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 democratic, in general
  • that it is a society of conflicts, and need democratic dialogue
  • that social sciences are in the position to analyze them through scientifically founded methodology approach, and to offer solutions for overcoming problems. It means that the role of science would function 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 the Macedonian society. Taking into consideration the past ten year long period, I tried to provide answers to the following questions:

  • whether and to what extent social sciences were the factor of democratic dialogue in the field of interethnic relations in the past period,
  • what were the reasons that social sciences did not sufficiently affirm their role in this sphere.

Interethnic Relations in Macedonia

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Why interethnic relations? Considering the Macedonian society in the past period, the most important conflicts were the interethnic ones. Fortunately, these conflicts were not always open conflict situations, but still throughout all that period they were more or less expressed through evident tensions between the ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians, or more precisely, between the Macedonian nation and the Albanian ethnic minority in the state.

The conflict situations that were due to ethnic divisions in the 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 the education, use of Albanian language, proportionate participation in the state administration, the local self-government, including the demands for federalization of the state and secession. The Macedonian majority thought, promoting the fact that all minorities in Macedonia enjoy very high level of minority rights (no doubt they are realistically above the average in the region), that those demands are exaggerated and that they always hide the idea for creation of Great Albania, i.e. Great Kosovo.

Those conflicts constantly presented a potential danger for the political stability of the country and, moreover, for the survival of the state. Fortunately, the awareness about these circumstances in Macedonia was pretty high and as a result of that, for instance, one of the coalition partners in all Macedonian governments so far has 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 period, and the last events in the state have become their climax. As already known, at the beginning of the 2001 extremist militant groups of Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia operate in the northern part of the country, pretending to represent the interests of the "terrorized" Albanian population in Macedonia. For this raison Macedonia has come on the edge of a civil war.

In other words, social splitting along the ethnic lines strongly marked the transition period in Macedonia, giving the Macedonian society the mark of a plural, but not pluralistic society.

What needs to be emphasized is that, in spite of everything, the political dialogue in the state has never been completely interrupted. Thanks to that the 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 has a multiple context.

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

The first, or the so called institutional level covers the actions of scientists within their institutions - the faculties and scientific research institutes. Many research projects were carried out within the institutions and their results were published into several studies, providing different level of depth and analysis. They usually treated all different aspects of interethnic relations. Thus, for instance, they treated the political culture of the members of different ethnic groups in the state, the social distance, the education as a factor of interethnic intolerance, the genesis of interethnic relations (historical, cultural and social assumptions) etc. Some political analyses that pointed out 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 on how to overcome the problem. Unfortunately, part of the research on this topic being financed by foreign foundations and institutions was not published and that was the main reason why their effect in public was not recorded. The papers that were published offered certain knowledge about the 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 the least influential, especially if we take into consideration the fact that all those professional magazines and other types of publications cover a pretty small audience. And it seems that they are not gladly read, i.e. so popular by those who create the 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, which essence can be well depicted only 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. Identification with the political function is dominant over all other identities, including the one of a scientists. Secondly, as regards interethnic relations in general, the politicians - scientists usually manifest two different types of behavior depending on the fact whether they actively participate in the authority or are still in opposition. By the rule, those who are in opposition have more radical attitudes, implying that they act towards worsening of interethnic relations and increase of tensions in the society. Here, the basic calculation is that they will attain some positive effects among their electorate.

An exception from these elaborated conclusions is the case (at this level of analysis) when social science is involved by the politicians themselves 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 operate on the Macedonian territory. The President of the state, who appeared, in these very delicate moments for the state, as factor of cohesion, insisted on the balance in the relations between the political parties. For that he proposed the formation of an adequate advisory body consisted 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, round tables, and in the media. Their presence in public was especially emphasized at the moment when the interethnic tensions in the state were rapidly rising. That was also the case with the last events in the country, when every day numerous intellectuals appeared in public, and among them certainly the most numerous were the ones from social sciences. Their appearance was focused on providing explanations about the situation and proposing best possible solutions. Since the media have huge impact over the formation of attitudes and opinions in public (especially electronic ones), I will try to offer a brief analysis at this level in order to point out some of its basic characteristics.

The every day presence of scientists in the media, both printed and electronic, undoubtedly showed that scientists are enormously interested to get involved with all their professional and citizen capacities in the resolution of the problem, i.e. to give their own contribution to overcome 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 the interethnic relations. The attempt to make 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 the elaboration. In most of the appearances they offered solutions for resolving the current crisis. In terms of that, they presented in public very interesting and precise views and analyses. They were trying to view the situation from a distance and to offer solutions that would bring pacification of the situation and increase of mutual understanding. On the other hand, there were also such appearances in which the authors presented their hard and inflexible attitudes, based on incorrect and selective use of data in which they showed lack of knowledge about series of historical and other types of circumstances. Most often, those were attempts to explain such a complex situation in the multiethnic relations through the actions of only one factor by which the author wanted to support his formerly developed attitude. Great deal of these type of articles in the media practically stimulated the ethnic intolerance and called for war.

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

Speaking about the ethnic affiliation of authors of these articles, we should emphasize that the majority showed larger understanding about the behavior of their own ethnic group. It was dangerous because the biased approach was more present by the Albanian authors. (they were less capable to make distance from the problem). In fact there was no example when one Albanian intellectual will condemn openly the military action of the extremists. The Macedonian intellectuals (some of them) were much more critical concerning their own ethnic group. This is not only my individual assessment, but also an assessment of some impartial analysts, the American Institute for Peace, for instance.


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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 already known, the politics and political interests have their own logic and dynamics of development. However, they most often do not equal those from science.

When it comes to the role of social sciences in the relaxation of interethnic relations in the Macedonian society, the general conclusion would be that their impact is rather moderate and that those relations are determined by the 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 deal of cases, appears as an important factor of limitation for them to give their true contribute to strengthening of democratic dialogue in the society. Of course it is one serious indicator of the political culture and of the level of the democratization of the macedonian society, in general