Shoot-out at outlaw university

February 24, 1995

One dead, at least 20 seriously injured, several beaten and an unspecified number of arrests made up the initial casualty list from the opening of the academic year at the outlawed University of Tetovo in Macedonia last week.

The university, founded at the end of last year by the ethnic Albanian minority is, says the government, "illegal and unconstitutional" and "must be stopped". Last December the police tried to prevent the official founding ceremony by removing the roof from the building intended for the faculty of mathematics and sciences.

But the ceremony and the hiring of faculty members and enrolment of students went ahead and makeshift premises were organised for classrooms. Classes officially opened on February 15 and the inaugural ceremony took place without disruption - possibly due to the presence of foreign guests including a delegation from the United States led by former congressman Joseph DioGardi, who is of Albanian origin.

Some optimists hoped that the lack of interference meant that the Macedonian government, even if it did not rescind the ban, would accept the university as a fait accompli and leave it to function in peace. But two days later the police moved in again.

Ethnic Albanians, students, faculty members, and members of the population tried to protect the makeshift premises. In the case of the faculty of economics and law, local inhabitants blocked the police from entering the converted mosque being used as a classroom. But in the village just outside Tetovo called Mala Recica in Macedonian and Recice E Vogel in Albanian, where the faculty of mathematics and natural sciences is located, shooting broke out and a young Albanian, Abdyl Salam Emini, was killed.

The Macedonian authorities are trying to blame the violence on the Albanians. Charges of incitement have been lodged against Fadil Sulejmani, rector of the university. Ex-congressman DioGardi, who announced his intention of informing the US Congress and media of what had happened, was publicly warned by the government spokesman, Djuner Ismail, that if he abused the hospitality of Macedonia and went beyond the "permissible limit" of what was supposed to be a private visit, legal measures would be taken against him.

But later that day, Macedonian radio denied reports that Mr DioGardi had been expelled from the country. He had, the radio station said, "left of his own accord".

Ethnic Albanian politicians and community leaders, while appealing to the community to keep calm, were forthright in placing the blame for the violence on "the highest political institutions in Macedonia, including the president" who, they said, should have acted "more responsibly".

The Tetovo initiative is supported by the government of Albania but the Macedonian authorities condemn all expressions of support from Tirana as "interference in internal Macedonian matters".

A government spokesman dismissed Albanian president Sali Berisha's message of greetings to the new university which endorsed the principle of mother-tongue education as "a subject which does not deserve the attention of a state president".

Its best hope lies with the western academic community, particularly in the US. Earlier this month, Dr Sulejmani spent 11 days there at the invitation of Congress, where his hosts, he told reporters, had been shocked that "on the threshold of the 21st century" the ethnic Albanians of Macedonia were being denied their right to higher education taught in the mother tongue. Dr Sulejmani signed an agreement of co-operation and student exchanges with George Washington University, an important international step.

* The British Government this week urged restraint on both sides, underlining the need to provide proper educational facilities for the Albanian community.

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