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Muslims and Islamic Fundamentalism in Macedonia

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Abstract

Despite the fact that Macedonia achieved independence in a peaceful manner in 1991, its position has been continuously challenged in political, economic and security dimensions ever since. One of them is Islamic fundamentalism. In a country with over 1/3 of the population being Muslims (and still growing) this issue becomes a potential danger in the security dimension. Using a descriptive analysis method, the Author aims to highlight the specificity of Islam in Macedonia and to define the potential or real danger of Islamic fundamentalism in the country.
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Marko BABIĆ
University of Warsaw
Muslims and Islamic Fundamentalism in Macedonia
Abstract
Despite the fact that Macedonia achieved independence in a peaceful manner in 1991, its position has been
continuously challenged in political, economic and security dimensions ever since. One of them is Islamic
fundamentalism. In a country with over 1/3 of the population being Muslims (and still growing) this issue
becomes a potential danger in the security dimension. Using a descriptive analysis method, the Author aims to
highlight the specificity of Islam in Macedonia and to define the potential or real danger of Islamic
fundamentalism in the country.
Key-words
: Islam, Wahhabism, Macedonia, Fundamentalism, Islamism, Muslims
Introduction
With the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation in 1991, the former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia became the youngest independent post-Yugoslav state. Its
independence was achieved by peaceful means contrary to other post-Yugoslav republics such
as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia or later Kosovo.
But Macedonia inherited three major problems: by all indicators this country was
economically least developed of all six former Yugoslav republics; the Macedonian people,
who as the last people in the Balkans came to a recognition of their own nationality and
country (except Kosovo‟s Albanians), has still been challenged by foreign aspirations (dispute
with Greece over its name and state symbols, denial of the Macedonian nation and language
by Bulgaria being rooted in the era of Todor Zhivkov has continued after the fall of
Communism and since 1994 the so-called “linguistic dispute” has been revived); in a period
of time even its Macedonian-Serbian borders were being disputed. In other words, the
geostrategic position of Macedonia in the Balkans has been very unfavorable.
The Balkans‟ religious landscape is complex and often confusing. The fact that the
region‟s Muslims by no means constitute a homogenous body of believers further complicates
this multi-faceted landscape. Macedonia is a good example of the fact. But since its
independence Macedonia has faced an increasing threat of Muslim fundamentalist ideas and
actions attempting to intimidate the mainstream Muslim population and take control over the
legitimate organs of the Islamic Community (IVZ) of Macedonia. Due to other serious
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political and economic challenges in recent years, successive Macedonian governments as
well as local and foreign observers have overlooked this threat and therefore allowed the
fundamentalists to expand their activities undisturbed.
This paper, by using a descriptive method of analysis, aims to identify and discuss the
position and specificities of Muslims of Macedonia as well as the issue of Islamic
fundamentalism and threats related to this phenomenon in the country.
Muslims in Macedonia
Macedonia has a very heterogeneous ethnic structure with the share of Muslim
population in its total population of one-third. The last 2002 population census1 shows that
there are 674,015 Muslims in Macedonia which states 33.3% of Macedonia‟s population
Albanians: 509,083 (25.17%); Turks: 77,959 (3.85%); Roma: 53,879 (2.66%);
Bosniaks: 17,018 (0.84%); Egyptians: 3,713 (0.184%); Muslims: 2,553 (0.13%).2 The largest
national minority group of Muslim faith in Macedonia are Albanians while probably the
smallest group (their number is only estimated at around 15,000) are Torbeši, a group of
Macedonian Muslims who are Macedonian by origin and Muslim by faith. They were Slavic
Orthodox Macedonians who converted to Islam throughout the period from 16th to the second
half of 19th century. They are officially recognized as a separate ethnic group by the
Macedonian state, unlike their ethnic brothers the Pomaks in Bulgaria and Greece. Although
having a slight Macedonian identity, they do not have a separate Torbeši identity neither. The
2002 census has confirmed the deep split within the Torbeši community in Macedonia: most
of them claimed to be Macedonians of Muslim faith, but some identified themselves as
Albanians, Turks, Bosniaks or simply called themselves Muslims. Muslim sources in
Sandžak (Serbia) claim that many of the present-day Torbeši are former Serbo-Croat-speaking
1 The next census was planned for 2011 but never came to realization. The fiasco was a result of increasing
tensions between the two major partners in the government, the VMRO led by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski
and the DUI of Ali Ahmeti. The issue was essentially ethno-political: the Albanian political fraction insisted on a
census methodology that counted many Albanian emigrants, some of whom may not have returned to the
country for many years. This way, Albanians tried to maximize their numbers, Macedonians opposed and the
process stopped. Assessing the number of citizens (and the weight of different ethnic communities) in
Macedonia still is a sensitive and highly politicized issue. R. Karajkov, „Census Fails in Macedonia‟,
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, 20 October 2011, at <http://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Regions-and-
countries/Macedonia/Census-fails-in-Macedonia-105372>, 1 February 2014.
2 „Census of Population, Household and Dwellings 2002, Book X: Total population, Households and Dwellings
final data by settlements Total population according to the ethnic affiliation, mother tongue and religion‟,
State Statistical Office of the Republic of Macedonia, p. 334, at
<http://www.stat.gov.mk/Publikacii/knigaX.pdf>, 1 February 2014. Other results: Eastern
Orthodox (Macedonian Orthodox): 1,310,184 or 64.78%; Muslim: 674,015 or 33.33%; Catholics: 7,008 or
0.34%; other: 31,340 or 1.55%.
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migrants from Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Sandžak. Many of them went to Macedonia in
order to take advantage of the 1950 emigration agreement with Turkey, but on their way, they
decided to settle in Macedonia permanently.3
The Muslims in Macedonia are neither homogeneous in religious terms. The majority
of them are Sunni Muslims, belonging to the Hanafiyya Islamic school. A minority of them,
of which here are no official number, belong to six Sufi (Sunni) orders the Helveti, Qadiri,
Sinani, Rufa‟i, Naqsh-Bandi, Malami. There are also some Bektashi, which are Shiite
Muslims, although they have initially developed from Sunni Islam.4
There is also linguistic differentiation in Macedonia due to the fact that there are
several ethnic groups professing Islam. Albanian speakers are the largest Muslim community
in Macedonia5 (although some Roma also use the Albanian language; especially in the
southern reaches of Macedonia the Tosk dialect of Albanian is the native language of several
Roma [Gipsy] communities).6 The second largest language group are of Slavic languages
dominated by Bosniaks and small groups of speakers such as Torbeši. Turkish is used mainly
by the ethnic Turks and belongs to the so-called Balkan dialects of the Turkish language.
Speakers of Roma languages should be mentioned as well, although the latter also speak
Turkish, Albanian or Slavic languages. The Arlija dialect is spoken by the majority of the
Roma in Macedonia, but there are also three other dialects the Dhzambaz, Gurbet and
Bugurdhzia.7
Kerem Öktem notices a very important feature of this complexity: This notion of
linguistic fragmentation becomes even more pronounced in countries composed of two or
three neighboring linguistic groups. This reality not only curtails a „common sense of
Muslimhood‟, but also can actually fuel inter-ethnic animosities. Languages in the Balkans
3 H. Poulton, „Changing Notions of National Identity among Muslims in Thrace and Macedonia: Turks, Pomaks
and Roma‟ in H. Poulton, S. Taji-Farouki (eds.), Muslim Identity and the Balkan State, London 1997, p. 93.
4 M. Koinova, „Miniorities in Southeast Europe: Muslims of Macedonia‟, Center for Documentation and
Information on Minorities in Europe Southeast Europe (CEDIME SE), p. 18, at
<http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/pdf/cedime-se-macedonia-muslims.PDF>, 1 February 2014.
5 The Albanians are divided into two different subgroups: Gegs and Tosks. The Tosks live in southern Albania
and northern Greece, while the Gegs are to be found in the northern part of Albania. The Shkumbin river in
central Albania serves as a natural barrier between the two tribes. The overwhelming majority of the Albanians
in Kosovo, Montenegro and western Macedonia are also Gegs. Geg society in Albania was traditionally based on
a tribal structure. A. Babuna, Albanian National Identity and Islam in the Post-Communist Era, SAM Center
for Strategic Research, September-November 2003, p. 1, at <http://sam.gov.tr/wp-
content/uploads/2012/02/AydinBabuna.pdf>, 1 February 2014.
6 E. Fraenkel, Urban Muslim Identity in Macedonia: The Interplay of Ottomanism and Multilingual
Nationalism‟ in E. Fraenkel, Ch. Kramer, (eds.), Language Contact Language Conflict, New York 1993, s. 34
(Balkan Studies, 1).
7 V. Friedman, „The Romani Language in the Republic of Macedonia: Status, Usage, and Sociolinguistic
Perspectives‟, Acta Linguistica Hungarica, Vol. 46, No. 3 (1999), p. 6, at
<http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1009662109189>.
390
carry complex historical contingencies that play out differently in each country. Albanians,
for example, often associate Gorani (Slavic) speakers in Kosovo and Torbeš (Slavic) speakers
in Macedonia with their particularly unwelcome experience of Serbo-Croat rule in the two
Yugoslavias. In Macedonia, good relations between the Turkish minority and the
Macedonian state have tarnished the usage of Turkish, a language that had beenthe common
idiom of the Muslim urban classes, the Şehirli, in cities such as Skopje (Üsküp/Shkup) and
Tetovo (Kalkandelen) well into the 1990s”.8 Therefore when using the term “Muslims in
Macedonia” (but this applies to the general context of Muslims in the Balkans) it should be
used with great caution as it implies the notion of a “common Muslimness” or a collective
identity bridging different languages traditions or historical origins.9 As a matter of fact,
“being a Muslim” is often a very local affair and only one of many identities.10
However, this is just one side of the coin. The situation in Macedonia in a way is
among the most complex in the Balkans. National identification of the largest Muslim groups,
Albanians, remained firm while the national identification of minor Muslim groups continues
to fluctuate. Visual confusion regarding the identity of the individual Muslim groups in the
Macedonian case further warns that religion in the Balkans is of paramount importance to
ethnic differentiation. The situation becomes even more complicated when we learn from the
2011 Pew report on global Muslim population growth trends that until 2030, Macedonia will
experience a higher projected increase in number of Muslims to non-Muslims (5.4%) than any
other European country. Pew expects that by 2030 some 40.3% of the total Macedonian
population will be Muslim. This demographic trend will have severe political and ethnic
powersharing and social implications as well.11 In addition to that and despite the rights
guaranteed by the constitution, tensions among ethnic minority groups are present in today‟s
Macedonian society. Causes for such tensions can be identified in the inherited mistrust and
prejudices among ethnic groups. Tensions often arise between the majority and minority, but
also between two or more minority groups. Moreover, the disintegration of the Yugoslav
8 K. Öktem, „New Islamic Actors after the Wahhabi Intermezzo: Turkey‟s Return to the Muslim Balkans‟,
European Studies Centre, University of Oxford Press, December 2010, p. 9.
9 A. Светиева, За преселбите на Балканските муслимани и за нашинците Торбеши, Помаци и други
(Турци) во Турција, ЕтноAнтропо3ум, Скопје 2008, pp. 38-68.
10 Ibid., p. 17.
11 „The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030‟, Pew Forum on Religion and Public
Life, 27 January 2011, at <http://www.pewforum.org/2011/01/27/the-future-of-the-global-muslim-population/>,
2 February 2014. Other interesting data from the same source: in 2030, Muslims are projected to make up more
than 10% of the total population in 10 European countries: Kosovo (93.5%), Albania (83.2%), Bosnia-
Herzegovina (42.7%), Republic of Macedonia (40.3%), Montenegro (21.5%), Bulgaria (15.7%), Russia (14.4%),
Georgia (11.5%), France (10.3%) and Belgium (10.2%). „The Future of the Global Muslim Population. Region:
Europe‟, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 27 January 2011, at <http://www.pewforum.org/future-of-the-
global-muslim-population-regional-europe.aspx>, 2 February 2014.
391
Federation in early 1990s, the fall of socialism as a political system, and most importantly the
spread of wars and conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and finally Macedonia
represent tectonic political, legal, and economic changes in the region. These conditions were
exploited by various challengers12, not only such as the vanguard Islamic radicals who
promoted their ideologies but throughout the most effective nationalism of all “Balkans
nationalisms” – the Albanian one. This gives rise to a new/old situation: interethnic turmoil in
Macedonia in the period from gaining the independence to the present day, shows that the
protection of national minorities as it has been in the history of the Balkans throughout the
centuries is “essential to the stability, democratic security and peace” in the region. The
process of rapid growth and ethnic homogenization of the Albanian population, with the
“Kosovo experience”, has been rapidly evolving in the Western Macedonia. The process of
political and separatist movement has become stronger, only to reach its peak in 2001, with
the terrorist actions by Albanian extremists in the area of Tetovo, Kumanovo, Black Mountain
of Skopje (Скопска Црна Гора). Under the guise of protecting minority rights, the so-called
“Albanian Alternative” by permanent “broadening” of political demands, and armed actions
managed to internationalize “the Albanian national question” in Macedonia.
Nevertheless, the main topic of this paper is Islamic fundamentalism which (as noticed
earlier) remains among the strongest challengers of the political and economic instability in
this post-Yugoslav republic.
Islamic Fundamentalism with the “Wahhabi” face in Macedonia
A theoretical explanation of fundamentalism can be found in Jeffery K. Hadden‟s and
Anson Shupe‟s definition of this phenomenon: Fundamentalism is the proclamation of
reclaimed authority over a sacred tradition which is to be reinstated as an antidote for a
society that has strayed from its traditional cultural values”.13 They further claim that there are
three main types of fundamentalisms, namely theological, political and cultural
fundamentalism. Theological fundamentalism highlights the relevance of traditional religious
doctrines in private and public affairs. Political fundamentalism emphasizes the theological
duty of followers to oppose worldly vices such as secularisation and modernisation. Cultural
fundamentalism involves a comparison between groups of varied religions to emphasize the
12 A. Panovski, The Spread of Islamic Extremism in the Republic of Macedonia, Thesis, Naval Postgraduate
School, Monterey 2011, p. 25.
13 K.J. Hadden, A. Shupe (eds.), Secularization and Fundamentalism Reconsidered, New York 1989, p. 92
(Religion and the Political Order, 3).
392
righteousness of the dominant religion. Gabriel A. Almond, R. Scott Appleby and Emmanuel
Sivan define fundamentalism as movements that “originate in reaction to secularization and
the marginalization of religion, and they strive to create a religious alternative to secular
structures and institutions.”14 To be considered fundamentalist, a movement must react and
defend the religious content from erosion. Only after this necessary ideological characteristic
a reaction to the marginalization of religion is present in the movement, can the additional
characteristics be classified as defining, since it must manifest a sufficient number of these
characteristics.
This would imply that Islamic religious movements in Macedonia would be
considered as fundamentalist if they were a reaction to the secularization and marginalization
of their religion. In regard to this ideological characteristic, the situation in Macedonia is very
ambiguous. Most critiques come from senior representatives of Islamic Community in
Macedonia (IVZ Islamska Verska Zaednica). On several occasions they have blamed the
government of Macedonia for neglecting the religion of Islam and for unequal treatment
compared to other religions.15 However, it is inappropriate to categorize these critiques as
reaction to secularism. IVZ is interested in as appearing to be a politically active and relevant
institution seeking to obtain assets in the process of restitution. On the other hand, Wahhabi
groups in Macedonia operate in secrecy, but publicly glorify the values of democratic
societies. They often maintain close links with members of political parties. In both cases, it is
more likely that critiques are aimed at ethno-cultural and property issues, rather than being
reactive towards secularism and modernism, even less defending religion.16 On the other
hand, western observers tend to consider Islamic infighting to be little more than internal
politicking between rival ethnic Albanian parties over property proceeds and other financial interests,
and not as an issue of genuine religious extremism. Nevertheless, in Macedonia today, fundamentalist
Islam (in the form of veiled women, men in baggy trousers and long beards, and increased public
challenges to secularism) is unmistakably becoming more visible in daily life.17
Wahhabism18 in Macedonia began to emerge after its secession from Yugoslavia. The
first proponents of the movement in Macedonia were imams who returned from Islamic
14 G. Almond, R.S. Appleby, E. Sivan, Fundamentalism: Genus and Species in iidem, Strong Religion. The
Rise of Fundamentalism around the World, Chicago 2003, p. 90.
15 A. Panovski, The Spread…, p. 14.
16 Ibid.
17 C. Deliso, The Coming Balkan Caliphate. The Threat of Radical Islam to Europe and the West, Westport
London 2007.
18 Wahhabism started as a theological reform movement of revolutionary jihad. This movement‟s goal was to
urge (da’wa) people to restore the tawhid (ones of God, or monotheism) and disregard other practices. However,
in 1929 Wahhabism was forcefully changed to a conservative religious movement whose goal was to uphold the
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studies in Saudi Arabia. Well-organized groups spread its influence throughout charities and
charitable Islamic organizations of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan and the United Arab
Emirates. At first they were welcomed due to their benevolent causes. Soon it was discovered
that many of the organizations and charities funded the spread of Wahhabi theology and
terrorism. They have been investigated for their alleged Islamic extremism and money
laundering but more importantly for recruiting jihad volunteers for “holy wars” where ever
needed.19 Setting the Skopje Mufti Zenun Berisha in 2000 directly led to the spread of
Wahhabism in Macedonia. Although he was dismissed in 2004 due to various dubious
business activities, he has kept under control several mosques in Skopje, and behind him is a
well-organized group of supporters which caused severe tensions in the Islamic Religious
Community of Macedonia, bringing it to almost complete disarray. Given that Berisha
controlled all funding for the work of Islamic institutions in Skopje imams were forced either
to abide by Wahhabi practices or lose their funding. Some clerics like Abdurahmin Yashari of
the historic Mustafa Pasha Mosque claimed to have not received a salary for two years
because he was not “loyal to Zenun Berisha”. Even later this situation afflicted other imams
as “only the administrative workers and clerics on the side of the Wahhabis and Berisha were
taken care of”.20 The period since 2003 has been characterized by aggressive action of the
Wahhabis and especially to other imams of the Islamic Community of Macedonia (for
exemple, by beating Šaban Ahmeti, the chief imam of the Hudaverli mosque of Skopje). This
situation has led to the resignation of Macedonia Reis ul Ulema Arif Emini in June 2005
while supporters of Zenuni Berisha held him hostage. This situation was an unprecedented
challenge for the Islamic Community of Macedonia in its history. It has settled down only
after the election of Taxhedin Beslimi for Skopje chief mufti position. This apparent moderate
made possible the election of Sulejman Efendi Rexhepi the head of the Islamic Community of
Macedonia (Reis-Ul-Ulema) in September 2006. In 2010 he publicly requested help from
loyalty of the royal Saudi family. The recent spread of Wahhabism was enabled by Ibn Baz. As a Saudi mufti
and government scholar, he was in position to lead and develop policies for spreading Wahhabi beliefs. Under
his leadership, the majority of Saudi clergy remained loyal to the royal family and its policies, despite
considering democracy to be in contrast to their religion and monotheism. However, opposition movements,
unsatisfied with the policies of the royal family, started seeking to overthrow the regime in Saudi Arabia, and
submitted a memo demanding a system reformation. Most of their opposition was arrested, but Muhammad al-
Mas‟ari found refuge in London and established a Salafist organization. Later, the group split in three different
wings, one of which belonged to Osama Bin Laden. A. Moussalli, „Wahhabism, Salafism, and Islamism: Who is
the Enemy?‟, A Conflict Forum Monograph, American University of Beirut, January 2009, pp. 410, at
<http://conflictsforum.org/briefings/Wahhabism-Salafism-and-Islamism.pdf>, 4 February 2014.
19 L. Napoleoni, Sleeping with The Enemy‟, The House of Saud – Follow The Money, 15 June 2010, at
<http://www.conspiracycafe.net/latte/index.php?/topic/26459-the-house-of-saud-follow-the-money>, 4 February
2014.
20 C. Deliso, The Coming Balkan Caliphate…, p. 84.
394
authorities of political Albanians political parties and the international community in dealing
with radical groups the Wahhabis and called for measures to stop the spread of radical Islam
in Macedonia.21
So, the influence of the Wahhabis in Macedonia should not be underestimated in any
case. The Yahya Pasha Mosque in Skopje remains their “headquarters” from where they
continue a strong campaign in recruiting new followers, using the same methods that were
used in other parts of the Balkans (financial assistance, providing education, charities). Their
movement remains conspiratorial (it is not centralized nor has a specific organizational
structure) so it is difficult to accurately determine the specific forms of their action, although
we know that the recruitment is done on an individual basis and involves mostly heads of
families which have special meaning in traditional societies such as Macedonian.22 It is also
noticeable that all the prominent proponents of Wahhabism in Macedonia and other Islamists
are in some way related to Kosovo and the Islamic international associations.23 Sources
sponsoring radical Islam in Macedonia are mostly the same as in the region, and identical as
in Kosovo.
When asked about the presence and potential threats of the Wahhabi actions in
Macedonia, the Ministry of Internal Affairs in official statements explains that “the
Macedonian security services are in excellent condition, do their job and follow all relevant
activities [related to any terrorist threats M.B.] and therefore “the security situation in
Macedonia is stable”.24 Ivan Babanovski, a renowned security expert and retired professor of
the Faculty of Security in Skopje, denies most of the Macedonian officials‟ claims: “There are
about 3,000 Wahhabis, mainly among the ethnic Albanian minority and Bosniaks in the
region of Skopje, Tetovo, Struga and Kumanovo. Their operations are funded by donations
from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Iran” he claims. “Their active camp in which they
recruit mercenaries for the conflict in Syria is located between Jažince in northern Macedonia
and Kačanik in Kosovo.”25 This discrepancy between official statements and claims of experts
is even more surprising if we remember that, in fact, in recent years Macedonia has had
numerous serious problems with militant Islamists. In 2012, dramatic evidence attesting to
these developing radical trends emerged with a series of protests, attacks on Christian shrines,
21 „ИВЗ бара Власта да се Справи со Вахабитите‟, Утрински весник, 20 September 2010, at
<http://www.utrinski.mk/?ItemID=1C03292BF7F419409EEBB63526468F44>, 4 February 2014.
22 Wahhabi teachings are not only widespread among Albanian Muslims in Macedonia but also among Muslims
of Slavic origin such as Torbeši.
23 O. Potežica, Vehabije. Između istine i predrasude, Beograd 2007, pp. 199-200 (Biblioteka Chronogram).
24 V. Palaska, Ima li islamizma u Makedoniji?‟, Aurora, 25 August 2013, at <http://www.aurora.hr/2455/ima-li-
islamizma-u-makedoniji>, 1 February 2014.
25 Ibid.
395
and even information received by intelligence officials indicating that small groups of
Albanian and Macedonian Muslims were joining the jihadi groups in the Syrian conflict. This
last development is particularly concerning, as there is no way to tell how these fighters may
act when they eventually return home after being immersed in such a radical environment.26
After 2013 mass arrests of suspected Islamists who murdered five Macedonian citizens
outside Skopje (the crime occurred in April 2012) which involved 800 police officers, the
subsequent protests have occurred in Skopje (with smaller ones in Tetovo and Gostivar),
when several thousand ethnic Albanian youth took to the streets, waving Albanian and Saudi
flags and chanting Allahu Akbar and ”death to the Christians.”27 Police stated that this
action was a serious blow for radical Islamists who fought against NATO forces in
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On the other hand, Atanas Panovski in his “The Spread of Islamic Extremism in the
Republic of Macedonia” explains that: “the most ideological and organizational
characteristics of fundamentalist movements are absent in Macedonia, or present only to a
low degree. In Macedonia, Islamic extremist ideologies are not a reaction to secularism and
modernism, nor do they defend religion. The absence of this ideological characteristic
differentiates them from fundamentalism. Although their characteristics are very similar to
fundamentalism, it would be wrong to place them in this category. Thus, activities of
Wahhabi adherents in Macedonia can be categorized as potential or marginal
fundamentalism”.28 He further explains that one of the most important characteristics of
Wahhabism as an ideology is takfir, or excommunication. Its goal is to theologically purify
the followers of Islam. It is obvious that Wahhabi ideas are first and foremost directed
towards fellow Muslims and its leadership, and the latter toward the rejection of democratic
rule by the people. In the case of Macedonia this idea serves well in regard to internal
conflicts among ethnic Albanian Muslims. Their struggle for power and property has often
been followed by violent incidents. However, the majority of Muslims in Macedonia prefer
traditional Islam, represented by the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. It seems that adherents of
Wahhabism in Macedonia pose a threat, but their existence depends on foreign funding and
external support.29 Öktem agrees with Panovski claiming that the “Wahhabi issue” in
26 „Macedonia‟, American Foreign Policy Council‟s World Almanac of Islamism, 17 September 2013, p. 7, at
<http://almanac.afpc.org/macedonia>, 7 February 2014.
27 Ibid.
28 A. Panovski, The Spread…, pp. 61-62.
29 Ibid., p. 62.
396
Macedonia (as well as in the Balkan region) is “a phenomenon which is a manageable
security issue”.30
It seems that the breaking point of the Wahhabis and other radical Islamist groups was
the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the ensuing war on terror, where most actors with even the
faintest connection to transnational Arab Islamic networks and Salafi forms of Islam were
progressively squeezed out of the Balkans. Salafi and Wahhabi groups from Arabia had to
withdraw as the U.S. took measures against the possibility of Al Qaeda launching operations
from the Balkans. This situation resulted in all educational institutions of the Islamic
community in the region being closed down due to a lack of funding. Elsewhere, Islamic
communities lost funding at a time when they were most needed to maintain a grip on
centripetal forces. The withdrawal of most Saudi funds, however, significantly disrupted the
influence of Islamic actors from outside the region and limited their ability to induce a
hegemonic shift in the way Islam was lived and experienced in the Balkans.31 Furthermore, he
claims that the “hegemonic turn that would have destroyed the foundations of Islam in the
Balkans the Ottoman, mostly Hanefi heritage and introduced a strict, conservative
Salafism, has not taken place and is very unlikely to do so in the future. The established
Islamic Unions of the Balkans are mostly in control of the majority of mosques and preachers,
and the political elites seem to support local forms of Islamic practice, promoted as „European
Islam‟, „traditional Islam‟ or simply „our Islam‟”.32
After the “Wahhabi intermezzo” (as defined by Öktem), Turkey enters the scene as a
political and economic regional power. Regardless of the specific influence and penetration of
Wahhabi (Arabic) and Iranian Islam in the Balkans during and after the wars in the former
Yugoslavia, Turkey remained the “first to call” neighbour in the Islamic world to the Balkan
Muslims. The Western powers (primarily the U.S.A.) leave the Balkans to Turkey‟s attention
and control because it is believed that Turkey‟s regional interests remain in the horizon of the
general U.S. and western projections. In other words, in the eyes of the international
community and states with major Muslim population such as Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina
and Macedonia, Turkey is viewed as a country capable of promoting moderate Islam in the
region.33
30 K. Öktem, „New Islamic Actors…‟, p. 18.
31 Ibid., p. 21.
32 Ibid., p. 22.
33 Д. Танасковић, Неоосманизам. Доктрина и спољнополитичка пракса, Београд 2010, p. 86 (Библиотека
Појединачна издања).
397
Conclusion
Although affiliates of Islamic extremist ideologies such as Wahhabism can be
categorized as potential or marginal fundamentalism, they still pose a threat. This is especially
true when the worldwide concern regarding religiously motivated terrorism is taken into
account. Unfortunately, this issue in Macedonia remains a taboo given the complexity of the
Macedonian society.34 There is no political capacity to cope with radical Islam for fear that
the fight does not bring a political, anti-cultural or anti-Islamic phobia dimension. Even more,
successive Macedonian governments fear that they will not receive political support from the
international community should they take a more active stance. Without a doubt, “the
masterstroke of Macedonia‟s Islamists has been their strategy of manipulating potent
Albanian nationalism for their own ends. Well before the country‟s brief ethnic war in 2001,
international diplomacy in Macedonia has been fundamentally driven, and conditioned, by the
Albanian issue. Islamist leaders are well aware that, because of the diplomatic need for
political correctness, any religious initiative will be beyond reproach if it can be cloaked in
the guise of ethnic grievances.”35
Another problem of the Macedonian state that affects the struggle against Islamic
radicals is a poor economic situation on the country. In order to maintain a positive image of
the country before foreign Islamic investors, and to depict it as a stable and safe investment
destination in general, the government is reticent to bring up the topic of Islamic radicalism
publicly. These dimensions remain the fundaments of the problem in Macedonia and a
challenge to cope with in the upcoming years.
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Marko BABIĆ, PhD, assistant professor (adiunkt) Institute of European Studies,
University of Warsaw. His research and teaching covers contemporary Western Balkans
region geopolitical position, state building processes, ethnic conflicts including such
determinants as history, religion, civilizations (axiology/culture).
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ИВЗ бара Власта да се Справи со Вахабитите
 " ИВЗ бара Власта да се Справи со Вахабитите ", Утрински весник, 20 September 2010, at <http://www.utrinski.mk/?ItemID=1C03292BF7F419409EEBB63526468F44>.
assistant professor (adiunkt) – Institute of European Studies His research and teaching covers contemporary Western Balkans region – geopolitical position, state building processes, ethnic conflicts including such determinants as history, religion, civilizations (axiology/culture)
  • Babić Marko
Marko BABIĆ, PhD, assistant professor (adiunkt) – Institute of European Studies, University of Warsaw. His research and teaching covers contemporary Western Balkans region – geopolitical position, state building processes, ethnic conflicts including such determinants as history, religion, civilizations (axiology/culture).