Posted by Alex Smith, SKOPJE, MACEDONIA -- Macedonia is a country in southeastern Europe composed of two main groups: Macedonians and Albanians. Like many of the people in the Balkans, Macedonians are ethnically Slavic. They are primarily Christian Orthodox and comprise about two-thirds of the country's population. Albanians, on the other hand, are Muslim, and make up between one-quarter and one-third of Macedonia's population. Although they would all be considered part of the same Caucasian “white” race, ethnically they are different and this has unfortunately been a source of serious conflict between them. In the 1990s, Serbia, also an ethnically Slavic country, did its best to exterminate Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians. The spillover of those conflicts ignited tensions in Macedonia and almost resulted in full scale civil war between the two groups. Things have since settled down. But as a way to remind the Albanians who is in charge, the Macedonian Orthodox government commissioned the biggest cross in the world which now sits on top of a mountain overlooking the capital, Skopje.
As is usually the case in ethnic tension, the difference between the two groups is rarely apparent apart from the most intense scrutiny. Sometimes, but its uncommon, you see Macedonians and Albanians getting along perfectly fine. Without knowing them personally, you would find it very difficult to distinguish between the two groups at all. One of many things they have in common is a growing awareness of the importance of education. In many cases though, the Macedonians get better equipment and facilities and are able to better take advantage of the country's education system. But this doesn’t stop the Albanian children from putting on their best to go to school. They really don’t look very different than many white American kids.
My mother decided that it wasn’t fair for the poorer Albanian children to be left out of a great head start and a decent education, so she set up a kindergarten class for them. Their mothers never got an education so they were thrilled to see a better future for their kids. Sadly, many in the country did not have that the opportunity. Albanians in Macedonia remain persecuted, even if it's more subtle than in the past.
Alex Smith is an a Georgia State University major in International Interdisciplinary Studies. He spent much of his childhood in Macedonia.