Tetovo Albanians see bleak future
by Veton Latifi
Albanians living in and around Tetovo, the scene of last month's fighting, are sceptical about thegovernment's pledges to improve their lot. .When the Macedonian authorities signed the stability and association agreement with the European Union last week, they promised to better relations with the country's ethnic Albanian population. But in Sllatina, just ten kilometres from Tetovo, locals believe such political dialogue will do nothing to solve fundamental social problems like unemployment. Macedonian politicians will not agree to Albanians' demands for equality,’ said Agim, an out of work youth. ‘The dialogue initiated by the president just seems like a way of gaining time, to stall the issue and never resolve it’.
One of the initiatives greeted with suspicion is President Boris Trajkovski's proposal for a joint secretariat aimed at bringing together a team of experts in all fields to analyze ethnic Albanian grievances. One of the problems is that Trajkovski wants to hand pick all the members of the commission himself. ‘This looks more like building a labyrinth in order to gain in time’, said Salajdin Salihu, a writer from Sllatina. ‘If you don't want a solution to a problem then you create commissions. This is the current logic and it has to be changed at all costs.’
Sllatina's grievances are evident in the coffee bars filled with unemployed men. Unofficial figures put the figure for jobless males at around 80 per cent. ‘Tetova is mainly Albanian, but most of those employed in state-owned factories are Macedonians’, said Xhevit, a local taxi driver. ‘Even though thousands of local people are unemployed the authorities are bussing in Macedonian workers from Skopje. Every day, there's a long queue of buses taking workers back to Skopje, while Albanians queue at the employment office and scour the newspapers for jobs.’ No one wants war, he says, but Albanians are increasingly losing hope and are bracing themselves for the worst.
The atmosphere in villages targeted during the security forces' search-and-find missions in early April is tenser, more despondent. In Poroj, people are accusing the security forces of unnecessary violence.
After Macedonian forces entered the village on April 6, the inhabitants presented a written protest to various international and domestic organizations. According to the interior ministry, the army was looking for illegal weapons and NLA fighters, but Poroj residents claimed they damaged property and beat men, women and children. The family of Latif Tefik Ahmet, who was arrested on 6 April, say that police planted an automatic rifle and hand grenade in their house and used this as a pretext for beating him up and sentencing him to 30 days in prison. According to the Ahmets, the same thing happened to Abdilselam Jusuf Arsllani, who had been appointed representative of the government civil defence staff at Poroj during the fighting.
Poroj inhabitants say the worst victims of the searches were three members of the Asani family who were treated in hospital for several days for broken bones. All were later released without charge.
Out of a total of 35 people arrested in Poroj on 6 April, all but four were released the following day. According to interior ministry spokeman Stevo Pendarovski, they were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. But some legal experts believe the security forces used an excessive force.‘In the course of searches carried out in villages around Tetova, the Macedonian police exceeded their authority by ill-treating citizens and violating their basic human rights and liberties’, said lawyer Suzana Salihu in Skopje.
Given their recent experience, Poroj residents are not expecting much from the government. The more optimistic hope that high-level talks will eventually deliver the Albanian community some gains, but Xhevit believes the country's political leaders are running out of time. ‘If the process of dialogue drags on’, he said, ‘ there is a risk of new confrontation but this time with unforeseen consequences for the local population.’
IWPR, Balkan Crisis Report, No. 238, 19 April 2001