Macedonia Muslims urge restraint over carnival

AP, Tuesday 31 Jan 2012

In one of Macedonia's oldest carnivals, Orthodox Christian men dress as Burqa-clad women, causing fury among Muslims in the country

Muslim leaders in Macedonia appealed for calm on Monday among community members outraged over a carnival in which Orthodox Christian men mocked Muslims by dressing as Burqa-clad women.

The incident at the 13 January Vevcani festival has prompted angry, sometimes violent demonstrations by Muslims, who make up 33 per cent of the country's 2.1 million population and accuse the majority of stoking hatred against them.

On Saturday, some protesters attacked buses and defaced a Macedonian flag and replaced it with a green flag to represent Islam. On the same day, a church was attacked by unknown perpetrators in the nearby village of Labunista.

In a statement Monday, Macedonian Muslim leaders called for restraint but also accused the government of promoting Islamophobia. "The behavior of Muslims should be restrained, but, unfortunately, we are concerned that Islamophobia in Macedonia is often combined with government propaganda," they said. "Such is the case with this carnival that the government annually subsidizes with...the money of all citizens, including Muslims."

The carnival, said to have been held for some 1,400 years, attracts thousands of visitors. Local resident traditionally wear elaborate, frequently sarcastic masks, with some of the most common costumes including devils and demons.

Muslims in Macedonia are almost all ethnic Albanians. Albanians, in Macedonia and elsewhere, have traditionally been secular, but conservative Islamic schools, especially Wahhabism, have taken a foothold in the years following a brief ethnic Albanian uprising in Macedonia in 2001. This spread has been mainly financed from Saudi Arabia.

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