IBNA Op-Ed/ Eruption of ethnic violence

IBNA Op-Ed/ Eruption of ethnic violence

By Xhabir Deralla*

The murder on May 19 in the suburb of Gjorce Petrov in Skopje and the ethnic riots that followed paint a picture of Macedonia that alarms everyone, or rather, everyone except those who have created and control this situation.

Riots erupted last week after the suspect for the killing of the 18-year-old man was arrested and reported to be an ethnic Albanian.

The victim, an ethnic Macedonian, was stabbed to death on Monday after he caught up with a man who had stolen his bicycle. Police soon detained the suspect and published his name, identifying him as Albanian.

Dozens of people were arrested over two days of violence that ensued as hooligans tried to move to the mainly ethnic Albanian suburb of Saraj. Police reacted and stopped them, but not before the rioters had demolished and torched Albanian shops in the suburb.

The first reports about the murder in the pro-government news portals promptly announced that a young Macedonian has been murdered with axes and a shovel.

As tensions on the streets started brewing, the Prime Minister’s favourite journalist, Milenko Nedelkovski went live on Radio Free Macedonia, a government mouthpiece, and in vulgar style, full of hate speech, made those tensions worse.

The following day, the lawyer of the defendant claimed that the murder weapon in fact belonged to the victim. Thus, he maintained that the murder was an act of self-defence.

Either way, had the name of the culprit not been revealed immediately in this fashion, acts of ethnically motivated hatred and violence could have been avoided.

Ethnic tension is an endemic problem in Macedonia as it is. Whether it takes the form of fights on buses, in schools, in sports arenas, or on the streets, matters little. What matters is that tensions are high, constant, and can erupt on any occasion.

For years, these deep divisions along ethnic, religious and political lines have been used as means of creating a heightened climate of ethnic animosity in the run-up to elections.

Such was the case in the local elections held last year. The same atmosphere was created and maintained during the presidential election this May.

In fact, ethnic-based policy disagreements between the two ruling parties, VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, were the reason for the calling the parallel early general elections alongside the presidential polls.

VMRO rode into the polls on a wave of nationalism, demanding that people give them an absolute majority in parliament, so that they would not be held hostage by their ethnic Albanian partners.

Over all these years, the DUI has played along with this game. This smaller, Albanian version of Gruevski’s party, feeds off the same tensions, which boost a climate of nationalism among Albanians. At the same time, the party obediently follows all the key decisions of its government partner.

From being the political successor to the National Liberation Army, the UCK, the ethnic Albanian guerilla force that took on the security forces in 2001, the DUI has since morphed into a political branch of Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party.

Not surprisingly, the party has lately begun being referred to as UCK-DPMNE. In effect, it is an obedient tool of Gruevski, playing along in diverting public attention, often without even being told to.

Long years spent together in government have created a situation where, even if there is no explicit agreement between the two parties on the need to pursue such policies, a silent deal surely exists between them on achieving a common goal – undisturbed rule and use of the abundant privileges and money that come with holding power.

Meanwhile, the deep political crisis and lack of dialogue between the government and the opposition, as well as between the main players within the government, has widened the ethnic rift.

This situation only encourages violent behaviour. A society that witnessed but never fixed the wounds opened on December 24, 2012, when the opposition and journalists were forced out of parliament, cannot hope for much better than the kind of savagery that followed the murder in Gjorce Petrov.

The same goes for the violence that occurred before the election against an Albanian family in the Skopje suburb of Radisani, which had a strong ethnic dimension to it.

The same elements existed behind the episodes of violence that took place in Skopje on the buses in the run-up to the local elections.

The murders of five Macedonians near Skopje that took place in April 2012 also cast a dark shadow over ethnic relations and are a sign of the fragile nature of the country’s overall stability.

In each of these cases, and in many others, government institutions, or more precisely, the party-political structures of the government, played an infamous role.

It should have become apparent long ago that ethnic tension and hatred are being utilized to divert public attention from the real problems facing the country and society.

A narrative is being created, designed to portray ethnic Albanians as the internal enemy against which the Macedonians must be protected by all means. The nation’s saviour, of course, is the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski.

This concept of permanent divisions and tensions, which the government promotes, is exemplified by the conduct of its media megaphones, which do their best to spread hatred between the people of this country.

The ethnic tensions and violence that follow may prove an expensive game, but those in control reap big political profits.

The systematic violation of human rights and freedoms, the suppression of media freedom, poverty and corruption, all remain invisible under a tide of orchestrated chauvinism and ethnic, religious and political divisions.

With no sign of a change of heart in sight, lamentably, more tensions and violence from both ethnic communities are probably to come.

*Writer, producer, head of CIVIL – Center for Freedom, Skopje

** The opinion of the author doesn’t necessarily represent IBNA’s editorial line