Macedonia: Albanians Still Underemployed

The main Albanian party in Macedonia is being criticised for failing to improve the lives of its voters.

Macedonia: Albanians Still Underemployed

The main Albanian party in Macedonia is being criticised for failing to improve the lives of its voters.

Two years after the end of the conflict in Macedonia, unemployment is still rife in many former crisis areas – and ethnic Albanians are becoming increasingly angry with the party that represents them.

They are accusing the government, of which the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, is a coalition member, of not doing enough to provide them with jobs.

The DUI is led by former rebels turned politicans, and it won the majority of Albanian votes in the September 2002 elections. But nine months on from that ballot success, many voters feel the promised change has been too long in coming.

Avni Zendeli from the northeastern village of Matejce now blames the DUI for his poor living conditions. "Before the elections [the DUI] promised jobs and the renovation of our houses. But out of 4,000 inhabitants, only about ten people in Matejce are employed," he complained.

Ljuljzim Arifi from Lipkovo shares his view, saying, "It seems as if the Ohrid agreement [of August 2001] is not being implemented. Jobs should have been created, but nothing has happened. We sit all day long waiting for somebody to give us work."

Both villages were heavily involved in the 2001 conflict, as Albanian rebels seized territory and battled Macedonian security forces to demand greater civil rights.

Some analysts believe that the Albanians are unhappy because they expected the peace deal to produce swift improvements in their economic situation. But DUI vice-president Agron Buxhaku says it is too early to pass judgement on his party.

"There is a false belief that the economic situation can be improved

overnight. But security is crucial for development,” he said.

The Ohrid accord pledges steps to increase the number of Albanians employed by the state, to redress what was seen as a bias toward Macedonians. But Buxhaku believes that proportional representation alone will not solve the unemployment problem.

One reason for this is that the government wants less, not more civil servants on its payroll. It plans to fire several thousand as the first phase of a public administration reform. The civil service reports that it has 128,000 people in its ranks, which makes it look bloated when compared with the figure of 20,000 to 30,000 recommended by the International Monetary Fund.

Before the DUI came to power, Albanians certainly were underrepresented in employment. Data from the Statistical Institute show that while they made up almost 23 per cent of the Macedonian population, they accounted for less than 10 per cent of the employed.

Since the new government came in, there has been some increase in the numbers of Albanians working in the civil service or in publicly owned companies. However, some members of the community are still sceptical of this.

Farmer Ida Trena, an economics graduate, is convinced that Albanians still have fewer opportunities in the jobs market. “Nobody can convince me that some Macedonian has been waiting as long [as an Albanian] for employment. I don't feel I am equal in this country,” he said.

Tahir Hani, the Albanian mayor of the southwestern village of Velesta, who is not a member of the DUI, believes it is not working hard enough for its people.

"I feel that the DUI is not an equal partner in this government. They should pressure the authorities to open public enterprises and reduce our unemployment,” he told IWPR.

Security, as well as the economy, remains a major concern for Albanians in the post-conflict period. Abedin Ziberi, who is adviser to Lipkovo municipality, and also a member of the Democratic Party of Albanians and a former rebel commander in the area, recently warned that "if anything could worsen security in Macedonia, it is failure to implement the peace accord".

Ziberi insists that Albanians are in a worse situation than they were before the war. "Many have no jobs. People are hungry and poor – and the government is doing nothing to help them,” he said.

Suncica Stojanovska is a journalist with the daily Makedonija Denes

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