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Macedonia: a pattern of inequality

Macedonian society is characterised, among other things, by a rich ethnic and cultural diversity. However, the current crisis in the country has underlined the danger that this diversity can also become a source of tension and potential conflict.

The following summary tries to highlight some of the political, social and cultural characteristics underlying the current crisis in Macedonia.

Economic divisions

After the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, ethnic Albanians in Macedonia were regularly denied jobs in state administration. In fact, those ethnic Albanians who previously held jobs in state enterprises were often laid off, or were barred from management posts.

This led to high unemployment: while the average jobless rate is 30 percent, it is twice that figure among ethnic Albanians -- this in a situation where the state is the main employer.

However, this situation also has had its benefits as it forced many ethnic Albanians to live and work abroad, which in turn brought money back into Macedonia to help start private businesses. Those businesses now represent Macedonia's most vibrant private enterprise sector.

Different language, religion and identity

Albanians are ethnically very different from Macedonian Slavs. They are believed to have come from the Indo-European Illyrian tribes who inhabited the Balkan Peninsula in classical times; Macedonians, on the other hand, largely come from the migrations of Slavic tribes into the Balkans after the 6th century.

Macedonian Slavs and ethnic Albanians are also divided by religion. Most ethnic Albanians in Macedonia are Muslims, while virtually all Macedonian Slavs are Christian Orthodox. During the Ottoman Empire, from the 15th to the early 20th century, Muslim Albanians were much more privileged than the Christians. The legacy of this historic past is still being felt in the region today.

Macedonian is the language closest to Old Slavic, which was developed for church matters. The Albanian language is completely different and marks a separate branch of the Indo-European tree of languages.

Albanians in Macedonia say they should be taught and educated in their own language and that training in Macedonian is putting them at a disadvantage.

Demands for parity status

At the political level, the ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia, and also the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the National Liberation Army, have demanded constitutional parity with the majority Macedonians.

Ethnic Albanians say they represent more than the official 23 percent stated by the Macedonian authorities.

Ethnic Albanians do not have the opportunity for higher education in their own language, except for a teacher-training department at the University of Skopje.

They say that their under-representation in state administrative bodies is not only based on discrimination by the majority Macedonian Slavs but also because ethnic Albanians have to study business administration, public administration or law in the Slavic Macedonian language, rather than Albanian.

Reform and compromise

The Macedonian government has reacted to some demands made by ethnic Albanians. The number of ethnic Albanian policemen, for instance, has been increased, but they do not make up more than 10 percent of the police force overall. In fact, some observers say the figure is probably closer to five percent.

The government has also agreed that ethnic Albanians should have their own university, but that it should be a private rather than a public institution.

Those measures are seen by ethnic Albanians as small steps of progress, reached through compromise.

The Albanian-language media are largely free, and there are many newspapers and television stations run by ethnic Albanians for ethnic Albanians. And national public television runs a full programme that is largely uncensored but produced along ethnic lines.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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