Kicevo is a town of 30,000 inhabitants in the west of Macedonia. Ethnic Macedonians make up the majority of the population with 53.5 percent while Albanians constitute a significant minority of 30.5 percent (2002 Census). Despite its ethnic mix, the town remained peaceful during the 2001 conflict, building on decades of peaceful co-existence. The different socio-economic histories of the two ethnic groups in Kicevo, however, are illustrative for the underlying structural reasons for the armed conflict in 2001.
Under Yugoslav socialism the authorities pursued a conscious policy of promoting urbanisation and the creation of industrial centres. The little town of Kicevo saw its population explode as workers migrated from rural areas in search of jobs in the new socialist industrial enterprises. The town also gained a number of public institutions, including outlets of ministries, public utility companies, schools and a 4,000-strong Yugoslav army barracks. These provided a further opportunity for employment for educated Macedonians.
The Albanians in the region were largely excluded from jobs in both Kicevo's industry and the public sector. Middleclass ethnic Macedonians looked down on them for their comparative lack of education. Most Albanians in the town, and particularly the surrounding villages failed to complete anything more than primary education. Since Macedonian dominated as the language of instruction in secondary and tertiary education, they were at a natural disadvantage.
With the route to formal employment largely closed off, many ethnic Albanians migrated in search of better prospects abroad. The remittances sent by these migrants became an important source of income for Albanian families in Kicevo. Conservative estimates of remittances sent in 2002 to the Kicevo area put the figure at