Ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia have distinctly different but equally ethnocentric views of the causes and course of the armed conflict in 2001. These attitudes, which are largely emotionally driven and fueled by prejudice, are likely to stifle efforts to overcome existing animosities and may well sow the seeds of future conflicts.

Summary

  • Ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia have distinctly different but equally ethnocentric views of the causes and course of the armed conflict in 2001. These attitudes, which are largely emotionally driven and fueled by prejudice, are likely to stifle efforts to overcome existing animosities and may well sow the seeds of future conflicts.
  • If left unchanged, Macedonia's mostly ethnically segregated educational system is likely to reinforce these conflicting understandings of the country's recent history. However, the educational system can be a powerful instrument for social change; a change in the way that history is taught in Macedonia's schools could significantly enhance the prospects for ethnic reconciliation.
  • A program entitled "Understanding Current History" was launched in 2002 to combat the divisive effect of the educational system and to encourage ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians to develop a shared understanding of the 2001 conflict.
  • The program consisted of a series of workshops that offered students, teachers, and trainee teachers a safe place in which to lay bare nationalist accounts of the conflict, to confront prejudices and stereotypes, and to engage in a dialogue designed to discover common elements in ostensibly irreconcilable perspectives.
  • The workshops succeeded in building some trust and mutual understanding where little or none had existed before. Participants confessed that they had joined the program solely to justify their own points of view but had come to see "the inevitability of respecting the other's perspective."
  • It remains to be seen whether material generated through this kind of dialogue will be used in the Macedonian educational system in the near future, especially given the current high level of ethnic antagonism. However, the program offers valuable lessons and encouragement to people in all countries seeking to build peace by working with educators and students to promote interethnic understanding.

The United States Institute of Peace has long been active in promoting a better understanding of the conflicts besetting the Balkans and of the opportunities for conflict management and resolution. The Institute's Balkans Working Group, for instance, has regularly convened to offer policy-relevant analysis of unfolding crises and longerterm issues, while eminent figures from the region have looked to the future in a wide assortment of Institute-sponsored public briefings.

To spur research on the possibilities for peace in the Balkans, the Institute has brought an array of scholars, diplomats, and journalists to its Washington offices as senior fellows; to the same end, it has awarded more than $3 million in grants since 1992. The Institute has also rendered a variety of distinctly practical support: facilitating dialogue among municipal and ethnic leaders; training government officials, security forces, and NGO representatives in conflict management skills; and working with educational institutions in zones of conflict--both within the Balkans and beyond--to build local capacity to deal with regional conflicts and promote the growth of civil society.

Over the years, the Institute has published numerous books and reports on the Balkans, among them An Ounce of Prevention: Macedonia and the UN Experience in Preventive Diplomacy, a book by Henryk Sokalski, a former Institute fellow and head of UNPREDEP, and Grappling with Peace Education in Serbia, a Peaceworks report by Ruzica Rosandic, also a former fellow and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Belgrade.

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