Albanian Protests in Macedonia: Birth of Another Civil War?

Just yesterday, thousands of Albanians living in Macedonia staged a peaceful protest demanding increased rights and representation. They also marched to see the ousting of current Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruveski and his government, including Albanian coalition party leader Ali Ahmeti. Opposition leader of the Social Democrat party, Zoran Zaev has accused Gruveski and his government of abusing power. There have been allegations that Gruveski’s government is heavily corrupted and the country has called for a new election. Not only have the Albanians demanded a new government, but also native Macedonians have participated in these protests, proving the country’s united front against bad government. However, Gruveski denies allegations of corruption and the European Union has intervened in order to resolve the crisis, but has failed.

Macedonia is an ethnically divided country with two-thirds made up of Macedonians. Albanians make up more than a quarter of the population, but are still considered a minority. According to New Balkan Politics, the tensions between Macedonians and Albanians can be attributed to the root cause of fear. Macedonians, fear that the Albanians want to expand Albanian and Kosovar territory into Macedonia, which will revive Serbian, Greek and Bulgarian claims to the country. On the side of the Albanians, they believe their population is treated as second-class citizens and oppressed by ethnic Macedonians.

In 2001, the Albanian National Liberation Army militant group, created an insurgency in Macedonia. They seized territory and launched attacks against Macedonian forces and government. The goal of the Albanian Liberation Army was to provide greater rights for the ethnic Albanian population. Albanians, although enjoyed many social and economic rights demanded amendments to the constitution in which titled Macedonia as an extension of Albania and recognized Albanian as an official language. The Albanian National Liberation Army killed Macedonian policemen and the ethnic Macedonian population retaliated by destroying Albanian businesses and homes. The President therefore called a nationwide curfew in order to supress riots. Talks between Albanian and Macedonian political leaders were held, but failed to solve the issue. However, despite the government crackdowns, the Albanian Liberation Army did not back down, instead seizing strategic cities throughout the country. Macedonia later, with the assistance of NATO, signed a cease fire agreement which put in place a demilitarized zone on the Kosovo border. The Macedonian-Albanian crisis officially ended with the enactment of the Ohrid Agreement. This was Macedonia’s framework for creating closer ties with its Albanian population with greater rights and political representation.

The Albanian demonstrations in Macedonia that took place recently, highlight the ever present tensions between the two ethnic groups. The Albanians feel underrepresented politically and the Macedonians are wary of granting rights because of territorial expansion. In light of these protests, there is the hope that the Macedonian government will act quickly and peacefully so as not to revive another civil war.