EU deplores ethnic violence in Macedonia

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The European Commission "deeply regretted" a spate of attacks between Macedonia's Slav and Albanian communities and called on politicians and civil society to handle the "emotional aftermath" with care, a spokesperson for enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said yesterday (12 March).  

Macedonia in recent days has reportedly suffered the worst outbreak of ethnic violence since the armed conflict between the Albanian National Liberation Army and Macedonian security forces in 2001. The earlier violence led to the internationally brokered Ohrid peace agreement.

Recent clashes occurred involving rival gangs of youths from the majority Macedonian community and ethnic Albanians, leaving dozens wounded, Interior Ministry and police officials said.

The violence erupted after two ethnic Albanian men were shot dead by police in an apparent dispute over a parking space in the western town of Gostivar.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said on Sunday that he would call a session of the National Security Council if necessary, and appealed on all citizens to "behave responsibly".

EU spokesperson Peter Stano said Füle was going to the country on 15 March for preliminary talks and would raise the issue of the need of "thorough implementation" of the 2001 Ohrid agreement.

This will be a topic in the high-level accession dialogue to be opened between Skopje and Brussels, Stano said. Macedonia is due to begin preliminary talks with the EU in an attempt to reduce the length of accession negotiations, which are prevented from starting because of the country's running name dispute with Greece.

Although the former Yugoslav republic became an EU candidate in 2005, Macedonia has for seven years now been unable to start accession negotiations because over Greek concerns over the use of the "Republic of Macedonia" (see background).

All 12 countries joining the EU in the 2004 and 2007 enlargements were able to conclude accession negotiations in less than six years.

Analyst Dušan Relji? recently wrote that renewed ethno-political conflagration in Macedonia could shake up the triangle of Kosovo, Albania and western Macedonia, populated almost exclusively by Albanians, many of whom would like to be united in a single state.

Conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has been working persistently to construct an "ancient Macedonian" identity for his state, which exacerbates the growing alienation between the Slavic population of Macedonia and ethnic Albanians, Relji? writes.

"If the already wide gulf between Macedonians and Albanians deepens further, it would take the Macedonian state over the edge," Relji? writes in a recent comment, titled "Border Changes on the Cards again in the Western Balkans". 

Macedonia first appeared as a country at international level in 1991 after declaring independence from the dissolving Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In official EU documents, Macedonia is referred to as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" due to a dispute over the country's name, which is identical to that of a Greek province.

Macedonia is an ethnic mosaic. Slavic Macedonians represent the largest group (64% of the population). Ethnic Albanians are the second biggest minority (25%), with Turks (3%) and Roma (1.9%) also present.

Ever since the country's independence, integrating the ethnic Albanians has proved a cumbersome process, and the country has come close to civil war.

The August 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement, brokered by Western powers, halted the brinkmanship between the ethnic-Albanian communities in northern Macedonia (organised militarily in the National Liberation Army) and Macedonian forces.

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