(AFP) Albanian revolt finds scant support in Macedonian capital


Wednesday March 28, 8:20 PM

Albanian revolt finds scant support in Macedonian capital

SKOPJE, March 28 (AFP) - Struggling for extra rights is all very well,
but when armed revolt starts taking the money out of businessmen's
pockets, ethnic solidarity means little to the capital's Macedonian
Albanians or Slavs, left with empty cash tills.
    Albanian rebels fighting around the town of Tetovo have inflamed
fears and passions in the northwestern town close to the Kosovo border,
but in Skopje's old Albanian quarter of Turska Carsija many resent the
conflict, blaming it for emptying their once bustling trade hub.
    The streets are all but empty, with only a handful of people out for
a stroll in the spring sunshine and a few old men sitting around in
    After dark, it is as if a curfew has been imposed as there is no
life on the streets. The few restaurants which remain open survive on a
handful of regular diners.
    "People are afraid to come here any more. No one comes now since the
trouble started about a month ago," says Ratko Arsov, a rare
non-Albanian businessman in a predominantly Albanian area.
    Sitting in front of his restaurant, serving traditional Balkans
fare, Arsov, a large man in a grey suit and tie, admits: "Even I'm
scared to be here now. Before we were all brothers here but now I don't
feel safe. And on top of that I reckon my business has dropped by 70
    Further along the road, Albanian jeweller Adnan epitomises the mood
of most of his compatriots in the capital, who feel little in common
with the guerrillas in the northern hills.
    "No, I cannot agree with what they are doing," he says. "They say
they are fighting for our rights, but that's nonsense. Violence isn't
the way to sort these things out. It's best left to the politicians,
even though they're all only in it for the money.
    "All I'm really interested in is business and as you can see there
isn't much of that around at the moment. I've lost 90 per cent of my
business since this started, some days 100 percent, it's appalling.
That's why I can't support the extremists, this is their fault.
    "And what makes it worse is that they're not even from here, they're
all from Kosovo, anyway."
    Babush Zejnel, who owns a kebab restaurant in the quarter, has an
equally bleak view of the situation.
    "I don't know anything about politics but it seems to me they'd be
better off sitting down and talking rather than fighting. I can't see
how it will help anything by firing guns. The army did what it had to,
I'm not saying I approve, but unfortunately it had to be done."
    From the capital, the view is quite different to that on the ground
in Tetovo.
    Whereas in the north ethnic Albanians make up a good 90 per cent of
the population, in Skopje they are just 150,000 to 200,000 among about
700,000 - mirroring the national demographic balance.
    The communities get on well together, with little animosity, even
though an undercurrent of resentment by Albanians at constitutional and
civil equalities persists.
    Like ethnic Albanians throughout Macedonia, they, too, want equal
opportunities in jobs and education as well as a modification to what
they see as a snub enshrined in the constitution, explained Ivan
Blazevski, a Macedonian journalist with the newspaper Dnevnik, who has a
special interest in Albanian affairs.
    "The constitution states that 'Macedonia is the country of the
Macedonian people'," he said. It then talks about 'Albanians, Turks,
gypsies and all other nationalities who live in Macedonia'."
    What the Albanians want, he said, was the wording of this preamble
to be changed to read that Macedonia is the state of the Macedonian and
Albanian peoples, and the two languages have equal official status.
    But Macedonians fear that such a change would inevitably lead to the
dreaded concept of federalisation and even secession, and prefer the
compromise "Macedonia is the country of all its citizens".
    However, as Blazeviski pointed out: "They've been arguing about this
for 10 years, it seems strange that it should blow up like this now."

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