"There Are Too Many of Them"

Analysis of breaking news events.
April 30 1999 4:52 PM

"There Are Too Many of Them"

(Continued from Page 1)

"Have you personally every had a confrontation with an Albanian?"

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"Not yet."

I don't remember where I got Sreten's phone number, so I assume he is a friend of a friend.

"You are a journalist?"

"No, I run a youth center that encourages ethnic tolerance."

That's right. I got his number at Search for a Common Ground. He gives me a flyer on his organization, called the Youth Information Center of Tetovo. The flyer is bilingual, Macedonian and English. The six-member board listed on it includes one ethnic Albanian; the executive committee and staff are all-Macedonian.

"So what do you think is going to happen?" I ask everyone this.

"You know, old people, both Macedonian and Albanian, say, 'Sooner or later, it will have to be decided who lives here: we or they.' Sometimes I think that may be true." A minute ago he was telling me the reason for his center is that young people are the only hope for fostering new interethnic relations. If things begin going awry here, he wonders--and he thinks they probably will--whose side will NATO take: the Macedonian government's or the "radical Albanians," of whom, he thinks, there are too many? All he ultimately cares about, says Sreten, is the integrity of Macedonia, which is endangered by having too many Albanians, who are surely intent on driving the Macedonians out.

So I go to see a self-described moderate Albanian, Kim Mehmeti, who heads a Skopje organization called the Center for Multicultural Understanding and Cooperation. This group actually has a multiethnic board of directors and a varied staff. Kim tells me Macedonia is a country of fictions: a fiction of ethnic tolerance buttressed by education in different languages--but in fact, Albanian-language textbooks are just translations of Macedonian-dominated versions of literature and history; a fiction of a multiethnic government, when, in fact, there are only ethnic Macedonians and Serbs in the police, and that's what matters; and a fiction, propagated by the Macedonians and Serbs, of Albanians who want a Greater Albania.

"It's not that some Albanians don't want it," he says, "but we realize that borders cannot be changed. I assure you, at this moment Macedonia is in danger from ethnic Macedonians. If they don't realize that only NATO can protect this country, then we will have war. These anti-NATO demonstrations are, in fact, anti-Albanian demonstrations."

If only they listened, he says, they would realize that local Albanians are interested in having the refugees return to a liberated Kosovo--"and then the Macedonians' dream of fewer Albanians in Macedonia will be realized."

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