From the Economist European Print Edition
Stir it up
A brief but unsettling surge in ethnic violence
Apr 14th 2012 | SKOPJE | from the print edition
IT’S a miracle! Just before Orthodox Easter this weekend thousands of Macedonians have been flocking to a church in Skopje, the capital, in which frescoes of saints have, it is reported, begun to gleam in a heavenly manner.
Across the nearby Ottoman-era Stone Bridge, which spans the Vardar river, crowds relax in packed cafés. Albanians, who make up about a quarter of Macedonia’s population of 2.1m, are part of the throng. That is another miracle of sorts. Between January and March the country was rocked by inter-communal violence. A Macedonian policeman killed two Albanians in a dispute that may or may not have been ethnically based. A village carnival in which Muslims and Greeks were mocked elicited angry responses from both sides. Flags were burned publicly, and sectarian chanting was heard at football matches.
To some these events revived unpleasant memories of 2001, when Albanian guerrillas, led by Ali Ahmeti, fought pitched battles with the Macedonian security services and the country came close to civil war. But it stepped back from the brink—and Mr Ahmeti’s party is now in government.
The cause of the recent surge in violence is a mystery. It stopped as suddenly as it started. Somebody wanted to “show off their capacity for destabilization,” suggests Suad Missini, a local analyst. Some predicted that armed conflict was around the corner. But a well-placed diplomat disagrees. “We are not going back to 2001,” he insists.
The problem, he says, is that Macedonians do not feel they are moving towards a better future. That can change only if the country resolves its 20-year-old quarrel with Greece, which argues that Macedonia’s name implies a territorial claim to a Greek region of the same name. The row has blocked Macedonia’s accession to both NATO and the European Union. But Greece’s other problems, laments Nikola Poposki, the Macedonian foreign minister, mean that the name issue “is not among their top thousand priorities.”
In the meantime Macedonia must deal with high unemployment. Macroeconomic stability, says Silvana Mojsovska, an economist, has not led to job creation. More miracles are needed.
from the print edition | Europe