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News 29 Nov 12

Cleric's Call for United Albania Upsets Macedonia

Albanians will one day live in united state, as that is God’s will, the head of Macedonia's Islamic Religious Community, IVZ, Sulejman Rexhepi, has told an interviewer.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

IVZ head, Sulejman Rexhepi

Macedonian leaders have condemned the the country's leading Muslim cleric for calling for a pan-Albanian state.

Speaking to an Albanian-language newspaper, Zhurnal Plus, Rexhepi said:
“The unification of Albanian lands was God’s will and we have an obligation to restore things as they were.

"The unification of the forces of the Albanian people at all levels will become a reality and Albania will have its authentic borders, the ones that God created,” Rexhepi was quoted as saying.

“With all its capacity, the IVZ is ready to contribute to the national cause and to answer every call that leads in the direction of unification of all Albanians,” he added, noting that it was “unimaginable for people to live in five states”.

Ethnic Albanians are currently spread over Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro - a consquence of the outcome of the Balkan wars of 1912-13 that terminated Ottoman rule in most of the Balkans.

The spokesperson of the IVZ, Abaz Islami, refused to comment on the statement.

“For now we have nothing to add or comment about the statement of our leader," he said. "He is now in Albania and for possible official reaction we will await his return”, Islami told Balkan Insight.

Rexhepi’s remarks have caused alarm back home.

The call was a “direct breach of the sovereignty of the country” and “I hope that this statement was made in an awkward emotional condition,” Valentina Bozinovska, head of the National Commission for Relations with the Religious Communities, said.

Zoran Matevski, a professor of the sociology of religion, deemed the statement “very dangerous”, accusing Rexhepi of using “political rather than religious vocabulary.

“If he stands for [the cause of] all Albanians living in one state, this also implies ethnic cleansing. He did not speak as head of the Muslims in the country who come from different ethnicities but only as leader of Albanian Muslims.”

The vice-president of the opposition Social Democrats, Gordan Georgiev, said that Rexhepi’s statement “only added oil to the fire that was previously lit by [Prime Minister Nikola] Gruevski and [the head of the Albanian junior ruling party, Ali] Ahmeti”.

The party holds the two men responsible for spreading nationalist rhetoric among their respective ethnic electorates, jeopardizing ethnic cohesion in the country.

Gruevski's ruling VMRO DPMNE party did not comment on the statement by Rexhepi but said the opposition was acting irresponsibly by blaming the government for everything.

The Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, the junior party in government, has refused to comment on what it called "religious issues".

In 2001 Macedonia suffered a brief armed conflict between the security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.

Hostilities ended with the signing of a peace deal that same year that granted greater rights to ethnic Albanians.

The IVZ is the second largest religious community in Macedonia after the Macedonian Orthodox Church, MPC. 

Albanians, who are predominantly Muslim, make up roughly a quarter of the country’s population.

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