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  Macedonian Question

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vladislav B. Sotirovic, Mykolas Romeris University
2009 12 10

After June 2008 parliamentary elections in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – FYROM (former Socialist Republic of Macedonia as one of six federal republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), followed by crime incidents and the current political dispute upon the state’s name of Macedonia between Skopje and Athens, Europe is once again faced with the Macedonian problem. The heralds of continuation of armed conflict in Macedonia were obvious from the last year when on November 7th Macedonian special police forces liquidated six armed Albanians from neighboring Kosovo on the Shara Mt. in northern Macedonia – the region known from 1991 as the most nationalistic and separatist Albanian area at the Balkans after Kosovo. As police found a large amount of hidden arms and ammunition on one location at Shara Mt. (brought from Kosovo) it became obvious that the interethnic clashes between Albanians and Macedonians from 2001 year can be easily repeated after February 17th, 2008 when Kosovo Parliament self-proclaimed territorial and political independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Balkan political analytics are kin to speculate that what happened on SharaMt. at the beginning of November is just continuation of “export of Kosovo revolution” from 1998. It basically means that Macedonia is scheduled by “Albanian revolutionaries” (i.e., political leadership of Kosovo Liberation Army) to be next Balkan country which will experience “Kosovo syndrome” after proclamation of Kosovo independence in 2008. According to one Belgrade University Faculty of Political Science edition on Kosovo problem, it is assumed that Montenegro is the third one.

However, the speculations upon the so-called “export of Kosovo revolution” to neighboring Macedonia are in direct connections with much serious regional problem of “Macedonian Question” which has always been at the heart of the Balkan politics and of interest of the Great Powers. Macedonia – the small, landlocked territory in the Southern Balkans has been contested during the last 150 years by all its four neighbors – Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece. Socialist Yugoslavia of Josip Broz Tito claimed to have solved the “Macedonian Question” by the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia within Yugoslav Federation. However, the collapse of the second Yugoslavia in 1991 reopened the issue of the future of the territory of VardarMacedonia (Serbian-Yugoslav part of geographic-historic Macedonia). A successor “Republic of Macedonia” has been formed but it has not received universal international recognition either of its formal political independence or of its state-flag and state-name. Basically, today there are three main problems concerning the “Macedonian Question”:

1) Will Macedonian state territory be divided between Slavic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians (who are 30% of Macedonia’s population)?;

2) Will all members of international community recognize the name of “Republic of Macedonia” (according to Macedonian Constitution of 1991) or they will continue to call this country as it is today officially named by the UNO – “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM); and

3) Will FYROM have territorial pretensions on other parts of geographic-historic Macedonia included into Greece (“Aegean Macedonia”) and Bulgaria (“Pirin Macedonia”) after the Second Balkan War in 1913?

Macedonian independence from 1991 created an extremely tense relationship with the Greek government, since Macedonia developed rival claims for ethnicity and statehood. This rivalry was epitomized in a dispute about the state’s name, as Greece objected to the use of Macedonia, whose historical heritage it claimed. The two countries eventually recognized each other in 1995, and the Greek economic blockade against Macedonia was lifted.

The ethnic make up of Macedonia continued to change as Albanian refugees poured in from Kosovo and Albania increasing the size of the Albanian minority to 30%. Tensions were increased through the worsening economic situation, which escalated as a result of international sanctions and the war against its main trading partner, Yugoslavia. As the situation in Kosovo escalated and war erupted in 1998/1999, Macedonia became an important stronghold for the moderate Albanian opposition from Kosovo, but also for the rebel Albanian force, the Kosovo Liberation Army. Emboldened by the international recognition of Albanian rights in Kosovo from June 1999, the Albanian minority in Macedonia became more assertive. Following violent clashes between the Macedonian police force and Albanian rebels, NATO followed the plea of the Macedonian government and increased its presence there. A civil war was narrowly avoided in 2001 when parliament in Skopje agreed concessions granting linguistic and limited political autonomy to the Albanian minority. In return, the Kosovo Liberation Army rebels agreed to give up their arms to NATO troops.

Nevertheless, “Macedonian Question” after 2001 primarily depends on solving “Kosovo Question”. In the other words, in the case of international recognition of Kosovo independence after February 17th, 2008 the Albanians from western Macedonia (likely followed by their compatriots from eastern Macedonia) will follow Kosovo example of regional revolution for the sake of getting territorial-national independence with a final aim to be united with motherland Albania as it was stressed by Kosovo Albanian leader (later president of Kosovo) Ibrahim Rugova in 1997.

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