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Macedonian Albanians may sue carnival participants who offended Muslims by dressing up in burqas and pretending to engage in lewd sexual acts.
Caption from the YouTube video showing several men dressed as Burqa-clad women
A spokesperson for Macedonia's Islamic Religious Community, IVZ, told Balkan Insight that going to court was one option, following a display of Islamophobic vulgarity at a village carnival that has shocked Muslim believers to the core.
“Those who bring religious harmony into jeopardy should be accountable before justice,” Abaz Islami said.
Video footage of the January 14 carnival in Vevcani, in which young locals can be seen mocking the Islamic faith in what appears a deliberately offensive fashion, has outraged the country’s large ethnic Albanian population, most of who are Muslims.
Video footage of the carnival posted on social networks, shows several men dressed as Burqa-clad women parading through the village, some of them simulating sexual intercourse. Children were present and watching during the performance.
In a series of subsequent incidents, the Macedonian flag was torched in the ethnically mixed southwestern town of Struga over the weekend, and a church near the town was partly set on fire on Monday.
The municipality of Struga and the Islamic community have demanded an apology from the mayor of Vevcani, a small rural enclave of some 2,500 ethnic Macedonians, close to mainly Albanian Struga. Albanians make up a quarter of the population of Macedonia, concentrated in the west of the country.
But Vevcani's mayor Pero Ilievski has refused to apologize for the offence, saying he had nothing to do with it. “I did not make the masks and did not participate in the performance. I don’t know why I should make an apology,” Ilievski said.
The annual parade, partly funded by the Ministry of Culture, is one of the most famous village festivals held in the Balkans, and has lately become a major tourist attraction.
Merging old Pagan rituals with Christian motifs, the carnival represents a new phrase in the religious calendar following Orthodox Christmas and New Year.
During the carnival, participants have the freedom to criticize or sarcastically represent current social events and trends. However, few Muslims expected that "liberty" to be taken to such extreme lengths.
In recent days all main parties, religious communities and ambassadors have condemned acts of violence and have urged all sides to maintain ethnic and religious tolerance.
In 2001 Macedonia suffered a short-lived armed conflict between the Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels. The hostilities ended with the signing of a peace deal that same year that granted greater rights to the country’s Albanians.
An Orthodox church was set on fire on Monday night in the latest in a series of violent incidents that started when Muslims in Struga took offence at a local carnival.
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