Macedonia: 'Greater Albania' Gathers Support

A US government survey in Macedonia reveals ever-worsening ethnic relations and the increased appeal of a Greater Albania among ethnic Albanians.

Macedonia: 'Greater Albania' Gathers Support

A US government survey in Macedonia reveals ever-worsening ethnic relations and the increased appeal of a Greater Albania among ethnic Albanians.

Just over a year ago, a US government opinion poll revealed that the majority of Macedonia's minority Albanians were opposed to the ethnic division of the country. (See BCR No.250, 25 May 2001). Now, a new one reveals some dramatic shifts in opinions but also some confused and contradictory views too.

In three surveys - carried out in May 2001, a follow up last October and now the latest one - ethnic Albanians have been asked, "For your own personal future, would you prefer to live in an ethnically mixed Macedonia, or in a greater Albanian state?"

In May 2001, only 16 per cent said that they would prefer a greater Albanian state. By October, this had grown to 27 per cent. It has now leaped to 48 per cent. In contrast, the percentage of Albanians in favour of an ethnically mixed Macedonia has slumped from 71 per cent in May 2001 to 61 per cent last October to only 39 per cent now.

The surveys were carried out for the Office of Research of the US State Department. The most recent one collected data, face-to-face, from a "nationally representative" sample of 1,097 adults.

The May 2001 survey was taken just before the worst period of fighting between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army, NLA, and Macedonian security forces.

Despite the rise in popularity of the idea of Greater Albania, ethnic Albanians also gave oddly inconsistent answers to other questions. For example, a full 68 per cent of them want Macedonia to remain a united country. Unsurprisingly, 99 per cent of Macedonians do too.

This contradiction may relate to frustrations amongst Albanians about the slow pace of reforms since last August's Ohrid peace accords. For a number of them, it may also relate to the difference between what they might like in an ideal world as opposed to what is possible in the real one.

For example, 55 per cent of ethnic Albanians are only in favour of Greater Albania if it can be achieved by peaceful means while 30 per cent would be prepared to fight for it. By contrast, in last October's survey, 48 per cent said they would support unification even if fighting was involved.

On the ethnic Macedonian side, research reveals that 63 per cent oppose the Ohrid agreement. This demonstrates a hardening of opinion since last October when it was opposed by 56 per cent of Macedonians. By contrast 90 per cent of Albanians support the deal.

However, the report notes that, "worsening relations between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians calls into question whether the framework agreement will be able to foster long-term coexistence."

Some 87 per cent of Macedonians have "little or no confidence" that the agreement will result in a lasting settlement for Macedonia while 60 per cent of Albanians think it will and 37 per cent think it will not.

Some of the more dramatic shifts in social views are shown when Macedonians and Albanians are asked if they have negative views of certain situations. Last spring for example, only 25 per cent of Albanians had a negative view of having a Macedonian as a personal friend.

Now that figure has jumped to 61 per cent. As for Macedonians, a full 45 per cent had a negative view of having an Albanian friend last year and that figure has now grown to 52 per cent.

Last spring, 82 per cent of Albanians and 87 per cent of Macedonians disapproved of inter-ethnic marriage. Those figures are now 91 and 95 per cent respectively. The May survey also suggested that 14 per cent of Albanians and 40 per cent of Macedonians disapproved of shopping in a shop owned by a member of the other group. Now those figures are 35 per cent and 52 per cent respectively.

Unsurprisingly, 84 per cent of Albanians - up from 71 per cent last spring - are not happy with Macedonian policemen patrolling their streets and 77 per cent of Macedonians, up from 67 per cent, would not like Albanian policemen on their streets.

Curiously, data collected over a much longer period of time shows that Macedonian views of Albanians have been far more consistent than Albanian views of Macedonians, which have fluctuated wildly.

Over a series of six polls beginning in June 1998, the data shows that the vast majority of Macedonians - ranging from between three quarters and two thirds - have always had an unfavourable attitude towards Albanians.

By contrast, in 1998 only 43 per cent of Albanians had an unfavourable attitude towards Macedonians. In March 2000, this was down to a mere 18 per cent, then 17 per cent in May 2001. By last October, however, that figure had grown to 54 per cent and now stands at 63 per cent.

Much of this data is not particularly surprising but it does make for depressing reading. Most alarmingly, it shows that today it would be far easier for hardliners on either or both sides to decide to go to war again than it would have been twelve months ago.

In other words, last year's conflict has wrecked far more than lives and property.

Tim Judah is the author of Kosovo: War & Revenge.

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