, they aren´t limited by the claustrophobic surroundings, and in the virtual world they are equal to any other internet user. For a while, their home seems almost normal. And according to Diana´s husband, that is exactly the point:

All we want is the chance to live a normal life”, 40-year old Aco, says – explaining: “We do not demand food for free, or that someone pays our electricity bill. But we ask to have a real flat in which we as a family can live and watch television and all that – like everyone else. In safety”.

Diana and Aco live with their two daughters, of eight and 15, in the small room a short bus ride from the center of the Macedonian capital. The students´ home has dozens of rooms exactly like this – all meant to house two young people from outside Skopje while they´re at university. But on the 3rd floor live families like the Angelovskis.

The Angelovskis don´t want their acquaintances to see their room – so here´s the corridor that they’ve shared with other refugees for 11 years.

For students, their room forms the frame for a temporary life – and as such, it´s bearable. Officially, the Angelovskis live here temporarily, as well. But this temporariness has lasted more than a decade, and nothing points to it ending any time soon, Aco says.

Our eldest daughter was four years old in 2001, when she opened the front door of our house, and saw those men in black uniforms outside, with beards, and automatic weapons”, he recalls the day in June eleven years ago.

You can imagine the impact that had on her. Just ask her teacher in school how closed she is as a person”, Aco says. ”She´s afraid of everything and everyone”.

With their daughter of eight, it´s a different but not much better story:

Our youngest was born when we were already living here and doesn´t really know what this ’Aracinovois; she´s only heard about it asthat place’ …”.

The girl has never been to the village which is so central to her parent´s lives – although Aracinovo is only 15 kilometers away, practically a suburb to the capital.

The family lived in Aracinovo east of Skopje when tensions between Macedonia´s two largest ethnic groups in 2001 turned into armed conflict. 170.000 people had to leave their homes during this so-called ‘small civil war’, most of them ethnic Macedonians.

Pictures of ethnic Macedonian and Albanian students exhibited on the street in front of a ‘gimnazija’.

Two out of three people in the country are Macedonian, while one fourth are ethnic Albanian. At least, that´s what the census in 2002 said but like most other things connected with Macedonia´s ethnic relations, what was supposed to be a sheer fact, is strongly contested. 

The Ohrid Agreement which ended the armed conflict in 2001 gave special rights to ethnic groups who make up more than 20% of the population, and many Macedonians believe the census was manipulated to make the number of Albanians exceed that fifth. 

Conspiracy theories are fed by the fact that the president of the census commission stepped down when the commission wasn´t allowed to meet the last three months before the census, and wasn´t allowed to control the figures before they were released. The head of the statistical institute, on the other hand, was fired. At the time, however, all parties accepted the published census results (showing 25.17% Albanians) but speculations have never stopped. They can never become anything but speculations – but will probably never stop, either. They have become part of the large body of distrust between the two ‘nations’.

Just how hard it will be to root out this distrust was glimpsed in October 2011 when a new census was scheduled to take place.

The census was preceded by a fierce debate in which Albanians insisted that the many ethnic Albanians who work abroad and only come back for holidays should be counted as part of the Macedonian population – whereas Macedonians pointed to international rules according to which, they said, they should not.

When the 2011 census got under way in October, accusations of pressure and falsifications ensued, and the census was cancelled. A new census will be arranged “as soon as possible”, but so far, there´s no sign of it. That´s because census figures lie at the very core of the Albanian-Macedonian conflict.

Basically, it´s a question of power: the larger a certain group is, the more rights it has, the more positions in ministries, municipalities and public companies. Briefer, the question is: whose country is Macedonia?

Whatever the exact numbers, the ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia is significant. And after Macedonia in 1991 broke loose from Yugoslavia, they felt treated as second class citizens in the new country which most Macedonian politicians perceived as a ‘nation state for Macedonians‘. The Albanians demanded more cultural rights but also political influence and jobs in the public sector, with some wanting the Northwest of the country – where Albanians make up the majority – to secede.

Inspired by secession in Kosovo and insurgent attacks in the south of Serbia – a few kilometers north of Aracinovo – a guerilla movement was formed which used the same abbreviation as their colleagues in Kosovo, in Albanian called UÇK.

Back then, there were many paramilitaries of Albanian nationality in Aracinovo, and we were forced to leave our home by the members of those groups”, Diana recalls events in their village in June 2001.

They had weapons, and presented themselves as ‘UÇK’. They told us that ‘either you leave your home, or we cannot guarantee your safety’. And as we had our daughter to take care of, we left”.

Shaving in Ohrid – a few kilometres from the border to Albania where a peace agreement was signed in August 2001.

The 2001 conflict lasted from February to August when a peace agreement was brokered by Nato, the EU, and the UN in Ohrid, near the Albanian border. The Ohrid Framework Agreement guaranteed decentralisation, equitable representation, including in government, and right to the expression of identity to in particular ethnic Albanians. But it also stipulated that people who had been forced to flee their homes during the conflict, should be returned and have their belongings back.

Most places, that did happen: both Albanian and Macedonian refugees returned. But not to Aracinovo.

Before 2001, around 85% of the population in Aracinovo was ethnic Albanian. The Macedonians were forced to leave during the armed conflict, and only a handful of families have returned. It´s estimated that in all of Macedonia, 800 people are still refugees – or ‘internally displaced persons’, IDPs, as refugees are called when they are refugees in their own country. Originally, around 760 fled Aracinovo, and of those are some dead – IDPs have an abnormal high mortality – while many have sold their houses and land. Around 250 still live in similar circumstances as the Angelovskis in the students´ home in Skopje: They have a few square meters per person, cook in the corridor – which is filled with sacks of potatoes, mobile cooking gear and the like – and share a couple of showers and toilets which are also on the corridor.

Several other hotels and barracks in Skopje and a few other towns function as temporary housing for displaced persons. But today, there´s no war in Macedonia, and there hasn´t been for more than eleven years – so why don´t those people just go home?

Majority doesn´t want us (audio)   

Our house is destroyed, there´s nothing to go back to”, Diana simply says – adding that “during the eleven years where no one has lived in it, wind and weather has broken it even more down”.

The state won´t help them restore the house – and even if it did, they wouldn´t return, she says. Pointing to people who have gone back to the village and ”had unpleasant experiences” or even been murdered, and to rebuilt houses which have again been set on fire, she concludes that ”it´s unrealistic to talk about returning. I don´t feel safe there”.

She acknowledges, “there are Albanians in Aracinovo, who want to live together with Macedonians – but the majority doesn´t want us to come back”.

Few Macedonians feel able to return to Aracinovo. But how do the Albanians feel – those who stayed in the village when the Angelovskis and hundreds of others left? Why did the Macedonians, according to their fellow villagers, leave their homes and lives, and why don´t they go back to them?

On the 20 minute bus ride to Aracinovo.

Bus to Aracinovo (audio)   

The bus leaves for Aracinovo from the center of Skopje every 20-30 minutes, and the trip takes less than half an hour. But Aracinovo is another world.

Café in Aracinovo (audio)

Little is going on in Aracinovo. Many shops, cafés, and restaurants seem closed for the winter, though it´s not winter. No sound of active workshops is heard in the streets, but a few men linger over coffee at out-door tables. They watch surprised and carefully when unknown people turn up.

Realizing that I´m ‘from the West’, they call a man, Xhezair, who speaks some German – being one of the many who´s worked abroad. When I start talking about Makedonci, he switches to Yugoslavia´s lingua franca, Serbocroatian, and hurries to correct what he believes is a misunderstanding:

No-no! In this village live only Albanians”.

It seems that the Macedonians who lived here are already distant history. And yet – from the out-door café on the Aracinovo hill-top, we can see the town where most refugees now live, Skopje, down in the valley by the river.

Reminded of the Macedonians who fled more than ten years ago, Xhezair says that he doesn´t know why they left. But why don´t they come back, then?

No work for Albanians (audio)   

We have a bad situation between Albanians and Macedonians at the moment”, Xhezair explains, refusing to have his picture taken, and only giving his first name. “All Albanians are out of work, they have no education, they´ve got nothing!”

So, according to Xhezair there are tensions between Albanians and Macedoniansbecause the Albanians are suppressed by the Macedonians and underprivileged.

That´s the most widespread Albanian version of things. Likewise, the Albanians in Aracinovo have their own view of why the Angelovskis and other Macedonians don´t return:

Because they´ve got a better life where they are now”, Xhezair says, and people standing around mumble agreeingly.

But having come straight from the Angelovskis´ tiny room in the students´ home, one has to object: their life there is hardly better than the one they had in their house, and working their fields, here in Aracinovo. The girls never invite friends home, and their parents asked for no photos to be published of their room – so that their acquaintances wouldn´t see how they live.

But they only live in that room formally!”, Xhezair exclaims. “Each of them are paid 400 euros a month to live there. Four times 400 euros, that´s 1600 euros – so much money that ten of us Albanians cannot earn it in a month!”

Xhezair explains with contempt that the room in the students´ home is just a smoke screen, and that the Angelovskis are paid to lur foreigners and journalists into thinking that Macedonians cannot return to their homes in Aracinovo.

Pff! Why didn´t you ask them, how much they got when they sold their house here?”

In fact I did ask the Angelovskis what they´d done with their house and land during their decade as displaced persons.

98% of Macedonian houses in Aracinovo have been sold to Albanians – but very cheaply”, Aco says. “A house with a yard goes for 5-7000 euros, when it ought to cost 50-100.000. In the same vein, land is sold for a euro a square meter”.

He adds that many former Aracinovo citizens are unemployed and have to sell their possessions to have something to live from in the ‘temporary housing’. Aco himself works as a bus driver, so the family hasn´t had to sell neither house, nor land. But it´s not of much use to them, either:

If I could, I´d live from farming our land – but we don´t dare. The Albanians work the land now – and don´t pay us anything for it, of course”.

But in Aracinovo, when getting Aco´s explanation, Xhezair starts out agitatedly in German for emphasis:
Alle lügen, alle lügen!

The Albanians around him acquire overbearing expressions upon hearing that Macedonians supposedly have to sell their houses and land in Aracinovo very cheaply.

Everybody lies, everybody lies!”, Xhezair repeats, and asserts:

They tell you that they don´t dare come back because of the Albanians but it´s all a lie, alle lügen!”, he switches back to German.

The reason that they haven´t come back is that they don´t want to live with us. They sell their houses here for 100.000 euros, and have been given jobs and their own flats in Skopje, in down-town”.

In the students´ home, Diana explains that she´s out of work, whereas Aco makes around 300 euros a month. That´s in no way enough to pay the rent for a proper flat, let alone buy a house, Aco points out, stressing thatthe Macedonian state is responsible for what happened, and for not being able to guarantee its citizens´ safety. Even today, it´s not able to do so in that part of the country”.

But although the family sees the state as responsible for their situation, they haven´t joined fellow refugees who have taken the state to court, hoping to be compensated for their property and suffering. The court cases have so far run for ten years with pending appeals.

State is responsible (audio)   

People are very disappointed with the courts”, Aco says. The IDPs will probably end up taking their cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, he thinks, because some are hardly able to pay the rent for a flat for one year with the amount they´ve been given”.

 Go-cart in Aracinov (audio)   

Back in Aracinovo, Xhezair asks an interesting question:

What did the Macedonians tell you about why they haven´t returned to Aracinovo?”

The strange thing is that those people for a decade have been living a twenty minutes bus ride from each other – and then they ask a stranger, an outsider who has just arrived, what the others think – ?

That´s one sign of just how little ethnic Albanians and Macedonians communicate. It´s no coincidence that the EU in every report aboutthe country´s steps towards membership has noted a ”lack of dialogue” as a serious impediment to progress.

That is nothing new, of course, since the armed conflict in 2001 can be seen as just the most extreme expression and result of that lack of dialogue. But during the latestmonths, tensions between Albanians and Macedonians have again been growing. As so often, they have their roots in different views of the past.

Ethnic Albanian organizations announce demonstration ‘against discrimination’; in the background a smaller item from the ‘Skopje 2014′ project.

The latest instance is the law which the party of ethnic Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski in September put in front of the parliament. It offers compensation, free health care, employment, and cheap housing loans to the army soldiers who fought the ethnic Albanian insurgents in 2001. The insurgents – like those who in June of that year took Aracinovo – won´t get such privileges as they, in the perspective of the law, acted as enemies of the state, and as such in no way deserve privileges.

 The country´s ethnic Albanias, however – including the largest of their parties, the DUI, which is part of Gruevski´s government – sees the law as discriminatory and anti-Albanian”.They believe that the 2001 Ohrid Agreement demands that the insurgents get the same treatment as the soldiers.

So deep goes the disagreement that the government may break up because of the law, and the third early elections since the current PM took office in 2006 be proclaimed.

How- and whenever the crisis is solved – there´s sure to be another. The law is namely just yet another expression of the main bone of contention between the country´sethnic Macedonians and Albanians. 

They have each their view of what happened in the past – from thousands of years ago over Macedonia´s time in the Ottoman Empire to the 2001 conflict.

Emblematic was the argument in 2009 when the Macedonian Academy of Science and Arts published an encyclopedia. Ethnic Albanians all over the Balkans demonstrated against it, burning it or the Macedonian flag in public – both in Macedonian towns, in Pristina in Kosovo, and in Albania´s capital Tirana.

The main cause of the outrage was the statement in the encyclopedia that Albanians settled in what is now Macedonia from the 16th century onward – while Albanians believe that their forefathers were the ancient people Illyrians, and that ‘they’, therefore, were in the Balkans long before anyone else still living in the peninsula. The Macedonian Academy was forced to withdraw its lexicon, and has promised a new edition the soonest – with no sign of it after three years.

All of the world´s most important news agencies reported on the ”nationalist encyclopedia” – and none of them on the corresponding lexicon published a year earlier by the Academy of Science and Arts in Tirana. This lexicon claims that the Albanians are the most ancient people in the Balkans while not mentioning Macedonians as an ancient people, at all.

The Albanian Academy explains the Macedonians as Slavs who arrived in the peninsula ‘only’ in the 6th century – whereas the Macedonians understand themselves as partly Slavs, and partly as inheritants of Alexander the Great. The Albanian lexicon also proclaims two towns in Macedonia, Bitola and Krusevo, to be Albanian.

Though there´s been no demonstrations or official protests against the Albanian encyclopedia, comments in internet fora suggest that ethnic Macedonians feel as offended by the way Albanians present them, as the other way around.

Where are now the Macedonians – shouldn´t they be gathering in the squares to burn Tirana´s encyclopedia?”, one reader asks ironically on Skopje daily Dnevnik´s internet site.

Another generalises on the way things work in the Balkans, seeing the Albanian encyclopedia as ”just another proof that history is no science but propaganda used to celebrate oneself, and to humiliate one´s neighbors”.

Today´s degree – or lack – of civilisation shown by Albanians, Greeks and Macedonians”, ‘Neron’ goes on, “shows that none of them has inherited any kind of positive features from any kind of ancient culture”.

This is a minority view, though. Because even if the point about ‘a lack of culture’ is often made, this critique is normally directed exclusively at the other.

Another example of how the past feeds today´s conflicts is the still ongoing quarrel over the re-naming of schools in some municipalities with a majority of ethnic Albanians. The local authorities – ethnic Albanian – have put up new name plates so that those primary schools instead of Macedonian writers or anti-fascist fighters are now honoring terrorists and ideologues of ‘Greater Albania’ – a 150 year old project to unite all areas in which live ethnic Albanians. At least, that´s what ethnic Macedonians feel.

Albanians, however, see the alleged terrorists and nationalists as fighters for national liberation. And though central authorities – ethnic Macedonian – have demanded that the old name plates be returned (the procedure for name-change was disregarded, they say), the local authorities have refused. To which the ethnic Macedonians .. don´t know how to react:

If they pull down the plates, they can be sure to see new protests by ethnic Albanians. And if they let the schools keep the new names, they´ll be approving a view of History that is at odds with the ethnic Macedonians´, visibly dividing the country in two camps with worldviews that exclude each other.

Such a division is exactly what ethnic Macedonians are desperate to avoid, keeping the country physically together in a ‘unitary state’ – unlike the ‘federalization’ that many Albanians would prefer.

The disagreement about school names seems trivial but embodies the conflict which was merely temporarily solved by the Ohrid Agreement in 2001.

Already, ethnic Albanian and Macedonian pupils are physically fighting over the names of their schools, Dnevnik wrote in October, lamenting ”that the children are ready to go to the end, with fists and knives defending the names of those personalities, maybe not even knowing who they were or what they created”.

Or as political scientist Gjorgji Tonovski told the same paper in September: ”The only solution that I see to avoid more serious disagreements is that all schools in the country are given a number instead of a name”.

This may sound like a Solomonic solution – but not only names of schools but of streets, squares and other public buildings pose similar dilemmas.

The names of public spaces frame people´s everyday lives in a way they hardly notice – the more effectively creating the framework for their worldview, too. Therefore, changing the names of public spaces is the quickest and cheapest way of re-writing History. And this is exactly what has been happening all over Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall – but only recently, the trend has reached Macedonia.

Many streets in Macedonia are still called after the lifelong president of Yugoslavia, Tito, and other anti-fascists from the Second World War. Both among Macedonians and Albanians some wish to keep such names but they´re now being removed because the majority wants to instead celebrate national heroes.

The problem is that there are two sets of ‘national heroes’ supposed to replace Tito & Co. on the street signs: a Macedonian set, and an Albanian – making up abstracts of each their irreconcilable histories.

Typical for the view of history promoted by the ethnic Macedonian elite is that Bitola´s city council in September decided to rename 24 streets, among them ‘Ivan Milutinović Street’ into ‘Filip II of Macedonia Street’. 

Milutinović was a leading partisan who in 1944 died during the liberation of Belgrade – whereas Filip II was the father of Alexander the Great who since 2006 has been at the center of the centre-right government´s view of Macedonian identity. This is most obvious in the capital´s central square where a 29 m tall equestrian statue of the ancient king was raised in 2011. It cost around five mio. euros – a sum which caused uproar in the country in which every third is out of work, and those with a job make on average 450 euros a month. And yet, the statue is just a small part of the multimillion project ‘Skopje 2014′ meant to ‘beautify’ the capital with dozens of other monuments and buildings. 

This has contributed to ethnic tensions as most of the construction celebrates the ethnic Macedonian past, in particular stressing Macedonians´ ‘roots in Antiquity’. 

A street market in majority Albanian Tetovo.

The country´s ethnic Albanians, however, are bent on expressing their national identity, too. This is seen in the new school names but also in names of streets and squares which municipalities with an ethnic Albanian majority are busy changing. Some streets are ‘given to’ cultural figures but others are named after insurgents from the 2001 conflict – that Macedonians in general regard as terrorists – or eg. After ethnic Albanian leaders who during WWII collaborated with the German and Italian occupiers. 

In short, if all names that Albanians and Macedonians disagree about should be avoided by instead using numbers, children would end up going to ‘school number 5, 27th Street, near Square 12′.

Names are a touchy issue – no one knows that better than the Macedonians who for two decades have been involved in the so-called ‘name dispute’. 

At first glance, this doesn´t have anything to do with the tensions between Albanians and Macedonians – but it has.

Macedonia´s neighbor to the South, Greece, believes that the very name of the country, Macedonia, implies a claim on parts of northern Greece which is also called ‘Macedonia’. Therefore, the UN tries via a mediator to negotiate a solution that both countries can accept – and meanwhile, Macedonia´s official name is ‘The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’, or ‘FYROM’ for short.

The UN negotiations, however, haven´t moved much since their start in 1995, and Greece now tries to make Macedonia change its name by blocking its entry into the EU and Nato until it does. Tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians are now rising because of that, as well.

It´s about identity (audio)    

There must be put pressure on Greece”, an official from the prime minister´s party says in the party office in the northwestern town of Tetovo.

The official, Angel Karapetrov, like most ethnic Macedonians, rejects the demand of name-change because it´s not only about the name itself, he says:

What the Greeks really demand is that we change our language and identity. They claim, it´s only about the name – but if you change the name, you change everything”, he says, taking one of the mentioned ‘compromise names’ as an example.

The UN mediator has suggested, the counry be named ‘Northern Macedonia’ but ”If the country becomes ‘Northern Macedonia’, then we become ‘Northern Macedonians’ – and we cannot live with that!”  

Thus, to most ethnic Macedonians the name dispute is a question of identity. And identity is worth more than money can buy – which is exactly why, the government spends millions on stuff like the Alexander monument.

But identity is also worth more than any welfare, or security which membership of the EU and Nato seems to promise. And it´s at this point thatthe name dispute with Greece becomes a conflict between Macedonians and Albanians. 

Already several years ago, EU commissioner Rehn promised negotiations about EU membership ‘as soon as possible’ – as here on Macedonian television.

To Albanians, the name ’Macedonia’ doesn´t mean much, and many blame Macedonians for clinging to it.

In Tetovo, two out of three are ethnic Albanian, and not far from the Tetovo-office of the PM´s party one of them stresses that Macedonia didn´t even exist before 1945. Until then, the area was called ’the Vardar Province’”.

Vardar is the river which flows through the capital, Skopje, and which between the World Wars, in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, gave the surrounding region its name.

After ’45, there was The Socialist Republic of Macedonia, now there´s The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – so I don´t understand what´s so horrible about also becoming The Republic of Northern Macedonia?!”, the middleaged man summarizes a view common among ethnic Albanians.

Most people are hesitant about being photographed, or even giving their names when talking about ethnic relations. Instead, here are som photos of predominantly ethnical Albanian students exhibited in front of their Tetovo high school.

According to one poll, 77% of the country´s ethnic Albanians want to change the name of the country to unblock the way to Nato and the EU. But an even larger part of ethnic Macedonians – 82% – refuse to change the name, even if that means exclusion from the EU and Nato. 

That´s why many Albanians accuse Macedonians of stopping the country´s integration with the EU. But when they do, they ‘forget’ eg. that all elections in the country, except the most recent, were blighted by violence, even shootings, and cheating which mostly happened among Albanians. So their ethnic group has been a hindrance for European integration, as well. Ethnic Macedonians didn´t and don´t forget to point that out.

In such ways, Albanians and Macedonians often put the blame for problems on each other. A row of ‘incidents’ during the last couple of years has added to the distrust.

Apart from the by now almost routine burning of flags, hate-chants at sports matches, arson-attacks on churches, fistfights among students etc., in late February an ethnic Macedonian policeman off-duty shot dead two young Albanians in the town of Gostivar. Circumstances are unclear – allegedly, he had his young daughter with him, was slapped in the face, and shot several warning-shots. But an incident in April is even more enigmatic.

At Orthodox Easter, four young men who´d gone fishing at a lake near Skopje were lined up and shot by unknown murderers. A fifth was shot dead nearby, probably having witnessed the crime. The victims were all ethnic Macedonian, and soon afterwards, twenty ethnic Albanians were arrested – though authorities exclusively mentioned them as ”islamists”. Their families, however, say that they never had anything to do with radical islam.

Neither court case has really started yet, so nothing can be known about the innocence or otherwise of the suspects. Only one thing is certain: whatever sentences are given in the end, theories of conspiracy are sure to live on.

Macedonians seem to believe that most Albanians want a Greater Albania, and that their political parties, NGOs and other organisations actively work on creating it.

  In the Tetovo office of the ruling Macedonian party Angel Karapetrov, eg., sees the various incidents as a sign that the Albanians want to divide the country:

The Albanians believe that the peace agreement makes Macedonia a bi-national state”, he says about the Ohrid Agreement which stopped the armed conflict in 2001, and which was supposed to outline how the country should function in the future.

But the treaty says that the country is a unitary state. So, we just have to explain to them what the peace agreement is really about”, Karapetrov says.

Judging by what business student Enver says at the entrance to the Albanian language university in Tetovo, however, it´s doubtful that the country´s Albanians will be satisfied by a mere explanation:

If [prime minister] Gruevski wants to divide Macedonia, it´s up to him – and people certainly won´t put up with this much longer”.

With ‘this’, Enver means the perceived discrimination against ethnic Albanians, suggesting that the idea of carving an Albanian unit out of Macedonia is still alive. And maybe a minibus driver who´s waiting for customers for the trip to Skopje just outside campus explains why it is:

I´m 42 years old, and have never had a job”, he says, believing that the economy would benefit from membership of Western organisations.

That´s why we Albanians want to get into Nato and the EU so that the country will open up, will see economic development and so on”.

According to him, Macedonians don´t care much about the EU and economic development “because they are fine with things as they are. They all have a job – whereas I have to drive this bus without even having a license for that work.

At 30%, unemployment is among the highest in Europe but Albanians are convinced that they are more unemployed than ethnic Macedonians. No statistics are kept on that, and even if there were, many would doubt the figures, and build their worldviews independently of them.

Whatever reality looks like, Macedonians and Albanians often experience it differently. Opinion polls, eg., show that four out of five ethnic Macedonians believe that all citizens and nationalities in the country are equal – equal before the law, have equal opportunities and so on. But more than nine out of ten ethnic Albanians say that different ethnic groups are not equal.

Most people in this town are on social security. There are no jobs for Albanians. The state doesn´t help us – to us, the state doesn´t exist”, Xhezair says back in Aracinovo.

 He opposes this to his belief that ”Macedonians can get work. And you should go to a place where Macedonians live to see how nice and clean the streets are there. And then look at this!”, Xhezair says, pointing to the holes in the street and the garbage lying around.

He himself has no job, but gets social security of 40 euros a month, he says. That´s much too little to live from, but not unusual. A younger man claims he receives 25 euros. The lack of jobs and money makes reconciliation between Macedonians and Albanians harder, Xhezair suggests:

Yes – it´s no good; we´ll have to wait ten more years, and then see how things are. Another ten years”.

To the people who fled Aracinovo in 2001, ‘ten more years’ seems a new eternity. But in a way Aco in the students´ home in Skopje agrees:

Let me put it like this: at the time of the day when the children go to school or return from it, you´ll see two policemen standing at every bus stop. That´s to make sure that the Albanian and Macedonian kids don´t start fighting”, Aco says. And concludes that ”many more years will have to pass before we can feel certain that there´ll be no more conflicts. As the situation is now, I really don´t know where things are going”.