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As Fighting Erupts in Macedonia, Local Jews Issue Appeal for Peace

As fighting between Macedonian troops and ethnic Albanian rebels threatens to escalate into full-scale Balkan warfare, Macedonia’s tiny Jewish community is calling on world Jewry to help preserve the fragile peace.

“We, the Jews of Macedonia, are very concerned by the current violence that threatens to destroy the multiethnic harmony and democratic dialogue that have characterized the small but proud and independent country in which we live,” Jewish community leader Viktor Mizrachi said Tuesday during a meeting of the Institute for Inter Ethnic Relations in Skopje, the Macedonian capital.

“We fear for the unity of our country and the equilibrium of our region,” he said.

“In this present crisis we urge all Jews and Jewish organizations and communities around the world, as well as all people of good will, to raise their voices to defend the ideals of peace and understanding, to protect the stability of the Republic of Macedonia.”

Macedonia is the only country created from the breakup of Communist-era Yugoslavia that has not experienced war during the past decade.

But for the past week, Macedonian government troops and police have been battling ethnic Albanian rebels near the Macedonian border with Kosovo.

Local and international leaders have warned that the conflict could spread.

Only about 200 Jews live in Macedonia. But the tight-knit group has been fighting to revive Jewish traditions, Jewish identity and Jewish life — and their presence has been recognized by the national leadership as an important symbol in a state that has tried to maintain a peaceful ethnic mix.

Last year, the community dedicated what is believed to be the first new synagogue built in the Balkans since the end of World War II.

“As Jews we enjoy full rights in Macedonia and warm relations with all of the many ethnic groups and peoples that make up this country,” Mizrachi said Tuesday.

He noted that just last week — as every year — government officials, religious leaders and representatives from other ethnic groups joined Macedonian Jews in commemorating the anniversary of the deportation and annihilation of Macedonian Jews during World War II.

In addition, he said, the coalition government representing both Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political parties has promised to build a Macedonian Holocaust Center in Skopje and has also passed legislation regulating the restitution of individual and communal property.

Macedonian Jews have won respect by providing nonsectarian aid to fellow citizens and refugees.

At the beginning of the Kosovo crisis in 1999, the community established a Jewish Humanitarian Aid Society called Dobra Volja to help refugees from Kosovo of whatever nationality — Albanian, Serb or Gypsy — and also to help local Macedonians in need.

Dobra Volja is supported by an international alliance of Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the American Jewish Committee, Great Britain’s World Jewish Relief, the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations and a Swiss Jewish aid group.

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