Macedonia: Keeping Peace in the Balkans

How one nation has avoided conflict in a violent region

| September-October 2000

In much of the former Yugoslavia, the response to Rodney King’s famous plea ("Can’t we all just get along?") has been a bloodcurdling "No!" In multiethnic Macedonia, however, a chorus of "maybes" can be heard. And that’s about as hopeful as it gets in the Balkans.

Linguistic, religious, and cultural divisions between majority and minority communities are nearly as deep in Macedonia as in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. The 2.2 million inhabitants of the Vermont-sized republic officially are classified as 66 percent ethnic Macedonians, 23 percent ethnic Albanians, plus Turks, Serbs, Roma (Gypsies), and other groups.

But some estimates put the Albanian share of the population at close to 35 percent. The proportion increased markedly after last year’s influx of 200,000 Kosovar Albanians, an unknown number of whom have stayed.

The Macedonian-speaking Orthodox Christian majority worries that the growth of the Albanian-speaking Muslim minority will upset "the country’s delicate ethnic balance," reports The Economist (April 3, 1999).

Since seceding from Yugoslavia in 1991, independent Macedonia has held its own in a highly dangerous neighborhood. And external relations further heighten the country’s internal tensions. Many Macedonians have ties to Serbia, while ethnic Albanians live close to their own compatriots across the borders with Kosovo and Albania.

Making Macedonia even more uneasy is a legacy of inequality. Following World War II, notes The New Internationalist (April 1998), Yugoslavia’s socialist ruler Josip Tito promoted ethnic Macedonian pride as a bulwark against Stalinist Bulgaria. Even longer-standing discrimination against ethnic Albanians has consigned them to the margins of contemporary Macedonian society. According to a report in London’s Financial Times (March 23, 2000), Albanians say they account for only 2 percent of Macedonia’s university graduates, 3 percent of its police force, and 7 percent of government officials.

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