Recent elections in a FY Republic of Macedonia, held during a last week, were marked with a sporadic ethnic Albanian’s deprecation and boycotts, which uncovered deep-rooted inter-ethnic tensions between a main nation and a largest ethno-religious minority (Albanians made up 25.2% of population in Macedonia, according to 2002 census).
Chronic ethnic animosities and an “unsolved question” of the Albanian minority political rights in Macedonia have culminated during a short civil war in 2001. It’s a long-lasting cause of instability in this country. Collision of two rising and fresh nationalisms: at one side, the pan-Albanian separatist’s vision of a homogeneous “Greater Albania” ideal and the Slavic Macedonian nationalism on the other side, seems to be unsolvable dispute and a fertile matrix for further generation of crisis in near future.
The Macedonian national history of 20th century can be simply named as a fight for recognition of a identity. In a long standing atmosphere of a geopolitically conditioned encirclement by perceived invaders and aggressors, Macedonia lived in a latent threat of laceration of the state. Thus, Macedonian nation and nationalism were formed as a defensive reaction through a guard stand and distinction of moderate pro-Bulgarian Slavic Orthodox Christians against an Ottoman imperialism firstly, then a Serbian expansionism and its concept of transformation into “Southern Serbia”, a Greek negation on usage of historical name of ancient Macedonia by Slavic “barbarians”, and the local Albanian nationalist’s aspirations to bring them closer to Albania and Kosovo.
A collective memory of Macedonians as a threatened small nation, shaped by burdened Balkanic historical experiences, reflects through great influence on the political scene (what’s proved by a support for the right-centre VMRO party) and public opinion nowadays. Moreover, it’s clearly evident on a wide-spread process of re-mythologisation of the history of Macedonia in a public and politics, like a case of pathetic and uncritical usage of Alexander the Great’s historical figure as the great “founder of nation”.
In contested atmosphere, where a emphasis on protection of the Macedonian national rights causes counter-reactions of the biggest minority and vice-versa, it’s hard to expect a willingness of majority for sovereignty dilution and territorial rearrangement of Macedonia. An acceptance of potential requests for a broader political rights for the Macedonian Albanians isn’t option, as Macedonian public consider that Albanians already have assured a high level of minority rights, what is accurate judgment when compare Macedonian legislative with practice in many European countries, so any significant extension would be received as a provocation and violation of Macedonia.
A serious ideological threat for a territorial integrity and political stability of Republic of Macedonia presents a Pan-Albanian vision of romanticized 19th century-like concept of the “Greater Albania“, which includes North-western parts of country populated mainly bay Albanians. It’s constantly heated up by a nationalistic revival of an ancient Illyrian tradition and a usage of mythologized rhetoric on Albanian state’s “historical rights” over areas populated by the Albanians. Although it remains just as unatainable wish outside real policy, it continues to live in minds of irredentic oriented Albanians as final ideal of national self-realization and challenges future of modern and stable European Macedonia.
The recent electoral victory of VMRO is a true indicator that ethnic Macedonians recognize this flows as an important political issue. The VMRO is a party with a strong and ever-presented patriotic agenda and a revolutionary background traced from a pre-WWII period when she had led heroic-imaged “national liberation struggle” against Turks and Serbs. Also, Macedonian’s unanimous support on a nation’s way towards integration in the NATO and EU is an another sign of their searching for security, stability and preservation of sovereignty.
A recent practices of a transgressions of the international law by major powers, first started with the Kosovo case in 1999, but “updated” by Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 , reflected on Macedonian complex inter-ethnic situation, too. A proclamation of a minority’s “right of self-determination” as absolute justice in democration, and it’s superiority over an internationally recognized state’s right to sovereignty and wholeness guaranteed by the international law, followed by unilateral disturbance or violation of one’s sovereignty, have opened a space for discussion about an Albanian’s autonomy and even separation of Albanian dominated territories as a legitimate and democratic request.
Althought some kind of violent breakdown of Macedonian integrity, by conventional aggression of Albania or internal armed rebellion, is fully irrational an impossible, long-range demographic predictions about further increasing of ethnic Albanians among Macedonian population inevitably turns tide to separatist’s side . It’s almost sure that demography will be a key trump in the Albanian’s further autonomist or separatist efforts by democratic means, which are likely possible. In that situation, rifles and bullets are superfluous.
Unlike early 2000s, when it coped with the ethnic nationalism and secular separatism, Macedonia is faced with a new form of threat nowdays – an possible ideological integration of traditional pan-Albanianism idea with a modern religious phenomenon of jihadism. The Albanians in Macedonia are predominately an Islamic, outnumbered by Orthodox Christians. According to last census, 33% of Macedonian population are Muslims, what is representation percentage very close to mere top of European countries. In a combination with bad economic situation (unemployment rate 28.6% in 2013, and relative high level of poverty 19%) and lack of perspective for Albanian youth, it gives a suitable background for breeding of a radicalized movement among poor, very conservative and low-educated population. Fusion of this ideas is not expected to be poured off by political mainstream gathered around a two main Macedonian Albanian parties DUI and DPA, but via marginal non-political, religious circles driven by a traditional salafi or wahabi interpretation of Islam.
According to trends in 2014, a vicinal Albania could be recognized as a new recruitment base for a fighters in Muslim’s “sacred war” in Syria. Today, Albanian national security agency has informations about 80 Albanians fighting against Assad’s regime. Republic of Kosovo, destabilized by the civil war, bears same mark from the very beginnings of Bush’s war against terror in 2000s. In light of that, return of a Islamist volunteers of ethnic Albanian origin could serve as a boost impact for spreading of extreme anti-Christian, anti-goverment feelings and separatist tendencies. Considered together with facts about inefficient and porous border control in area, where smuggling of people and arms is highly possible and extensive, cross-border overflow of Jihadists and insurgent elements in Macedonia and radicalization of local Albanians seems real risk treat.