Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Gorani Fear Losing Identity

Nationalist Macedonians lay claim to Kosovan municipality in border negotiations.
By Adriatik Kelmendi

Like the unhappy and ignored child in a protracted custody battle, the Kosovo municipality of Dragas watches sullenly as Macedonia and Yugoslavia squabble over the region in ongoing border negotiations.

The entities, which separated back in 1991, have argued over the ethnic roots of the people of Gora in the province of Dragas - a narrow wedge between Macedonia and Yugoslavia - since the second world war, claiming them as their own. But the Goranci, tired of the lengthy divorce proceedings, feel they have the right to make their own decisions.

After quarreling over their shared frontier - an administrative border inherited from Tito's Yugoslavia - for the past ten years, Belgrade and Skopje now appear to have come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

The Goranci though are far from happy with the way the frontier talks have been conducted, as they have not been represented in negotiations - the official reason being that Kosovo remains a constituent part of Yugoslavia.

Locals say their exclusion is absurd, as part of the disputed border runs between Macedonia and Kosovo.

They are particularly incensed at high profile Skopje media coverage of Macedonian nationalist claims on the area. Significantly, the press reports and comments have come in the run-up to the signing of a border agreement on February 23.

Nationalists in Skopje estimate ethnic Macedonians form a substantial proportion of the local population.

Goranci reject the claim. Most consider themselves Bosniak (Slav Muslims). They counter Macedonian assertions by citing a Yugoslav census from 1990 claiming the local population is 50 per cent Muslim, 30 per cent Serb and 20 per cent Albanian

From his house in Krushje, decorated in traditional Muslim style, President of the Party for Democratic Action, PAD-SDA, in Dragas, Sadik Idrizi said he's appalled by the behavior of Macedonian nationalists. He said some had crossed the border into Kosovo to try to cause trouble.

"I am a Bosniak, there is no question about that," said Sadik who feels he represents the majority of Goranci. "I don't call myself a Macedonian, Serb, Albanian or anything else, who has embraced Islam. "

A long-time researcher of Goranci culture and history, Sadik says the local dialect is based on Macedonian but bears heavy Albanian and Romanian influences.

"Many people try to claim us as their own, but we are Goranci, and our country is Gora-Kosova," said Harun Asllani, Deputy President of the Municipal Board of Dragas.

Asllani, who some have accused of adopting a pro-Serb bias, betrayed no such affiliation when I talked to him. "Macedonians and Serbs can say what they want, but we are Muslims from the Turkish times," he said "and I don't believe anyone thinks Gora should be joined to Macedonia."

Goranci concern over possible frontier changes is shared by local Albanian leaders.

"No-one has a right to negotiate Kosova's borders," said Naim Jerlu, Vice-President of the Democratic League of Kosova.

"Only we are capable of deciding the future of our own country," said Ramush Haradinaj, President of Alliance of Kosova's Future, AAK.

Those engaged in the border dispute have, so far, refrained from violence. But tensions have sometimes threatened to boil over.

Last summer, Macedonian soldiers shifted border posts several kilometers into Kosovo provoking local protests. The crisis was, however, quickly resolved. The posts were returned to their original positions, in a move welcomed by both Kosovars and KFOR in the region.

The UN, currently governing Kosovo as a protectorate, has said that the maintenance of the status quo is imperative and are opposed to any frontier changes.

Tomas Lubering, spokesman for KFOR's Western Sector, in Prizren, told journalists on February 13, "There is no chance of Gora joining Macedonia just as there will be no unification of Presevo Valley with Kosova."

But whether such remarks will be taken into consideration at the border talks between Macedonia and Yugoslavia is debatable. The interests of the Goranci, like so many other Balkan minorities, seem destined to be overlooked.

Adriatik Kelmendi is an IWPR contributor

More IWPR's Global Voices