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(New York Times) Another Balkan Battle: Higher Learning


March 25, 2001

Another Balkan Battle: Higher Learning


TETOVO, Macedonia, March 24 - A new Albanian-language university,
sponsored and financed by the international community, was supposed to
be a significant response to the grievances that have underpinned the
Albanian rebellion now building in the hills above Tetovo and
threatening the cohesion of the Macedonian state.
    But the new private university, due to open in October on land
donated by the government, has instead created a political storm that
shows the fissures in this fragile, multi- ethnic state and the
complications that surround the good intentions of foreigners.
    The new school has been attacked by many Albanians as an effort to
destroy the unofficial University of Tetovo, seen by many Macedonian
Slavs as a hotbed of radical nationalism and rebellion that helped shape
the Kosovo Liberation Army.
    Yet the University of Tetovo, despite its symbolism in the Albanian
political struggle, remains uncertified and its diplomas unrecognized,
providing no benefit to job seekers in the larger state.
    The rector, Fadil Sulejmani, charges that the Macedonian state has
conspired with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,
which is sponsoring the new school, to destroy the University of Tetovo
and to damage Albanian self- reliance.
    "They want to destroy this school and cause fear and panic among the
population," Mr. Sulejmani said in an interview here. "We're not against
opening this new college, but it's not honorable, democratic or human to
open one school in order to shut another."
    The state should finance and accredit the University of Tetovo, he
said, rather than support a private school that Albanians cannot afford.
    Max van der Stoel, the O.S.C.E.'s Commissioner for Minority Rights
and the driving force behind the new Southeast Europe University, which
will also teach in Macedonian and English, in turn attacks Mr. Sulejmani
as a radical with a political agenda and ties to the rebels.
    "Mr. Sulejmani belongs to the most extreme wing of the Albanian
population," Mr. Van der Stoel said in a telephone interview, stressing
that the main Albanian party in the government supports the new
university. "He is well known for his extremist views and his dislike
for Macedonia, and there are close links between him and the new party
that backs the rebels."
    Underneath the furor are both real and perceived grievances on which
the rebels feed.
    The issues of Albanian education, access to state services and equal
or civil rights have been crucial in the politicization of ordinary
Albanians in Kosovo, Macedonia and southern Serbia. Citing official
discrimination, Albanians have pressed civil disobedience and built
parallel, unofficial structures, from governments to schools, while more
radical Albanians, citing slow progress, have turned to the gun to press
their case for self-rule and independence.
    Albanians represent perhaps 30 percent of Macedonia's two million
people, and while there has been Albanian-language secondary education,
there has been no Albanian- language university to serve them. Students
who could afford it once studied at the University of Pristina in
Kosovo, but the Serbian government led by Slobodan Milosevic shut down
Albanian-language education there in 1991. And degrees from Albanian
universities in Albania itself were not recognized in Macedonia until
    Even today, despite slow improvements since 1993, only about 16
percent of the students at Macedonia's two official universities, which
teach only in Macedonian, are minority.
    The University of Tetovo was opened unofficially in December 1994, a
response to the closure in Pristina, and the Macedonian government then
moved quickly and clumsily to try to stop it.
    In February 1995, the police raided two villages near here, Poroj
and Mala Recica, where classes were going on, some in a mosque, and shut
them down. In clashes with 5,000 Albanians, the police used tear gas and
killed one civilian, injuring about 15 (Mr. Sulejmani says 60), while 70
police officers were also hurt and police cars were destroyed.
    Mr. Sulejmani himself was arrested along with four other organizers
of the school and served nine months in prison.
    The school was politicized from the start, but the Macedonian
reaction intensified its symbolic importance to ordinary Albanians. It
was always a crucial question for the Albanian political parties here
and caused the oldest, the Party for Democratic Prosperity, to fracture.
    The Democratic Party of Albanians, led by Arben Xhaferi, was formed
in 1994 to press for faster, more radical change and less compromise
with the Macedonian Slavs. Many of its members had studied in Kosovo and
had close ties with similar movements in Kosovo that became allied with
the Kosovo Liberation Army.
    Mr. Xhaferi's party is now the largest Albanian party and he is in a
coalition with the current government, which has supported the new
university and does nothing to block Mr. Sulejmani from operating his
school, which he says has more than 10,000 students enrolled in various
courses. The government has also passed a law allowing private
universities and making it easier for Albanians to enter regular state
schools by passing exams.
    But the victory of the Albanians in Kosovo, riding on NATO's air war
against the Serbs, has renewed calls for faster change in Macedonia and
sparked this rebellion. Mr. Xhaferi's own position and credibility with
his voters is being undermined, one reason that he has warned the
government that a large military offensive against the rebels would
cause him to pull out of the coalition.
    Mr. Sulejmani, in the interview, attacked his old ally, Mr. Xhaferi,
and called for dialogue with the political leaders of the rebels, which
the government refuses to engage in, saying it will speak only to
elected leaders.
    "People do not trust Xhaferi, who manipulates, lies and deceives,
and who only wants to keep his chair," Mr. Sulejmani said. "For 10 years
these politicians did nothing. He is losing his electorate and should
leave the government and make way for dialogue." As for "Stoel's
school," as many Albanians call it, Mr. Sulejmani is angry, but says he
must oppose another university for the Albanian people.
    While the cornerstone for the new university has been laid, Mr. Van
der Stoel said, the fighting in Macedonia could delay the university's
opening. After a long effort to find the necessary $21 million in
financial backing, the sudden crisis in Macedonia has brought money
pouring in.
    "Unfortunately," said an aide to Mr. Van der Stoel, a project
"designed to be for confidence-building and conflict prevention" has
become caught up in the conflict it was intended to help prevent.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company