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Analysts: Macedonia opposition protests may trigger another Balkan crisis

May 19, 2015, 18:20 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
Opposition leader Zoran Zaev adresses the crowd during an anti-government protest in Skopje

Opposition leader Zoran Zaev adresses the crowd during an anti-government protest in Skopje

© EPA/GEORGI LICOVSKI

MOSCOW, May 19. /TASS/. The latest opposition protests in Macedonia are the spark that may grow into the flame of another major conflict in the Balkans, the worst since the breakup of former Yugoslavia, polled experts have told TASS.

Macedonia’s capital Skopje has seen mass anti-government demonstrations over the past week. The leader of Macedonia’s Social-Democratic Union (the country’s main opposition party), Zoran Zaev, is blackmailing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and threatens him with an open-ended protest action. For his part, Gruevski says that Zaev had obtained compromising evidence against him from foreign secret services. He also accuses the leader of the opposition of an attempt at staging a government coup with assistance from the very same foreign secret services.

The inter-ethnic factor further complicates the situation in the country, which has a population of two million: Albanians account for a quarter of the population. Tens of Albanian militants - campaigners for an idea of creating Great Albania - penetrated into the Macedonian city of Kumanovo, near the border with Kosovo on May 9. As a result of the clash 14 militants and eight police were killed. The protesters in Skopje hold the prime minster responsible for this clash. One of the leaders of the country’s Albanian community, former militant turned Macedonian parliament member Ali Ahmeti, has already said that the Albanians were fully supportive of the opposition protesters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who paid a visit to Serbia on May 15, has voiced alarm over the clashes on Macedonia’s border and statements by the leaders of Albania about plans for creating a state on the basis of the Great Albania concept. The events in Macedonia are unfolding against Macedonia’s refusal to support sanctions against Russia and to come out against plans for laying the Turkish Stream pipeline, Lavrov said. "One cannot rid oneself of the impression there is some sort of connection," he added.

Moscow supports the Macedonian government and it is calling upon all political forces in the country for a dialogue without attempts at unconstitutional actions. In turn, US ambassador to Macedonia, Jess Baily, declared support for "peaceful demonstrators."

"By provoking and supporting mass protests by the opposition against Macedonia’s legitimate government the West is trying to punish the country’s leadership for its independent policies towards Russia and for supporting the Turkish Stream project," the head of the Center for the Modern Balkan Crisis Studies, Yelena Guskova, has told TASS.

"Macedonia needs this project, because it is the next country after Greece the pipeline is to be laid across. In the meantime, the United States and some influential forces in the European Union are strongly against it," she said.

"The Albanian factor is yet another lever to put pressure on the Macedonian government. Albania’s officials have been warning outright that seven million Albanians may enter into Macedonia and the country will literally cease to exist on the map of Europe. The Great Albania project envisages the merger of Albania proper, of the south of Serbia, of Kosovo, of part of Montenegro and of Macedonia," Guskova said. Asked who would let the Great Albania project materialize, she replied: "And who let historically Serbian lands of Kosovo and Metoxia to be separated from Serbia?"

"Kosovo is just one step away from the recognition of independence - it needs consent from the Serbian authorities. Then special seats will be arranged for at the UN headquarters for the delegation of the new state. The Albanian militants’ raid against Macedonia’s Kumanovo is a message from the terrorists the authorities of Serbia and the EU leaders should hurry to recognize Kosovo’s independence. But the militants will not stop there by any means," Guskova warns.

The director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Slavic Studies, Konstantin Nikiforov, sees two parallel worlds in Macedonia. Macedonian and Albanian children attend school in different shifts. They go to different classes and use different manuals. Many Albanian school students do not speak Macedonia’s official language. The community of ethnic Albanians in the country is approaching 30%. The Albanians themselves claim their share in the population is already 40%. Given the high birth rate, they will soon be in the majority. The Albanians are demanding ever more rights for themselves in Macedonia, and as a ‘separated people’ they wish to reunite under the Kosovo scenario in what they hope will be Great Albania," Nikoforov told TASS.

"Macedonia is one of Europe’s poorest countries. On the one hand, the current protests by the opposition are social. On the other, they may have been instigated by recordings of conversations by senior officials, whose phones were tapped by foreign secret services. Whatever the case, the Albanian political parties were quick to use the conflict between the authorities and the opposition to throw their weight behind the latter. In these troubled water they are trying to fish for their own benefit," Nikiforov believes.

"The West is nothing against some sort of unrest in Macedonia that will stall the Turkish Stream project. But the unrest may also detonate another major conflict in the Balkans, where the scars left by the breakup of former Yugoslavia are still fresh," Nikiforov concluded.

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