Poisonings or Power Plays?
December's scandal of the month in Macedonia was a curious, unresolved and somewhat suspicious affair: the alleged poisoning of over 200 Albanian high school students in Kumanovo. Complaining of various ills including headaches, stomach pain, dizziness and even laughing the victims demanded hospitalization and protested by skipping school. On 11 December, following several days of unrest, the Associated Press dutifully logged the Albanians' complaints, giving barely a nod to Macedonian allegations that the whole thing was a politically motivated deception.
The Context: A Policy of Willful Segregation
The context set for the case by the AP and other media bodies is simply that:
"Kumanovo is an ethnically-mixed city near Macedonia's northern border with Yugoslavia …(and) the scene of fierce sporadic fighting during the six-month conflict that ended with a peace plan last August granting more rights to Macedonia's largest ethnic minority."
Ah, if things were only so simple! Yet they are not. Almost a year and a half has passed since the war and, remarkably enough, other things have happened in the interim. Take, for example, the inclusion of the former Albanian warlords in the new government.
Ali Ahmeti's DUI party, in coalition with the pseudo-Socialist SDSM, was given four major ministerial appointments. Although choosing a party composed of former militants was extremely unpopular with Macedonians, DUI appealed to the West Macedonia's real electorate because of Ahmeti's promise to uphold the Ohrid Framework Agreement.
Since that noble decree is primarily concerned with granting the Albanians increased rights of language and local self-government, the fact that DUI was granted the not-very sexy ministries of Health and Education becomes hugely significant. The Macedonian battlefield, once occupied by rival soldiers, has simply been transferred to the classroom as evidenced by the Semsovo debacle.
In anticipation of favorable results in the national census (to be released the 15th of January), the newly empowered Albanian ministers are raising the stakes. After walking out of Kumanovo's ethnically mixed high school in September 2001 or, after the fighting had stopped Albanians are now demanding their own high school. The logic is that the Framework Agreement should guarantee this right in communities where over 20 percent are Albanians. Interestingly enough, this demand peaked just when the poisoning story broke earlier this month.
This policy of willful segregation is nothing new. Nor is it to be stopped. The younger generations of Albanians no longer learn the Macedonian language though they (at least nominally) live in Macedonia. Within a few years they will have become, quite intentionally, completely isolated from their Macedonian neighbors. The partition, or at least the cantonization of the country cannot be far behind.
The Cult of Victimology
At some point in Macedonia, things went terribly, terribly wrong. Maybe it was with the arrival of Lani Guinier, but probably, even long before. The Kosovo bombing was enabled by a slick PR campaign, one that was orchestrated by the US Government, NATO, PR companies and Albanian-American lobby groups. Through exaggeration, repetitious disinformation and even outright deceit, the unmitigated and intrinsic suffering of the Albanian people was driven home again and again. The bombing of Serbia was justified by the logic of humanitarian intervention: the "bomb them in order to save them" rhetoric perfected by the Clinton Administration.
If we can select two of the many unfortunate results of this policy, they are these: the effects Kosovo had on Macedonia and on the psyche of the Albanians living there.
The 2001 war in Macedonia simply could not have happened without the leadership, weapons and manpower supplied from Kosovo. That it was sustained until Macedonia was forced to make humiliating concessions owes partially to the fact that the Albanians won the PR war by convincing the world that they as a race were the perennial victims of "Slav" oppression, whether it come from the Serbs or the hapless Macedonians. However, that was not the end of it: for with the latest poisoning scandal, they appear to have convinced themselves also of their unending victimization.
Symptoms of the Disease
The most striking feature here is that Macedonian Albanians really do seem to believe this. They believe themselves to have suffered as much as have their Kosovar kin, who, according to the mythology, are the province's only victims. Indeed, the mass expulsion of Serbs, Roma, Turks and Muslim Macedonians from Kosovo since 1999, and the destruction of over 100 Orthodox churches there a still-continuing phenomenon simply must have been the work of other people.
Never mind that Macedonia was a desperately sought-after ally for the West in 1999. Never mind that its human rights record was lauded as being far better than any of its neighbors: its Albanians were and are victims. Even now, they are still being oppressed by themselves. Theirs has become a paranoid siege mentality. It states that Albanians are never to blame for their problems both real and imagined.
Luckily for them (and not so coincidentally), the Western media complied in 2001 by labeling them as victims and Macedonians as "Slavs." But by joining up in the cult of victimology, Albanians have only degraded themselves. By constantly praising America and NATO, and constantly reciting a litany of sufferings, they have successfully avoided their responsibilities to their country and to themselves. They have trapped themselves in a mindset that offers little room for either individual or collective growth and self-respect. Besides, it is painfully embarrassing to watch displays of affection for the US, when they are so obviously staged. Although just a Canadian, war reporter Scott Taylor discovered this during the war, when his feet were washed by initiates of the cult of victimology.
'We Have Two Gods One in the Sky and One in America!'
When I visited Bajram Shabani, one of the Kumanovo schools where the alleged poisonings occurred, I received a warm welcome. I had started to wonder whether the Albanians have gotten tired of providing such welcomes yet. Apparently, they still believe they will achieve a result though ironically, the Uncle Sam Spirit was first imposed on them in Kosovo, by the same propagandists who showered Kuwaitis with American flags in 1990. Nevertheless, Albanians seem to still believe in the salutary effects of forcing this sentiment. They seem to feel they are cheating their interlocutor. In the big picture it is only them who are being cheated.
I discussed the poisoning case with several school representatives, including the director, Mustafa Ebibi and an elementary school teacher, Faruk Fetahu. Both men were unfailingly hospitable, friendly and down-to-earth. During the straight talk, between sips of Turkish coffee, one very interesting statement slipped out:
"…we trust in the US because you Americans help us morally, and also help us to understand how we are oppressed here... yes, we have two gods one in the sky, and one in America!"
This fascinating confession unintentionally implies that without American rhetoric, the Albanians could not have realized their own status as victims. This "education" was maximized in time for the Kosovo bombing, when war criminals like Agim Ceku were turned overnight into freedom fighters. In the conflict that soon erupted in Macedonia, the enabling ultra-leftist rhetoric was transmitted through the personage of Arben Xhaferi, president of the DPA. This apologist for the "Greater Albania" project had been exposed to Guinierism through working with Clinton, Lieberman, et al. In the early stages of the war, Xhaferi was viewed as a moderate and somehow managed to win a full-length interview in the New York Times on 28 March (run by the execrable IWPR). He was sympathetically depicted as an "optimist in a panic" in this article, and curiously enough was described in a Los Angeles Times feature of 29 March in the same way: "it's impossible to miss the panic in Arben Xhaferi's eyes," gushed the Times.
Xhaferi's influence at the Ohrid treaty conference led to the triumph of selective democracy the issue that is really behind the clamor in Kumanovo. Remarkably, he has succeeded by welding the rhetoric of the pluralistic, minority-sensitive, modern Leftist fringe to the anachronistic concept of a 19th century nation-state: the Greater Albania.
Ironically, however, Xhaferi and his party were put out to pasture in the recent elections. Handed a resounding defeat by the untested Ahmeti, Xhaferi has returned to his roots in the ultra-nationalist court. According to Macedonian intelligence services, his DPA is now attempting to win away DUI members with large cash bribes. They are also playing an extremely dangerous game: Deputy Head Ilijaz Halimi recently called for an even bloodier war, a final conflagration that would give the "oppressed" Albanians the rights they (still) somehow lack. Later, we will see how this relates to current tensions in Kumanovo.
The Original Story
The story from Kumanovo this month aroused as much hysteria as it did confusion. According to the Albanians, a mysterious gas caused the widespread and simultaneous poisoning of over 200 high-school students in three different schools. Those affected were only high schoolers, despite the fact that they were surrounded by elementary-aged children (they refuse to attend the city's Goce Delcev High School, and therefore protest by holding classes in Albanian only primary schools).
Immediately after the onset of initial symptoms, large groups were taken to Kumanovo Hospital. Bajram Shabani, where around 70 of the sick teenagers studied, is about a five-minute walk to the hospital. But the Albanian retelling of the transfer made it seem like a heroic mass effort: Sevim Ahmeti, president of the local parent-teacher organization, claimed that, "everyone helped take them, from teachers in the school to people who happened to be on the street at the time."
The students (or their parents) were unsatisfied with the treatment provided in Kumanovo. Mr. Jordan Dzimrevski, head of the hospital's epidemiology department, diplomatically told the Associated Press on 11 December that "the students obviously have health problems, but we have not detected the cause." Claiming that this hospital's staff must have been to blame for this "failure," the Albanians then demanded to be admitted to Skopje's best hospital, the prestigious State Clinic.
Here, the students were taken to the Clinic of Toxicology, where again no cause for their ailments could be found. Some were then transferred to the Clinic of Infectious Diseases where again no signs of poisoning were discovered.
Faced with this embarrassing verdict, the Albanians alleged that Macedonian doctors were simply not good enough, or perhaps covering up the truth out of spite. The DUI Minister of Health thereupon called in a team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO). This team stayed for several days and then left having also found no reason for the Albanians' problems. In the end, the WHO agreed with the original opinion of the Macedonian doctors, that most of the symptoms were to be attributed not to poisoning but to "socio-environmental conditions."
Problems With the Story: How and Why Did These Poisonings Happen?
From the beginning, things did not seem to add up. These almost simultaneous poisonings seemed just a bit too coincidental. And, they were not unprecedented: similar cases have been reported in Pristina, Kosovo, first of all in 1981, and six years ago in Tetovo.
Therefore, I wanted to find out for myself, by visiting the now-famous school where all this unrest began. Given all the media coverage, it came as a surprise to learn I was the only journalist who had actually bothered to visit the place. According to the authorities at Bajram Shabani, only the OSCE and EU teams had stopped by as is their wont to file away the complaint.
I asked to see the rooms where the poisonings took place, and was led up a short staircase to a simple classroom in which were seven large tables, one long window, a chalkboard and a wood-burning stove. I was greeted by 28 quite healthy little kids, all shouting "hello!" in Albanian. Since previous poisoning complaints (notably, in Kosovo) alleged that gas was introduced through vents, I looked for anything be it a vent, air duct or fan by which this could be done. However, none of these were to be found. The only mechanism with a shaft the wood-burning stove was designed to send smoke out of the building. In short, there was absolutely no way that poisonous gases could be introduced into the room in such a manner. The second room I was shown had a similar layout.
If any problem had actually occurred, however, it could just as well have come from wet wood not burning correctly. In this case, only the (Albanian) teacher's judgment would be to blame. However, a typically wood-burning smell would not match the unidentifiably "pleasant" smell alleged by the students.
Even conceding that such a gas could and did exist in these classrooms, there is still the question of how it was physically introduced. My interlocutors were evasive on this subject. Finally, Sevim Ahmeti, president of the local parent-teacher organization, offered a theory.
Only high school students (who start classes daily at 3:30) were affected. The younger students (who leave at 3:15, and resume in the morning) were not. Therefore, according to Mr. Ahmeti, some "unknown man," one of the many "enemies of the Albanian people," somehow slipped into the school in the 15-minute period between classes, planted a poisonous gas, and escaped unseen. And not only that he must have had an accomplice, because at exactly the same time another poisoning was occurring across town, at another Albanian school (Naim Frasheri).
This rather paranoid and unbelievable explanation coincides, however, with a public allegation made by parliamentarian Xhezair Shaqiri in the Albanian-language Fakti. The story was translated by BBC Monitoring and then carried on 13 December by Hoovers, a subsidiary of the Financial Times. In it, Shaqiri makes an amazing allegation:
"(Shaqiri) said that this kind of poison had been used before by Serbia in Kosova and added that it was not unlikely that this incident had also originated from that country. "The international community must take full control of the countries that have such weapons."
An expert who is very familiar with the circumstances of the poisoning of primary and secondary schoolchildren in Kosova in May 1990 said that it is a poison gas used by the military. It can be detected in the blood of the victims only if blood samples are taken within two hours of the poisoning because the poison disappears from the blood after that."
In other words, the failure of Macedonian and international medical experts to find a cause for the stated health problems can be easily explained. A military-grade poison, ephemeral but potent, was surreptitiously administered by some "enemy of the Albanian people" a malevolent Macedonian, or perhaps a Serbian saboteur.
The only possibility not countenanced here is that just perhaps the Albanians had made it all up.
However, when political goals are wedded with a deep-seated victimology, the blame can easily be placed on somebody else.
Even if we entertain the almost impossible thought that such an event could have transpired in this way, there is still the question of motive. Indeed, in such an Albanian-friendly era as this, how on earth could such a tactic help the Macedonian cause, political or otherwise?
According to Sevim Ahmeti, the answer is simple: "they want to destabilize the Albanian population in the Balkans."
This logic only further exasperates already overstressed Macedonians. Scoffed one Skopje woman: "really, now who has the time or interest to go poison some Albanian students? I mean, come on!"
More Problems With the Story: Hospital Treatment
Some victims also claim that they were treated badly by uncaring Macedonian doctors throughout, and especially in Skopje's State Clinic. According to Ibraim Bakiji, a young English teacher at Bajram Shabani, the students were intimidated and neglected by Macedonian doctors. Bakiji is adamant that he was truly poisoned, claiming that he lay unconscious for six hours and was confined to the hospital for five days. (Doctors deny that any patient was interred for so long). He also alleges that Albanian students were denied proper care and attention, "despite their obvious bad health headaches, stomach pains and, I saw some of them even crying." Intriguingly, Bakiji also states that the poisonings "…happened at the time when the Minister of Education was to decide about building a new high school for Albanian students."
Doctors at the State Clinic, however, deny any neglect or mistreatment:
"The Albanian students were treated the same as everybody else. They were first asked what their symptoms were, and then given a complete physical exam eyes, nose and throat, auscultation of the chest, etc., besides blood and urine samples. Some were given IV's with glucose, if this seemed to be necessary."
That some students (mostly girls) felt uncomfortable was also attributed by one doctor to the "very aggressive attitude of their parents, who demanded their children be hospitalized, even if they didn't need to be they could then use this as "proof" that their child had been poisoned."
Once the "poisoned" students started arriving, Macedonian doctors knew exactly how the situation would play out. They knew that their findings would be deemed erroneous if the pre-ordained desires of the Albanians were not met. They also knew that DUI Health Minister Rexhep Selmani would upstage them by calling in more "respected" international experts.
And so, it was a foregone conclusion that when the Skopje doctors found no signs of poisoning, the WHO experts would be brought in. The Albanians had charged the Macedonian medics with careless retention of evidence. However, this was incorrect, according to one toxicologist:
"In all cases, we keep blood plasma samples frozen. Especially in this case, where we knew it would become a political issue, we took care to make sure all of the evidence was preserved no one would have been stupid enough to throw it out."
This statement casts doubts on the excuse of parent-teacher representative Sevim Ahmeti, who explains that the WHO experts did not find anything wrong "because they came a week or ten days too late." However, according to the Macedonians, this argument is baseless: "all of the clinical records were kept, and the WHO experts worked with the same frozen plasma."
The WHO's final explanation for this mysterious case harmonized with that of epidemiologists in Skopje:
"…bad health usually comes from socio-environmental conditions bad hygiene, dirty home environment, improperly cooked food, water, etc. And we're very sorry to say it, but for this reason, most of our patients are Albanians and Roma."
Perhaps, then, the mysterious vapors of Kumanovo amount to nothing more than swirling mists of political intrigue and a fog of confusion. Yet whether or not they were real or imagined is not the significant thing here. For the only real importance of this "poisoning" hysteria is that it allows Albanians to raise the critical questions of education and language rights questions that ultimately raise the issue of national self-determination.
Once again, we need to provide some background information. The jumping-off point for this contextualization was conveniently provided by Bajram Shabani's Director Ebibi: "the real dilemma for us is, why are only Albanian children poisoned first in Kosovo, then in Tetovo, and now in Kumanovo?"
Yes indeed now why is that?
The Precedents: Kosovo, 1981
In 1981, Albanians in Pristina first claimed to have been poisoned in school. This preceded demonstrations and street protests that soon turned violent.
Subsequently, the Yugoslav media agency Tanjug produced a booklet titled "Albanian Propaganda in Kosovo." The booklet collected assorted examples of Albanian propaganda from the local and foreign medias, as well as other sources. It was created exclusively for the use of Yugoslav police and intelligence services.
The other day, I was granted access to an original copy of this document. The information contained within illustrates that Kosovo Albanians had, even before 1981, rights that they claimed (and in Macedonia, still claim) not to have. It also reveals that by that date an organized public relations campaign was underway, for the attainment of pan-Albanian nationalist goals. One of them was the "liberation" of Kosovo something which is now, 22 years later, practically a reality.
The 1981 Albanian mass-poisoning complaints were followed by general unrest culminating in violent street protests, which the Yugoslav Army finally put down in early April. Albanians claimed that 308 people were killed in the riots. The government, however, claimed 9 fatalities. A German newspaper at the time estimated 30-40 dead.
The Tanjug booklet demonstrates clearly that by 1981 some persons whether in the Albanian diaspora or Kosovo itself were "informing" the media about the state of play in Kosovo. The Albanians told reporters (who had probably never even heard of Kosovo) that they were protesting the bad economy, poor living conditions and poverty of university students, as well as general discrimination and lack of education rights. What did they want? "Freedom, rights, and an independent Republic of Kosovo," as one paper put it. The Tanjug book contains, among reports from other countries, similar testimony from Swiss, British, Turkish, and (especially) German newspapers.
There is little doubt that as now, foreign journalists were fed a constant stream of pro-Albanian information. Indeed, how else could a newspaper from Mexico have any interest in the "unresolved historical status of Kosovo?" For that matter, how could a Barcelona paper report that Albanians were protesting "no improvement in living conditions for 35 years," when the government was devoting large chunks of money to modernizing Pristina and other towns?
The 1981 protests are seen as the continuation of one of the founding myths in modern Albanian identity, the mass protest of 1968. At that time, Kosovo Albanians demanded four things: the right to use Albania's flag in ceremonies; increased representation in the government and bureaucracy; language rights, and the right of self-determination. Except for the last, their demands were met; an Albanian university was even built in Pristina.
At the time, Tito prophetically stated that, "having the status of republic will not solve your problems." Indeed, in the practically independent Kosovo of 2003, social problems are even worse.
In education, at least, the Albanians were not repressed. In fact, a 1970 a protocol between Tirana and Pristina created a major educational exchange program. For the first time, professors from Albania were imported to Kosovo. Albania's Zeri I Populit remarked on this eleven years later, quoting Radio Pristina (on 26 May 1981). According to this broadcast, the professors
"…worked very hard to clear up the different issues concerning the history, language and culture of the Albanian people... their traditions and laws, (and) the great value of the Albanian nation, which was hidden in the darkness of history."
This ominous conclusion was a euphemism for the Greater Albania project. Education became a vehicle for "informing" Albanians as to their historical right for assimilating the territories of neighboring states.
On several occasions, Yugoslav authorities discovered the nationalistic platform of propaganda that lay behind the exchange program. The Tanjug report found it worthwhile to note some examples. For example, after the demonstrations (on 13 May 1981), Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that a Yugoslav police raid on Radio Pristina had netted tapes of "traditional folk songs" which instead contained Greater Albanian propaganda.
Since in 1981 Kosovar Albanians could not claim that they lacked education rights, they had to resort to other means in order to put the "republic" idea back on the table. They claimed that (solely) Albanian university students suffered poor living conditions and were not given enough cash handouts by the state. (All the students of other ethnicities, of course, must have been living high off the hog).
But the exposure from the "poisoning" story, owing to its novelty and apparent seriousness, inspired new interest from the foreign media. It also helped radicalize the young generation of students, such as Ali Ahmeti and others who have recently transformed Macedonia, through a unique but predictable violence, the logic of which rests on victimology.
The Serbian government and people scoffed at the Albanian charges, declaring the poisoning affair a politically motivated "simulation." They expressed wonder at how only Albanians could have been afflicted on this and other occasions, as they breathed the same air. Antiwar's Nebosja Malic recalls a case of food poisoning from his childhood:
"…they claimed to have been poisoned by the food in the school cafeteria. However, everyone got the same pre-packaged lunch, all chosen at random from a box that was carried through the cafeteria. Yet though everyone ate the same food, only the Albanians and not the Serbs next to them claimed to have been poisoned. In short, there is no way in seven hells that this could have been true. If they are trying the same thing now in Macedonia, it is a very bad sign."
The Precedents: Kosovo, 1990
The second major Kosovo poisoning case occurred in 1990. Again, the Serbs poured scorn on the complaints, and the Albanians in the end had no evidence for any "poison gas" having been administered. But the whole thing was tied together quite neatly with the issue of "human rights." Poisoning was seen as a natural progression of this phenomenon:
"They took away our rights. Then they poisoned our children," the (Albanian) informant stated. The incident is referred to as "the notorious mass poisoning of thousands of Albanian schoolchildren in the spring of 1990" by the British historian Miranda Vickers and is described by her in the following way:
According to Albanian sources, more than 7,000 cases of neuro-intoxication were observed and analyzed in medical centers in March and April… the Albanians claim that neurotoxic gas was emitted via ventilation systems into schoolrooms where Albanian children were being taught. The children described how they experienced a pleasant smell but then started to feel nausea followed by other symptoms such as headache, stomach pain, dizziness, breathing problems, coughing, heart pain and hallucinations… the Serbian authorities refused to investigate the alleged poisonings. Many hospitals and clinics were guarded by armed police to prevent Albanians from bringing their children in for treatment. According to the authorities they were suffering from "mass hysteria." Although it remains unclear what really happened with the children in the spring of 1990, the informant clearly viewed this incident as part of the general oppression of Albanians."
Some Albanians in Kumanovo apparently now also view it this way. As some in Kosovo have even contended that the evil Serbs hit them with Sarin gas, it becomes easier to understand the paranoia in Kumanovo. Attested Mr. Ahmeti:
"…just like in the New York subway, terrorism could come here, and many people could die… logically, this is big terrorism if you poison these students… why should they be sacrificed?"
The quote above is quite interesting, as it derives all of its credibility from wrapping an unproven narrative around the "views" of one "informant." Incidentally, the author (Miranda Vickers) now works for that paragon of objectivity, the ICG.
The Precedents: Tetovo, 1996
The poisoning ploy arrived in Macedonia in October of 1996. Tetovo, it should be noted, was always a hotbed for radicalism and well connected with developments in Pristina. It was also the site of an illegal university that was set up to foment separatism, according to the government. Ironically, as predicted in March 2001, that university has been crippled not by the Macedonians, but by the Western-funded South-East European University (SEE), which has successfully bought away many of its professors.
Long before 1996, Tetovo had been exposed to separatist propaganda, however. At the time of the 1981 Pristina poisoning scare, says one Macedonian elder, "some Tetovo classrooms had maps of the Greater Albania, and were taught with books imported from Albania Macedonia was not even mentioned."
Significantly, in 1996 the Albanians would not trust in the negative findings of the doctors. As with the situation now, "international experts" had to be called in to arbitrate. On 10 October 1996, after these experts had finished their investigation, MILS News Service conveyed the government's official statement:
"The results of toxicology analyses, which were made at the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Vienna, as well as the results of all the other laboratory, clinical and neuropsychiatric analyses made, showed that there were no symptoms of poisoning or of any other kind of contagious disease. Therefore, we call on the public not to use the term "poisoning."
This was announced yesterday by the Macedonian Ministry of Health, regarding the latest events in Tetovo and its area and the alleged poisoning of pupils of the Albanian nationality. The Ministry also appealed for the children and their families to be spared from activities by which a panic among them is deliberately provoked in one way or another. The announcement further said that such a massive going to health institutions was disturbing the daily process of establishing diagnoses and medical care for people who really needed them."
Victimology in Action: Treatment of Albanian Students in Kumanovo
The issues of health and education have converged in the Kumanovo poisoning cases. As in Kosovo and Tetovo, only people who would like to gain something whether it be a university or a high school are afflicted. But perhaps it may turn out that being poisoned is not enough. After all, the West and the media are not really taking the bait; even the rabidly pro-Albanian IWPR has so far not touched the story. That in itself says a lot.
Therefore, to get a new school the Albanians also have to prove why they can't just use the existing one. The Albanian high school students at Bajram Shabani had gone, until the war, to Kumanovo's Goce Delcev High School. But according to one teacher, Faruk Fetahu, the presence of "Macedonian hooligans" prevented Albanians from safely going to school:
"…even before September 2001, ethnic Albanian students in Goce Delcev High School were being beaten by Macedonian hooligans. Since 1985 they were attacking us. The police did nothing to stop this."
An older Macedonian teacher, however, remember differently:
"…there were not gangs beating Albanians. Actually, the Albanian teenage boys would always leave the school in packs they were trying to present a tough image. How could they be attacked? And when the Kosovo bombing started, they were cheering and trying to antagonize us. But we Macedonians just want to avoid conflict we do anything to keep from provoking them."
This teacher also contends that Albanian professors who joined the NLA got paid several months worth of back wages, after they had returned from trying to kill their colleagues.
According to the director of Bajram Shabani, the decision to leave Goce Delcev in September 2001 was meant to be a temporary one. Now that peace has returned, and the situation has cooled down, why then have the Albanian students not returned? "They are too afraid of Macedonian oppression," claimed Fetahu.
This is a rather suspicious argument to say the least. Especially since the war, any violence against Albanians becomes an immediate headline. What it actually comes down to is not the (deceptively) stated fear of violence, but the simple desire for ethnic segregation. Remarkably, this apartheid policy is once again couched in the language of the pluralistic West like Xhaferi's fascistic nation-state masquerading behind the façade of multiculturism:
"…we really want our school to be multi-ethnic. We can have Turks, Macedonians, Albanians and Roma there. The problem (with Goce Delcev) is that is located in the center, where only Macedonians are living, and not in our neighborhood... we want a multi-ethnic school, in a neighborhood where the Albanians make up more than 50 percent of the population."
Hearing this, I asked Mr. Fetahu if he really believed there was a future for multi-ethnic education in Macedonia. If the Albanians aren't willing to be a minority in the schools, then where will they study? The reply was not wholly unexpected:
"…I don't really believe the two can get along together. The Albanians need their own school. We have just two primary schools in Kumanovo, whereas they have seven. And all of the four high schools are ethnic Macedonian.
They oppress us psychologically they say, "come to our school," but they offer only two classes for us (in Albanian language)… many children want to go to high school, but can't, because there is no Albanian high school."
From this, it would seem that in Macedonia, something has indeed gone terribly wrong. As in Kosovo, complaints about "equal rights" in education will only whet the thirst for self-determination, which leads ultimately to secession. This is why the poisoning caper while of no great interest to medical researchers is a significant event in the history of Albanian "emancipation" in the Balkans. But it may yet turn out differently than its predecessors.
Loose Ends: Terrorism, a Mysterious Immolation, and the Great Census
The educational unrest and poisoning fiasco in Kumanovo were not isolated events this month. On 25 December, a powerful bomb went off in front of Goce Delcev High School, killing one elderly man and injuring five others. While no perpetrators were identified, it is possible that DPA (which has stated the need for a new and bloodier war) wanted to ensure Macedonian retaliation and so a new war. Whatever the cause, it is clear that such urban terrorism will only cause tensions to rise further between the ethnicities.
In addition, a few days earlier saw the administrative buildings in Debar burn down in a mysterious fire. In this case also, no perpetrator was found. Debar is an Albanian-majority town near the western border with Albania. This summer, a local campaign was undertaken to rename all of the streets they were renamed after Albanian heroes, instead of being called by their traditional Macedonian names.
Albanians in Debar hope to profit from the local self-government clause in the Ohrid Agreement. On a national level, this rests on the results of the census (to be announced January 15th). It is known that in previous elections Macedonia has had a problem with "imported" voters from Albania and Kosovo who sometimes have passports from three different countries. Another problem authorities have had in border towns such as Debar is with land and property ownership. It seems that when these "imports" stick around, they do not always bother to get the proper permits, or even purchase the land they build on. Is it completely outside the realm of possibility that some of these individuals would have a vested interest in destroying the offices where all of the records were kept?
Finally, there is the census. While Ali Ahmeti has been promising his supporters that they will add up to at least 30 percent of the population, this is not guaranteed. The implications of a lower Albanian result than 20 percent, as I have discussed elsewhere, are many and severe. For one, the future of Albanian education and thus, self-determination depend on it. Verily, the education war is just heating up, and will dominate in 2003. The Kumanovo poisoning imbroglio is just one battle in a depressingly predictable, and protracted war of liberation liberation, that is, from reality itself.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia. He just returned from a long stay in Turkey, near the Iraqi border.
Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us