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20 Aug 12

The Best of a Bad Deal

Samir Kajosevic

Long before the global economy was brought to its knees, good jobs have been scarce in my part of the world.

Most of the work, and certainly most of the best work, is in the public sector. But employment in the administration is dominated by people who have demonstrated their loyalty to the ruling parties. Most of them typically belong to the majority ethnic group.

If you have not demonstrated your allegiance to a major political party, you are immediately at a disadvantage. And if you also happen to be a member of a minority ethnic group, you will most probably end up unemployed. You can expect to while your days away in cafes, scraping by on an allowance from your parents and remittances from relatives who went abroad.

This is the daily destiny of tens of thousands of people in the Balkans. Our region’s history shows that frustration can lead a nation through three stages. First, the people complain, then they shout, and eventually they are ready to kill.

In Serbia’s Presevo region, I met angry young members of the Albanian minority. They have university qualifications but they don’t have work. They told me they were second-class citizens in Serbia.

Reflecting on a brief guerrilla struggle against Belgrade’s rule in 2001, they said the resulting gains had mostly been superficial. Albanian politicians now had power in some cities, but most of the people were poor and unemployed.

In Macedonia too, I met the members of an Albanian minority who regarded themselves as second-class citizens. They too are the children of a guerrilla uprising against the state. But the conflict was bloodier here, its wounds deeper. Ten years on, the Macedonians still see the minority as a threat, and the Albanians are not trying to change this perception.

As a result of a peace deal, the Albanians are more likely to have jobs in the administration. Yet cities and neighbourhoods are divided between the two communities. Nationalist tensions remain high, thanks to a government that seems more fixated on a mythic past than on a European future.

My country, Montenegro, does not have these problems. Although the ethnic Albanians want better access to jobs and more autonomy from the state, they do not yet believe they are second-class citizens. They do not regret having voted for independence from the union with Serbia.

They may complain that the state they helped create treats them like a stepmother, but they are holding out for improvements. They do not regard Macedonia or Presevo as models because they know they have a better deal at home. And yet, the history of the Balkans also suggests that good things never last.

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