A deadly counterterrorism operation against what the government says were remnants of the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army in an ethnically mixed northern Macedonian town has prompted Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, once bitter enemies in the civil conflict in 2001, to join forces in common anger against the government.
One of the most shared videos online is a four-minute monologue by an unnamed ethnic Albanian man speaking in Macedonian to News 24 in Kumanovo, shortly after the police operation ended. Kumanovo-Lipkovo was one of the two areas where hostilities erupted in 2001 between government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia.
The video was initially shared on Facebook and has so far been viewed by over half a million people. The clip has also drawn thousands of viewers on YouTube. Facebook users have dubbed it the "Speech of the year."
(Link to video with English subtitles)
"I call upon everyone to remain calm and to protect our people," the man says, before accusing officials in Skopje of ulterior motives in connection with the May 9-10 violence, "But to remain calm while they play dirty games?"
Analysts and locals have expressed skepticism about what the government called "a terrorist threat" in light of the recent wiretapping scandal that implicates the government in a massive abuse of power.
Toward the end of the viral video, a man in green sportswear appears, turns to the camera and says, "I'm Macedonian; record this," before embracing the soliloquist. The first man resumes speaking, saying: "If we speak about terrorism and nationalism, these are constructed things to make us fight each other. I've lived here for 40 years. I have never exchanged even 40 bad words with a Macedonian or an Albanian."
Antigovernment protests in early May have seen increasing cases of the Macedonian and Albanian flags flying side-by-side at rallies over alleged official excesses, including this May 5 tweet:
Facebook and Twitter have been buzzing with angry posts by journalists, citizens, and activists directed at the ruling party.
Naser Selmani, president of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, wrote on Facebook after the weekend counterterrorism operation: "When criminals rule the country, innocent people suffer! They cover their criminal rule with bigger crimes. They'll do this until they can. Condolences to all the victims."
The hashtags #протести (#protests) and #протестирам (#Iprotest) continue to trend. A movement by the same name has also emerged calling for the resignation of the government.
One Twitter user looked for the silver lining amid the current chaos. "For years and years I have been following [the situation] and there has never been such a positive mood, such unity, interest. Just beautiful."
"The coffee brewer at our office (Albanian) said to me this morning: We should protest and no one should go home until they resign."
The image being shared on social media commemorating the eight police deaths in Kumanovo.
An image of the Macedonian and Albanian flags together on a black ribbon with the words "Not Forgotten" has also spread via Facebook. The reference is to the eight policemen killed in the Kumanovo operation.
Muhamed Zekiri, the editor in chief of Alsat-M, an Albanian TV station that broadcasts in both Macedonian and Albanian, made it his profile picture.
A message shared by Macedonian and Albanian activists that calls for the resignation of the ruling conservative VMRO-DMPNE and its coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian DUI, has been making the rounds online.
Whether this newfound desire for unity will serve as a turning point is an important question for Macedonia, which is still reeling from the short-lived but violent ethnic conflict in 2001. That bloodshed strained the fabric of Macedonian society, where ethnic Albanians make up around one-quarter of the country's 2.1 million people.
-- Deana Kjuka