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Macedonia: No End to Cultural Apartheid

Political feuds may slowly be healing but there's little sign of a rapprochement in the fields of sport and culture
By Veton Latifi

Macedonia's two ethnic communities remain stubbornly locked into separate parallel worlds despite progress on resolving the country's political crisis.


In sport and culture the ethnic Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority behave as though the other side does not exist. The former pay no attention to the latter's music, literature or drama and vice versa. This state of affairs is nothing new - such apartheid was well established before last year's conflict erupted.


Football is a key area of division. Early in July Albanian clubs threatened to establish their own separate league when the main Albanian team Shkendija was relegated from the national league.


The Tetovo side went down because it was unable to play some of its home matches, as its ground is located near some of the main flashpoints in the conflict. Its relegation to a local league meant that no Albanian club would be playing in the country's premier division for the first time in Macedonian sports history.


Albanian football officials opposed the demotion, but when Macedonian clubs refused to reconsider the move, the former demanded "proportional representation" at all levels of the Football Association of Macedonia.


"If our requests are not met, Albanian clubs will establish their own league," representatives of Albanian clubs told the General Council of the Football Association, three weeks ago.


Most ethnic Macedonians on the council rejected these threats, arguing that problems in sports could not be solved by the national criteria used in politics. Several days later, the association agreed that Shkendija could play in the second division. Albanian clubs in turn softened their stance, especially after pressure from the European football organization, UEFA.


Albanian sides still want greater ethnic representation in the association, which, they say, employs almost only Macedonians.


With September 15 elections looming, some people think the sports disputes are promoted by political parties hoping to win points with their constituencies. But it's clear that such ethnic rivalries are far more deep-rooted.


In literature, music and art it is impossible to hear about poetry, novels or any other works by members of the other community. "They are acting like two communities living in two separate countries," one international official said.


Macedonian and Albanian publishing houses almost never participate in each other's book fairs. Albanians organised their event in April 2002, one week later Macedonians staged their own.


Each side stages its own music festivals. In theatre it is the same. Macedonian troupes organised the national festival "Vojdan Cernodrinski" in June with no Albanians players present. Albanians would not allow Macedonians at their own drama festival in Debar this month.


Albanians claim that they are discriminated against in the field of culture. According to Azam Dauti, the head of Albanian publishers in Macedonia, the ministry of culture's budget comes to 22 million euro a year out of which Albanian institutions receive only 250,000 euro. "This is unacceptable," he fumed.


Media reports on the sports disputes follow along predictably ethnic lines. "We will soon see new Albanian associations for auto mechanics, chefs, bricklayers, carpenters and so on," commented the Macedonian language Dnevnik on July 11.


Two days later, the Albanian daily Fakti commented, "Since Macedonia became an independent state, Albanians have been treated as second class citizens."


Veton Latifi is a political analyst in Macedonia


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