Macedonia: Tetovo Riven by Ethnic Hatred

The Macedonian war may be over but old prejudices continue to simmer.

Macedonia: Tetovo Riven by Ethnic Hatred

The Macedonian war may be over but old prejudices continue to simmer.

Four months after the end of fierce ethnic conflict, the northwestern town of Tetovo now looks like a peaceful, flourishing place. But beneath the surface, there are sinister goings-on, with Macedonian residents living in fear of threatening telephone calls and attempts to evict them from their homes.


Most of Tetovo's inhabitants are ethnic Albanians who live awkwardly beside Macedonian and Roma minorities. It was around here that the National Liberation Army, NLA, descended from the nearby Sara mountain on March 14 to wage a war aimed at breaking Macedonian domination over the country as a whole.


Heavy fighting between the NLA and state security forces raged all over the Tetovo region, mainly in surrounding villages but sometimes in the town itself. Residents fled the area in their tens of thousands, most of them Macedonian. The Red Cross estimated that across the country, 76,000 people had left their homes.


Fighting ended with the signing on August 13 of the Ohrid Framework Agreement which pledged constitutional reforms to improve the plight of ethnic Albanians. Since then, Macedonian inhabitants of Tetovo reported they have been under constant Albanian pressure to move out of their houses, often with threats of violence.


At first sight, the town betrays little sign of this. Contrary to widespread belief elsewhere in the country, Macedonians still live here and their language can be heard on the streets. Shops are open, well-stocked and seem to be staffed by the same people as they were before the trouble.


But hostility simmers under surface. Each side blames the other for everyday problems which have existed for years. As elsewhere in Macedonia, the water supply has long been a troublesome issue - but is now worse than ever. Macedonians say Albanian terrorists are to blame. Albanians claim the culprits are the state security forces.


The communal divide was particularly clear during the Albanian festival Dita e flamurit (Flag Day) on November 28. It has long been customary on this occasion for guns to be fired in the air and the Albanian flag to be raised.


"We don't do this to say we want to be part of Albania," said Luljeta, a


student at the new University of South Eastern Europe. "It's to


celebrate who we are, wherever we are living."


But this year the shooting attracted return fire from the security forces. Albanians, fearful of a flare-up, cut short the celebrations and went home early. Macedonians also became nervous. A newspaper vendor blamed "Albanian terrorists" for the gunfire. " As you see, they didn't give up their weapons," he said. Nasim, an ethnic Albanian waiter, insisted, however, that it was "kids teasing the police - it's ridiculous how they [the police] reacted".


Macedonians make up around 10 to 16 per cent of the local population. But many of them are now leaving. "We can walk around town in the day," said Mira, a Macedonian woman. "At night, I don't go out really - maybe just to friends' houses but I definitely don't walk around. I just don't feel safe."


The media reflect and often reinforce ethnic divisions. Macedonian newspapers focus on Macedonians kidnapped by the NLA during the conflict, giving prominence to the excavation of a suspected mass grave at the village of Trebos, near Tetovo, where it is believed some of these missing might have been buried. The Albanian press, meanwhile, continues to report cases of police brutality in and around the town.


Some speculate that things will get worse next year, others that tensions will gradually ease. Given the uncertainly, it's not at all surprising that the population is so nervous and edgy.


Ellie Pritchard is a freelance journalist


Macedonia, Albania
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