Lidija Petkovska - Hristova
Full Professor of Political science and Head of the Department of Political Science at the Institute for sociological, political and juridical research, “Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje”

Could Social Sciences be a Factor of Democratic Dialogue: the Case of Macedonia

The formulation of this paper suggests at least three general assumptions:

- that the society is in general democratic,
- that it is a society of conflicts, and it needs democratic dialogue,
- that social sciences are in a position to analyze them through a scientifically-founded, methodology approach, and to offer solutions for overcoming problems. It means that the role of science would function, such as to enable further democratization and development of the society.

These three assumptions depend on each other since they are interrelated.

As there are numerous, possible approaches to the elaboration of this topic, I decided to analyze the role of social sciences in the field of interethnic relations in Macedonian society. Taking into consideration the period of the past ten years, I tried to provide answers to the following questions:

- whether, and to what extent, social sciences were a factor of democratic dialogue in the field of interethnic relations during this same period, 
- what were the reasons where by social sciences did not sufficiently affirm their role in this sphere.

Interethnic Relations in Macedonia

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Why interethnic relations? Considering Macedonian society during this period, the most important conflicts were interethnic ones. Fortunately, these conflicts were not always open conflict situations, but still, throughout all that period, they were more or less expressed through clear tensions between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians, or more precisely, between the Macedonian nation and the Albanian ethnic minority in the state.[1] Conflict situations that were due to ethnic divisions in society had their own genesis and dynamics of development. In brief, the demands of the Albanian ethnic minority referred to their collective rights and were focused on education, the use of the Albanian language, proportionate participation in the state administration, local self-government, including the demands for federalization of the state, and secession. The Macedonian majority, promoting the fact that all minorities in Macedonia enjoy a very high level of minority rights (no doubt they are realistically above the average in the region), felt those demands to be exaggerated and that they always hid the idea for the creation of Great Albania, i.e. Great Kosovo.

Those conflicts constantly presented a potential danger to the political stability of the country and, moreover, to the survival of the state. Fortunately, general awareness about these circumstances in Macedonia was fairly high and, as a result of that, for example, one of the coalition partners in all Macedonian governments has since been a party of the ethnic Albanians. This means that they were represented in all ruling structures at national level. Nevertheless, with bigger or smaller oscillations, the distrust between these ethnic groups has been present during all this time, and the last events in the state have witnessed their climax. As is already well known, in early 2001, extremist militant groups of Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia operated in the northern part of the country, pretending to represent the interests of the "terrorized" Albanian population in Macedonia. This led Macedonia to the verge of civil war.

In other words, a pattern of social separation along ethnic lines firmly marked this period of transition in Macedonia, giving the country's society the category of plural as opposed to pluralistic.

What needs to be emphasized is that, in spite of everything, political dialogue in the state has never been completely interrupted. Thanks to that, Macedonian democracy has managed to resist these temptations thus far.

The Impact of Social Sciences on Interethnic Relations

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Our interest was focused on the role of social sciences in overcoming these conflict situations, including the extent to which they contributed that social dialogue and mutual understanding might strengthen. The answer is not simple, and it has a multiple context.

It is possible to analyze the role of social sciences in the field of interethnic relations in society at several levels: a) institutional level, b) public appearance, and c) political actions.

The first, or the so-called institutional level, refers to the actions of scientists within their institutions - the faculties and the scientific research institutes. Many research projects were carried out within these institutions, and their results were published in several studies providing different levels of depth and analysis. They usually covered all different aspects of interethnic relations. Thus, for example, they focused on the political culture of the members of different ethnic groups in the state, social distance, education as a factor of interethnic intolerance, the genesis of interethnic relations (historical, cultural and social assumptions), etc. Some political analyses that demonstrated the causal-circumstantial relations of events also appeared. Moreover, they were based on some political theories, as well as on certain comparative experiences, offering certain solutions as to how to overcome the problem. Unfortunately, part of the research on this topic that was financed by foreign foundations and institutions, was not published, and that was the main reason why its general effect was not publicly recorded. The papers that were published provided certain knowledge about current situations in the field of interethnic relations, and they also pointed out the possible implications on the further development of democracy.

We can assess their impact as of minimal influence, particularly if we take into consideration the fact that all those professional magazines and other types of publications cover a rather small audience. And it seems that they are not a welcome read, i.e. so popular to those who create politics in the country.

The scientists as politicians would be the second level of impact of social sciences in the field of interethnic relations. This is certainly the most important and influential level of impact that derives from the essence of politics itself. Not wanting to neglect the complexity of the problem of interethnic relations in Macedonia, the essence of which can well be depicted simply by a multi-factor analysis, one could say with no exaggeration that politicians are the ones who really run the interethnic conflict in the state. As for the politicians - scientists, we would emphasize the following characteristics: firstly, that identification with the political function is dominant over all other identities, including the one of scientists; secondly, as regards interethnic relations in general, the politicians - scientists usually manifest two different types of behavior depending on the fact as to whether they actively participate in the authority or are still in opposition. As a rule, those who are in opposition have more radical attitudes, implying that they act towards a worsening of interethnic relations and an increase of tensions in the society. Here, the basic calculation is that they will achieve some positive effects among their electorate.

An exception to these elaborated conclusions is the case (at this level of analysis) where the politicians themselves involve social science in order to provide logistical support to politics. It is the case when expert teams are formed in order to get involved in the realization of different political projects (law enactment, analysis on the situations in certain spheres and provision of solutions to overcome problems, advisory bodies in certain ministries, etc.). That kind of need was also imposed by the appearance of militant Albanian extremists who operated on Macedonian territory. The President of the State, who appeared in these very delicate moments for the country, insisted on a balance in the relations between the political parties as a factor for cohesion. For that he proposed the formation of an adequate advisory body consisting of prominent representatives from the University. The basic function of that body would be to serve the Cabinet of the President in the process of finding solutions for the crisis, i.e. to serve in order to improve the social dialogue in the state.

The third level of impact of social sciences is the participation of scientists at various public debates and round tables, and in the media. Their presence in public was particularly emphasized at the time when interethnic tensions in the state were rapidly on the increase. That was also the case with the later events in the country when, every day, numerous intellectuals appeared in public, of whom certainly the majority were those from social sciences. Their appearance was focused on providing explanations about the situation and proposing the best possible solutions. Since the media have a great impact on the formation of attitudes and opinions in public (especially electronic ones), I will try to offer a brief analysis at this point in order to highlight some of its basic characteristics.

The everyday presence of scientists in the media, both printed and electronic, undoubtedly demonstrated that they are hugely interested in getting involved, in all their professional and citizen capacities, in the resolution of a problem, i.e. to make their own contribution toward overcoming it. However, the high frequency of their presence in the media speaks, first of all, about the quantitative dimension of the problem of involving social sciences in interethnic relations. The attempt to make a qualitative analysis indicates the following: first, the appearances of scientists were oriented towards explaining the roots of interethnic (in-)tolerance, encountering certain historical, socio-cultural, political and some other factors in their elaboration. In most of the appearances they offered solutions for resolving the current crisis. In that vein, they presented in public some very interesting and prectise views and analyses. They were trying to observe the situation from a distance, and to offer solutions that would pacify the situation and bring about an increase in mutual understanding. On the other hand, there were also such appearances in which the authors presented their hard and inflexible attitudes, based on an incorrect and selective use of data in which they showed a lack of knowledge about series of historical and other sorts of circumstances. In the majority of instances, those were attempts to explain such a complex situation in multiethnic relations through the actions of only one factor, by which the author wanted to support his formerly developed attitude. A great many of these types of articles in the media practically stimulated ethnic intolerance, and called for war.

Views on the ethnic affiliation of authors are also particularly interesting. The appearances of Albanian intellectuals were much more rare, a fact that is probably due to several objective reasons. Albanians comprise about 23% of the total population in Macedonia, and their educational level is significantly lower than that of the Macedonian population. Besides, considering the lack of knowledge of the Albanian language, the subject of my interest was only the media in the Macedonian language. This is also one of the serious problems in terms of mutual understanding - the language barrier. That is why a larger group of intellectuals from different ethnic affiliations ran an intensive campaign during the last two months under the slogan "For the Benefit of Macedonia". They printed their articles in 6 daily papers of which 3 are in Macedonian, 2 are in Albanian and 1 is in Turkish. In their addresses to the public they emphasized the nonsense of conflict and the absurdity of war, and they called for reason and dialogue.

Commenting on the ethnic affiliation of authors of these articles, we should emphasize that the majority showed a greater understanding about the behavior of their own ethnic group. It was dangerous, because the biased approach was more present among the Albanian authors (they were less capable of distancing themselves from the problem). In fact there was not a single example when an Albanian intellectual openly condemned the military action of the extremists. A number of the Macedonian intellectuals were much more critical concerning their own ethnic group. This is not only my individual assessment, but also the assessment of some impartial analysts, for example, the American Institute for Peace.


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The title of this paper actuates the global issue of the impact of social sciences over social processes. Basically, this impact is limited to a large extent. Politics appears to be the most important factor, i.e. the politicians who run the development of society. The fact is that to what extent they will appreciate scientific knowledge depends exclusively on themselves. As is already well known, politics and political interests have their own logic and dynamics of development. However, more often than not they don't equal those from science.

When it comes to the role of social sciences in the relaxation of interethnic relations in Macedonian society, the general conclusion would be that their impact is rather moderate, and that those relations are determined by politics to greatest possible extent. The reason is not only that politics does not respect science, but also the fact that the ethnic and political affiliation of scientists, in a great many cases, appears as an important factor in limiting their giving their true contribution toward the strengthening of democratic dialogue in society. Of course, it is one serious indicator of the political culture and of the level of democratization in Macedonian society in general.


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1. According to the 1994 census, carried out under monitoring of the international community, in Macedonia live: 67% ethnic Macedonians, 23% ethnic Albanians, 4% ethnic Turks, 2% ethnic Serbs, Roma etc.)