Growing Tensions in Macedonia

V posledních měsících a týdnech došlo ke značnému zvýšení napětí v Makedonii. Ačkoli situace mezi albánským a makedonským etnikem může přerůst  ve vážnou krizi, média ji zatím něvěnují příliš pozornost. Následující text v anglickém jazyce se snaží alespoň částečně tento nedostatek zaplnit.

Autor: Ondřej Urbánek, student Bezpečnostních a strategických studií, FSS MU.


Macedonia has been witness of growing inter-ethnic tensions among local Slav Macedonians and Albanians (who make up about a quarter of Macedonia’s population) in recent months, situation which was reminiscent of 2001 conflict which was calmed down by the foreign intervention and signing of Ohrid Framework Agreement.

Tensions arose after the killing of two ethnic Albanians by Macedonian off-duty police officer in the city of Gostivar on February 29th. Officer has been supposedly attacked by the two during the car parking accident. Moreover this incident was preceded by mocking of Muslims during a carnival in the village of Vevcani, where Macedonian men clad in burqas amused their audience by simulating sexual acts (Vasilev 2012). This was followed by mass demonstration of about 10.000 ethnic Albanians on March 1st and ethnic clashes around the country, mainly in Tetovo and Skopje. Albanian youth gangs attacked Macedonians on public buses and bus stops, Macedonian flags were burnt, nationalistic chanting occurred on the football matches and “several football matches were suspended indefinitely after fans of the Macedonian champion Shkendija Tetovo attacked a group of schoolboys on Sunday and stabbed a police officer, according to media reports.” (Taleski 2012a). Dozens of people were injured and around thirty arrested.

On the April 14th The Economist (2012) wrote: “The cause of the recent surge in violence is a mystery. It stopped as suddenly as it started.“ However, what the author of the article overlooked was a brutal murder of five Macedonians at the Zhelezarsko Lake near Skopje on the April 12th. Bodies of four teenagers (age 18-20) who were supposedly spending Thursday afternoon fishing were found in a position that indicated they were lined up and executed (shot at point blank and from three different weapons). Body of a 45-years-old man who was probably accidental witness of the killings was found nearby as he was probably attempting to flee the scene (B92 2012a, B92 2012b, Taleski 2012b). As the message of the murder spread around Macedonian majority began to blame ethnic Albanians and the violence escalated again. Villagers from nearby Smiljkovci and Creshevo blocked a road, attacked a TV van and threw rocks at passing buses. In Radišani Albanian house was stoned and one bus was set on fire (Brunwasser 2012, B92 2012b).

During the massive follow-up police operation called “Monster” around 20 people were arrested and interrogated. On the May 3rd nine of them were kept in custody and photographs of the three men, all of them ethnic Albanians, who supposedly committed the murder were released by the police. One of them has been already arrested, the other two are on the run. During the raid near Kumanovo police allegedly seized weaponry and ammunition as well as “uniforms, shirts, insignia, IDs and a photo album with Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) insignia” (B92 2012c). Radical Islamist literature was also found, Balkan Insight (2012a) reported. Macedonia’s Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska later described the arrested men as “radical Islamists who have been fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan against NATO and they will be charged with terrorism.“ (Balkan Insight 2012b)

Local academic discussion provides valuable insight into the highly tense situation. Former Macedonian Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov claims that these events should be looked upon in the context of situation in Kosovo. Ivan Babanovski, former professor at Security Faculty in Skopje, adds that the events are “introduction into the activities in the next several months when the conditions for changing the Balkan borders will ripen, i.e., materialize the idea for Greater Albania“, referring to the escalating situation in Kosovo where possible secessionist claims by the Serbs from the North may spark new round of irredentist efforts by Albanians of western Macedonia to unify with their brethren in Kosovo. Jove Kekenovski, Bitola University security professor, described the situation in plain terms: “It is obvious the Albanians want to live in an ethnically pure state and this kind of incident results from such plans.” Moreover, Babanovski and a retired military officer and military-security analyst Petar Shkrbina directly link the incident to the “wider Wahhabi movement“ (Shkrbina) and regional radical Islamism with links to al-Qaeda (Babanovski). Unfortunately, moderate and cautionary voice of Mersil Biljalji, political analyst and vice rector of the FON University in Skopje, seems to be overshadowed by abovementioned gentlemen. Biljalji has been warning against interpreting the incidents in ethnic or religious terms and has been rather pointing to the bad politics and criminalization of society. He has also admitted that Macedonia “may enter a dangerous phase socially“ and that “The accent is placed on Islamic fundamentalism for political purposes. Everything should be checked carefully to avoid a situation where these people are [blamed] to cover the true culprits.” (all quotations excerpted from Taleski 2012b, Taleski 2012c)

Although Macedonian government officially calls for restraint as well, it seems that the recent surge of ethnic violence plays into its hands domestically as well as internationally. On the domestic level it supports governmental efforts to distract the public opinion from politically uncomfortable issues such as economy and unemployment. This is being done by nationalist agenda such as project Skopje 2014 (see Bugjevac 2010). On the international level, proclaimed radical Islamist motive of the murder and alleged connections of the murderers to the radicals in AfPak region could help Macedonia to gain more support for its protracted NATO accession bid during the coming summit of the Alliance in Chicago. Politically constructed or not, the ethnic violence seems to be on the rise in Macedonia and driving the country to the verge of ethnic conflict. Hopefully it is not too late for moderates on the both sides to achieve reconciliation.


Balkan Insight. 2012a. “Arrested ‚Radicals‘ Brought Before Macedonian Court.” Balkan Insight, (

Balkan Insight. 2012b. “Macedonia Police Arrest 20 For Skopje Murders.” Balkan Insight, (

Brunwasser, Matthew. 2012. “Killings Heighten Ethnic Tensions in Macedonia.” The New York Times, (

Bugjevac, Dejan. 2010. “Critics Lash ‘Dated’ Aesthetics of Skopje 2014.” Balkan Insight, (

B92. 2012a. “Macedonia: Killers used three different weapons.” B92, (

B92. 2012b. “Reports: Situation tense in wake of Macedonia murders.” B92, (

B92. 2012c. Police release names of suspects in Macedonia murders. B92, (

Taleski, Misko. 2012a. “Macedonia takes steps to preserve ethnic co-existence.”, (

Taleski, Misko. 2012b. “Massacre near Skopje shocks the region.”, (

Taleski, Misko. 2012c. “Extremists among those detained in Macedonia massacre.”, (

The Economist. 2012. “Stir it up. A brief but unsettling surge in ethnic violence.” The Economist, (


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