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news 14 Feb 11

Macedonians Shrink as Ethnic Albanians Expand

Fertility levels are falling among Macedonia’s majority population while ethnic Albanians steadily gain in numbers, data show.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Skopje

Data from Macedonia's State Statistical Office show there were 2,000 less ethnic Macedonians at the end of 2009, as deaths outnumbered births that year in the country's mainstream community.

That year, the number of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia increased by about 4,500. The trend in 2009 follows a consistent pattern established in recent years.
 
According to the country's last census, in 2002, Macedonians made up about 64 per cent of the population of just over 2 million, or 1,200,000 in total. Ethnic Albanians made about 25 per cent, or 500,000 in total.

Sociology professor Ilija Aceski, from Skopje University's philosophical faculty, attributes the falling birthrate among Macedonians to a culture of hedonism and individualism.

“Macedonians, especially the younger generation, have replaced the modesty of their parents with a culture of consumerism and are in constant search of pleasure," Professor Aceski said. “They see having children as an obstacle to leading that kind of life."

While the number of ethnic Macedonians remains stagnant, or falls, the number of ethnic Albanians has grown steadily. They numbered 377,000 in the 1981 census, 429,000 in 1991 and 506,000 in 2002.
 
The last census in 2002 occurred one year after an armed conflict that pitted the security forces against ethnic Albanian insurgents demanding greater rights for Albanians.

The subsequent peace deal, agreed in the lakeside resort of Ohrid, strengthened Macedonia's multiethnic character but the country remained a unitary state.

Professor Aceski said if current population trends continued, there would be knock-on political consequences as Albanians became more conscious of their numerical power.

"If the number of Macedonians continues to drop and Albanians continue gaining in numbers, it is very probable that their calls for a federal state will grow as well," he predicted.

Officials have tried boosting the birthrate in Macedonia. In 2008, the right-of-centre government of Nikola Gruevski introduced a system of state subsidiaries for families living in areas with a low fertility rate.
 
The government never admitted that the law was intended specifically to increase fertility among ethnic Macedonians, but it became soon clear that all the districts eligible to receive such help lay in ethnic Macedonian heartlands.

In 2009, Macedonia's constitutional court annulled the subsidies as discriminatory against people living in municipalities with a higher birth rate.

The planned census in April is expected to be controversial. Opposition ethnic Albanian parties say that the government deliberately timed the census for spring because many ethnic Albanians go abroad at that time, seeking work. 

They want the census put back to summer, when Albanians working abroad return home for the holidays.

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