News 28 Nov 13

Macedonia Takes Aim at Albanian War Memorial

Macedonian police have filed criminal charges against five people for illegal erecting an Albanian war memorial near the ethnically mixed town of Struga, in a case that may further strain ethnic relations.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Albanian memorial near Struga.

Police have charged five members of the initiative board that constructed the monument two months ago, around two kilometres from the southern town of Struga.

The memorial was put up “without a permit and contrary to the urban plan for the area,” Stefan Dimoski, a police spokesperson, said.

The plaque, unveiled in September, pays tribute to ethnic Albanian fighters who took part in a local uprising in 1913 against Serbian forces who had just occupied the area in the First Balkan War.

Struga town museum objected, arguing that the memorial failed to honour Macedonian fighters who participated in the uprising along with the Albanians.

The Macedonian Orthodox Church, the biggest religious community in the country, argued that the memorial has been placed on top of an old church site.

Unlike most Macedonians who are Orthodox Christians, Albanians, who make up a quarter of the population, are predominantly Muslim.

The monument was the initiative of the local community in the villages of Radolista and Teferic, near Struga. Struga's mayor, Ziadin Sela, an ethnic Albanian, did not attend the ceremony but did send municipal representatives. Organizers claimed they had his verbal consent for it.

The town's former mayor, Ramiz Merko, who is also Albanian, was present.

The memorial was unveiled by the visiting head of the Albanian Academy of Sciences, Muzafer Korkuti, an archaeologist and historian.

He previously took part in a symposium in Struga staged by local Albanian and Bulgarian organizations, which portrayed the 1913 uprising as an Albanian-Bulgarian revolt.

This angered the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, MANU, which said that Korkuti’s presence there was “unprecedented”.

“It would have been in order for him to announce his presence there to us because we have signed documents for cooperation,” Macedonian academic Cvetan Grozdanov said.

In 2001, Macedonia experienced a brief armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces. However, the ethnically mixed region around Struga was not involved.

The conflict ended the same year with the signing of an agreement that gave greater rights to Albanians.

While peace has been maintained, in the past few years various ethnically and religiously motivated incidents have occurred in and around Struga.

In 2012 an Orthodox church in Struga was set on fire after local Muslim Albanians took offence at a local carnival staged by Orthodox Macedonians that lampooned the Koran.

In August this year, the police intervened to prevent a brawl in the village of Oktisi after the Albanian Muslim majority there opposed the construction of a new Macedonian Orthodox church.

In October, Struga mayor Sela threatened to retaliate against the small nearby municipality of Vevcani, populated by ethnic Macedonians, after it removed bilingual Macedonian-Albanian signs from its territory.

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