Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Albanians Back Macedonian Unity
According to the conspiracy theorists, western intelligence agents are crawling in and out of every Balkan hole in search of information, which is then dutifully relayed back home, by satellite-tracked carrier pigeons. In fact, IWPR can reveal that, at least in helping determine policy towards Macedonia, the United States for one, is actually relying on a far more scientific and reliable methods. It is commissioning opinion polls.
The latest one, conducted on behalf of the State Dept's Office of Research, of which IWPR has obtained a copy, makes for interesting reading. It finds, for example, that while 69 per cent of Albanians are sympathetic to the NLA guerrillas, 87 per cent of them also say that it is important to them personally that Macedonia remains united. Unsurprisingly, 99 per cent of Macedonians also want their country to stay united.
The poll of 1091 "nationally representative" adults, including 787 Macedonians and 227 Albanians, was conducted between April 16 and May 3 - just before the formation of Macedonia's unity government.
What is fascinating is that while on several questions Macedonians and Albanians have almost uniformly opposing views, on other questions it is clear that there is, or at least was, still grounds for optimism that a full-scale war can be avoided.
The poll found that Macedonians approved of the way their government had been handling the crisis while Albanians did not. Macedonians were very divided in their views on NATO's presence in Macedonia and along the Kosovo border while Albanians were extremely favourable.
As some diplomats begin discreetly to float the idea of an MFOR (a NATO-led peace force for Macedonia) it is significant that one of the questions asked was whether people would approve or not of KFOR, in neighbouring Kosovo, entering Macedonia "to help end violence in the north-west". A majority of Macedonians, 59 per cent, opposed this, while 79 per cent of Albanians said they would be in favour.
By contrast, NATO's decision to allow Yugoslav forces back into the Ground Safety Zone bordering Macedonia, a move which precipitated the collapse of the UCPMB, the NLA's sister organisation in southern Serbia, provoked opposite reactions. Some 84 per cent of Macedonians approved, while 79 per cent of Albanians disapproved.
Most worryingly, it is clear that there is no meeting of minds when it comes to Albanian demands for reform in the country. For example, 96 per cent of Macedonians opposed the idea of recognising Albanians as "a nation" in Macedonia, while 98 per cent of Albanians were in favour. Similarly, 97 per cent of Macedonians opposed making Albanian an official language for contracts and business, including for courts and parliament. This was supported by 98 per cent of Albanians.
Two-thirds of Macedonians believe that their Albanian co-citizens would actually prefer to live in a pan-Albanian state. However, that view is not supported when Albanians are asked. For example, a majority of Albanians, 71 per cent, said they would prefer to live in an ethnically-mixed Macedonia rather than a greater Albanian state. Just 16 per cent supported the latter.
Those who supported a Greater Albania were then asked if they would still be in favour if
"fighting with neighbouring countries" was required to achieve that goal. At that point, only 13 per cent of them still supported it.
The Office of Research concluded that support for the NLA stemmed from its stated aim to increase ethnic Albanians' political status rather than to separate western Macedonia from the rest of the country.
Significantly, the poll found regional variations in Albanian views. For example, it discovered that Albanians living around Kumanovo, the region where there has been most fighting in the last few weeks," express the most strident support for uniting all Albanians in one state; in fact in this region alone they prefer a greater Albanian state to a multi-ethnic Macedonia".
It found that Albanians around Tetovo "are relatively sympathetic to the idea of uniting all Albanians in a single state, but would clearly prefer to stay in an ethnically-mixed Macedonia". Although, it also revealed they were very suspicious and distrustful of their Macedonian neighbours.
The poll also discovered that Albanians in other areas of western Macedonia "are clearly committed to current borders and oppose a united Albanian state. Those living in the southernmost region around Bitola (where anti-Albanian riots recently occurred) are especially opposed to the idea of greater Albania and in this region alone, a majority oppose the activities of the NLA".
Although the poll asked Albanians about uniting with all other Albanians in the region, it made no distinction between Kosovo and Albania. Some Albanians, for example, might be far more interested in eventually uniting with Kosovo alone. This question may appear in the next poll.
Worryingly, only one third of Macedonians have a favourable image of their Albanian neighbours but, by contrast, eight out of ten Albanians have a positive view of Macedonians. The pollsters note, "another reassuring sign is that no more than two in ten say that ethnic relations are so bad that they will trigger a 'grave crisis'."
Significantly 82 per cent of Macedonians and 77 per cent of Albanians thought that ten years from now it "is likely that Macedonia will be a united country" - a belief that, curiously, "increased significantly since last year".
Since the poll was conducted, hopes for peace have risen, fallen, risen and been dashed again. The first civilian casualties have been reported and now, thanks to talks between Albanian politicians and the NLA, the unity government is, at least for the moment, a unity government in name only. Views can change quickly in such a situation.
The headline put on the poll report by the Office of Research was "Public Braced for Slow Resolution of Crisis in Macedonia's Northwest...But Majority Expect Country to Remain United". Now we wait with bated breath to read the findings of their next survey.
Tim Judah is the author of Kosovo: War and Revenge published by Yale University Press.
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.
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