March 14, 2012
The current rise of interethnic violence in Macedonia is a clear consequence of the wrong and destructive policies of the government.
Nikola Gruevski, the Prime Minister and leader of the ethnic Macedonian nationalist party in power, VMRO-DPMNE, and his coalition partner, Ali Ahmeti, leader of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, as well as several pro-government public figures have categorically denied any ties between the government and the ethnic violence on the streets. Some have implied the responsibility of foreign secret services, but certainly not of the government.
But we need to make a distinction. There is a difference between being an organizer and being responsible. The government does not have to be the actual and physical organizer of ethnic hatred and violence in the country and yet be responsible for it. How? It is clear. By creating it.
Who is responsible for the nationalist hysteria?
It is the nationalist doctrines and practices that are the main characteristics of the political parties in this country, especially the ruling one. Indeed, the government is responsible for a serious deterioration of human rights and freedoms, intensive control and pressure on the media, diminishing freedom of speech, an absence of political dialogue and rule of law, a corrupt and party controlled justice system, unseen levels of politicization of all institutions and administration, all accompanied by a rise in unemployment and poverty.
In order to divert society’s reaction from these alarming problems, the ruling party imposed a rapid growth of populism and national-chauvinist rhetoric and action and has raised nationalism and discrimination to institutional levels. The government is creating, openly sponsoring or silently supporting a palette of semi-Fascistic projects and activities, ranging from the grotesquely huge, expensive and senseless Skopje 2014 Project to the hysterical behavior of basketball and handball national teams support clubs, whose anthem is exclusive, nationalist and racist.
Ethnic Macedonian fan clubs usually sing their songs accompanied with slogans such as “Gas chambers for Shiptars [a pejorative name for Albanians]” and “Cleavers for Shiptars”. These songs and slogans are screamed at stadiums and city squares in the presence of the President Ivanov and Prime Minister Gruevski, who have never condemned such behaviour.
On the contrary, the government paid for 1,000 tickets for fan club members to travel to Belgrade, for example. Albanian flags were burned at the stadiums and sports halls in Macedonia and Serbia by Macedonians. Albanian fan clubs responded by burning Macedonian flags at stadiums in Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania.
The whole nationalist hysteria is conducted systematically, turning coalition partners into vassals and scapegoats and using spineless journalists and editors as agents of propaganda.
These are all high-speed vehicles that drove us to the edge in the past and which recently escalated to ethnic violence involving severe beatings of minors and the elderly. The brutality that we witness these days is a logical continuation of this and of the politics of the ruling party and its vassals. One can clearly see where this all will lead, as it did before.
Division and violence
The latest ethnic violence has mainly involved young people. In the worst incident about 30 masked persons equipped with baseball clubs and metal bars broke into a city bus and severely beat over ten minors, including females, all ethnic Albanians. Beatings erupted on both sides in the days that followed.
Violence among ethnic Macedonians and Albanians is not new, and is a consequence of systematic segregation in schools and elsewhere, conducted by the government for a number of years. On top of this, young people in this country are well fed with nationalism by institutions of the state.
Despite legally binding documents and strategies adopted by the government, including one on integrated education in 2010, politicians continue fostering ethnic division in schools. That acts in combination with textbooks in history and other subjects that include highly prejudiced contents; ethnic Macedonian and Albanian students in Macedonia study different histories of each other’s nation.
Ethnic hatred is encouraged by the purely ethnic Macedonian nationalist cultural policies of the government or, more precisely, of the ruling party and its coalition partner, the DUI. The DUI also gets its share of the budget to nurture nationalist feelings amongst its own voters, of course. It gets far less money from the budget but still seems very happy with it.
To conclude: the outbreak of ethnic violence is a consequence of the nationalist and discriminatory politics of the ruling political and power structures in the country.
Conspiracy theories vs. reality
The violence won’t stop. The security situation will get worse. The government does not have the integrity to stop it in a credible and sustainable way. Meanwhile, metal bars and baseball clubs may easily be replaced by guns, just as setting flags and wars of words on social networks preceded the current violence. Every now and then it smells like war in Macedonia. But who wants war in Macedonia?
Definitely, those who believe in conspiracy theories will have a great many stories to tell about dark conspiracies coming from the West, wanting to destroy ethnic and “ancient” Macedonians, etc. Some conspiracy theories fan on the Albanian side might start believing that this is a Serbian or Russian conspiracy to exterminate Albanians. Some might believe in a conspiracy theory about a plot led by the two main coalition partners, the Macedonian VMRO and the Albanian DUI to retain power and profit from an outbreak of violence. Some say this very situation is linked to the “name” dispute or to NATO accession.
As long as one believes conspiracies more than facts, there will be manipulation. Moreover, conspiracies are only possible if someone is already willing to carry out murderous acts. They are possible only after we, ourselves, start the fire.
Besides, if you pull out a gun, it is not probable that someone else from outside will come and help your finger pull the trigger? Even so, why pull out a gun? Why carry a gun at all?
No one wants war?
Look at the parliament. The ruling majority in parliament try to pass the responsibility onto the opposition politicians, accusing them of stirring up conflict and adding ethnic dimension to each incident. That is infantile, to say the least. The string of violent incidents is ethnic, indeed, and is a consequence of aggressive nationalist agendas – conducted by the majority in the parliament. It cannot be controlled by parents and schools anymore, as the Prime Minister and other leading politicians suggest. They, politicians, took that chance away long ago.
So, who wants war?
It could be crooked politicians who fear justice after losing power. It could be crooked politicians who want more money, and war provides a good chance for that. War might be a good cover for the crimes of Macedonia’s rulers. No one wants war could be one of the answers – but it is the only logical continuance of what is going on for years now.
The latter seems to be the most possible and most frightening scenario. Today’s politicians in power and their miserable media servants hide their personal frustrations and ignorance behind revulsion and delinquency, insolently violating each and every principle of human behavior, spreading fear, and sponsoring ethnic, religious and racial hatred.
What will happen if, or when, an overheated street situation, involving special police units, results in a death of a youngster? More violence, possibly armed. And more repressive response by the trained thugs in the police.
The government has to admit its share of the responsibility and come up with a sustainable and sincere plan about how to correct its past actions. The public prosecutor has to finally wake up and raise charges against the perpetrators of violent crimes at higher levels. Media hooligans have to be made responsible for their promotion of hatred. The government has to cease its media control and restore democracy. It has to stop its ridiculous and megalomaniacal projects and admit its mistakes. The opposition has to drop its nationalist rhetoric in the hunt for more voters. Political dialogue has to be restored. Civil society has to unite and make a clear stand against nationalism and violence.
These demands are difficult and require energy, sincerity and bravery. Some may be unrealistic, knowing who the Macedonian politicians are, but it’s good to have them in view. In time these demand might become possible. These days we all need to invest in the future of our children and say no to the cowards with baseball clubs. Before they become AK-47s.
Xhabir Deralla is head of the Skopje based NGO Civil – Center for Freedom. Balkan Insight is BIRN's online publication.