[FOUNTAIN]A 'Balkan Conflict' in Korea

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[FOUNTAIN]A 'Balkan Conflict' in Korea

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization decided Wednesday to deploy its peace-keeping troops to Macedonia. Located in the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula, Macedonia is a land of hatred. The Slavic Macedonians, who comprise two thirds of the country's two million people, have long oppressed the ethnic Albanian population.

The Albanians, most of whom are Muslims, maintain their old custom of a woman always having a male escort, or protector, such as her father, brother or husband, when she goes out. The Albanians are also prolific, with families having six or seven children. Many Slavic Macedonians disdain the Albanians, calling them "barbarians" and saying they are no better than "livestock" - an expression of extreme prejudice and hatred.

The ethnic Albanians are also biased. They consider the Slavic majority a promiscuous people, practicing free sex and birth control. Moreover, they have strong resentments against the Macedonian government, which restricts the use of their native language and access to education.

The two ethnic groups are still in conflict despite a slew of peace and truce agreements during the last 10 years, because they have nurtured hatred without making efforts for mutual understanding. In 1994, the movie "Before the Rain", directed by Milcho Manchevski, a Macedonian, received five awards, including a Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival. The movie highlighted the conflict between the two ethnic groups. Seven years have passed since the awards, and no progress has been made, but, of course, film awards do not bring peace.

Even Monday, when Macedonia's president, Boris Trajkovski, and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski signed a peace agreement with leaders of ethnic Albanian rebels, artillery fire was exchanged. "An agreement is only a piece of paper that has signatures of unpopular persons. A promise is valid only until it is broken, and words are just the sound of air coming out of the mouth," a popular Yugoslavian daily newspaper said. The vicious circle of distrust is repeating itself.

In Korea, recently, a ranking member of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party caused a stir with a slur directed at the head of the opposition Grand National Party. The remark is even more perplexing because it was made just one day after President Kim Dae-jung proposed a meeting with the opposition leader, Lee Hoi Chang, during his address celebrating the 46th anniversary of Korea's independence from Japan's colonial rule. The last thing we need is for South Korea to become another Macedonia.

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chae In-taek

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