Macedonia: Albanians in Tetovo Stunned by OSCE O fficial ’s Call for Minority Language Obligations
hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Jun 15 18:03:35 UTC 2007
Albanians in Tetovo Stunned by OSCE Official's Call for Minority Language
Obligations, but Government Fails to
It was completely ignored in the local and international press. But the
visit and speech of a top-ranking OSCE official to Macedonia on May 10 might
just herald a turning point in the "international community's" stance on
minority rights and responsibilities in this small Balkan country, one
necessitated by a realization that European Union countries are starting to
suffer from the very same ills that have been notable in Macedonia for
years, and which in fact led to a brief war in 2001. Nevertheless, the
government failed to take advantage of this support for Macedonia and the
tacit acknowledgment that it is being treated as an equal with the Western
countries- displaying yet again the hazards of a chronic head-in-the-sand
policy of ignoring outside views on the country.
Ultra-liberal European views on minority rights have predominated for years
in the Balkans, where allegedly altruistic interventionists have carried out
social engineering experiments that would have been shot down in their home
countries, usually to add luster to their careers, pad their resumes and
make themselves feel like "players" on the international diplomacy scene.
Some extreme examples of philosophies adopted by such people include the
"consociationalism" project <http://www.antiwar.com/orig/ilievski1.html> of
Dutch professor Arend Lijphart, guaranteeing minorities veto power over
majority-introduced legislation, and the Badinter Principle of rule, a
convoluted but influential scheme by which the approval of the majority of
the minority is needed to pass legislation.
In fact, the precise applicability of the latter is the issue that has
manipulated <http://www.focus-fen.net/index.php?id=n113609> by an ethnic
Albanian party in Macedonia, the DUI, which found itself frozen out of power
and has only recently returned to Parliament. Contrary to Macedonia's
constitution and the Ohrid Agreement that ended the 2001 war (and which
included heavy doses of minority protections), the DUI has sought,
unsuccessfully, to make the Principle apply to the formation of government.
If it had its way, the Principle would be applied universally and that
merely as a stepping-stone to ethnic federalization.
If such a federalization project (itself perhaps merely the precursor to a
'Greater Albania' taking chunks of several neighboring countries as well as
Kosovo) comes to pass, it will be partially the fault of the bumbling
bureaucrats from without and their grand visions for multi-ethnic society.
This has involved a fair amount of schizophrenia. In the case of Bosnia, the
West is making concerted efforts to force the tripartite federation to
devolve into a single state that would ruled by Muslims- a likely recipe for
another war. In the case of Macedonia, however, European officials are
apparently trying to keep federalization at bay, to preclude such a
Western officials have thus grown concerned by the Albanian approach to
minority 'rights', which often seems to be code for federalization. The
attitude can be seen in the previous bellicose threats of the DUI to order
'their' municipalities (meaning multi-ethnic municipalities where a DUI
candidate won the mayoral seat) to boycott cooperation with the state. In
one such municipality, Skopje's Cair, visitors can see this sentiment newly
spray-painted as graffiti on a wall near the Skopjanka shopping mall: "Cair
is not Macedonia," it reads in English.
Such separatist sentiments, and the increasing trend of Albanians to not
learn the Macedonian language, concern foreign officials. Within 15 years
basic communication between the two groups will be minimal. However, more
broadly, the reason why officials are taking a different tack now is a
result of the more severe tests vocal and aggressive minorities, most
acutely Muslim immigrants, are making of the very liberal rights laws in
numerous Western countries, especially Britain and the Scandinavian states.
Conservative websites such as the Brussels
Journal<http://www.brusselsjournal.com/>carry frequent and often
entertaining reports on this hot topic.
Now, with cherished old concepts of 'Frenchness' or what it means to be a
Briton now being challenged, and whole swathes of Muslim-populated urban
territory refusing the assimilate, powerful European states are finally
starting to realize what Balkan countries such as Macedonia have known for
years- that giving minorities unlimited rights without at the same time
requiring certain responsibilities is a recipe for disaster.
One crucial and fundamental responsibility of minorities is language
acquisition. At least this is so according to the very senior OSCE official
who visited Macedonia last month and shocked an audience that had expected a
much different lecture. In a speech called, "The Role of Education in
Building a Pluralist and Genuinely Democratic
High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekéus made a succinct
powerful case for why minorities must learn the majority language of the
country they inhabit.
Speaking in front of a crowd of professors, students and local politicians,
Ekéus gave a speech that caught the mostly Albanian audience by surprise.
After a decade of being coddled when demanding – and getting – unending
privileges while contributing little to the state's welfare, and indeed
causing a ruinous war in the process, it was not hard to understand why the
Albanians might be surprised. The sea change in policy was evinced in
pointed language that spoke directly to the source of the problem.
This, however, was preceded by the usual arguments for minority rights-
which perhaps contributed to the way in which the primarily Albanian
audience was caught off-guard. The high commissioner first underscored that
the right to an education is a fundamental human right which "should be
guaranteed without discrimination of any kind," and that states "are obliged
to promote mutual respect and understanding, and co-operation among all
persons living on their territory, irrespective of those persons' ethnic,
cultural, linguistic or religious identity, in particular in the fields of
education, culture and the media."
The turning point in the speech began with the link to the pan-European
problem of ethnic separatism. "While a pluralist and genuinely democratic
society should enable the preservation of minority rights,
*separation*along ethnic lines should be avoided at all costs,"
Ekéus, "since it reinforces ethnic divisions within communities and serves
as a fertile breeding ground for negative stereotypes and prejudices among
different ethnic groups."
The commissioner went on to discuss the importance of language, which "can
be a tool of integration." The crucial statement followed thus:
*"However, for this to function properly, both the majority and minority
must be willing to accept compromise. Integration, therefore, involves
responsibilities and rights on both sides. The minority should be prepared
to learn and to use the language or languages used by the State, normally
the language of the majority. At the same time, the majority must accept the
linguist rights of persons belonging to national minorities."*
For Macedonians, who have bitterly complained that they have made all of the
compromises and received nothing in return from their country's only restive
minority, this should have been music to their ears. However, there were
apparently few ears to hear, and no one subsequently reported the
groundbreaking statements, which represent a sharp change of direction in
policy from a representative of one of the most powerful Western
Commissioner Ekéus went even further, however. Adding that a "lack of
proficiency in the State language can further increase ethnic tension and
segregation of communities along ethnic lines," he hypothesized a long-term
strategy for state survival in Macedonia, which would include "increasing
State-language classes in the existing state curriculum and/or introducing
bilingual educational programmes in schools," a process which for minorities
"benefits their integration into society and their access to public goods."
Such a scenario was decidedly not what Albanians wanted to hear, and in the
question-and-answer period that followed they made this clear, according to
one lecture attendee.
In fact, the depth of the disaffection felt by Albanians was reflected in
the official blurb describing the event as published on the official SEE
It emphasized the parts of the speech that called for protection of minority
rights- but deviously made no mention at all of the commissioner's call for
minorities to take responsibility and learn the majority language.
A second vital topic in Commissioner Ekéus' speech had more subtle but
equally significant implications- the deleterious role of politics in higher
education. While not naming the South-East European University per se, it
was clear that the OSCE official was voicing the great disappointment with
which European donors see the steady decline of the university owing to the
intrusion of politics and poor educational standards. Citing the most
frequent problems in such universities, the commissioner called for
"depoliticizing the appointment of school directors," increasing the
participation of independent experts, and fighting "undemocratic school
The commissioner began the speech, in fact, by recalling that six years ago,
when the SEE opened, European officials had "hoped that establishing such a
University would support interethnic understanding, which is a necessary
step for a well-integrated, multilingual society."
The SEE began like all noble but ill-conceived Balkan humanitarian projects.
During the late 1990's, the so-called "Tetovo University" was banned by the
government, leading to altercations between the authorities and angry
Albanians. All that was needed, it was thought, was a shiny, modern
university which would appease the latter and help guide them away from
clan-based tribalism and into the 21st century. And so the SEE came into
being, a sort of European fire brigade meant to put out the flames of
nationalism in the form of a university. Of course, it didn't work, and soon
after the SEE opened, war broke out. A few years later, the previously
illegal Tetovo University was legalized too.
That the commissioner's concerns have come to pass owes to the predictable
politicization of appointments in an institution that was seen by the
Albanian parties as simply another goodie bag to be distributed, as well as
to the generous – but finite – outside funding program which initially
attracted many foreign professors motivated less by dreams of inter-ethnic
harmony than by a 3,000-euro-per-month salary.
However, now that the SEE has devolved to substantially lower state-level
salaries, and the international donations have dried up, most such
professors have fled, leaving the SEE as just another crummy university with
mainly local staff, riven by factionalism, political control and cronyism-
albeit with nicer equipment than at other state schools.
According to present and former international faculty at the university,
educational standards are often abysmal and corruption is rife. Off the
record, professors speak of how ill-qualified offspring of political
apparatchiks are promoted to positions well beyond their abilities and how
militant groups and even Islamic fundamentalists are using the university as
a recruiting ground. "You had to think twice when grading the exams of the
students," confided one former international teacher, "as you never knew who
their father might be."
All things considered, one might think that the center-right Macedonian
government might highlight the Western call for the national integrity of
the country that Commissioner Ekéus' visit and speech represented. However,
they failed to take advantage of this great and unexpected gift, which by
means of a not very challenging extrapolation put the country on equal
footing with all of Europe on the issue of minority rights and
responsibilities. Through the OSCE, Europe was speaking Macedonia's
language, and all that was needed was a response. None came.
Most scandalously, planned meetings of Commissioner Ekéus with Prime
Minister Nikola Gruevski and Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Gabriela
Konevska-Trajkovska were all cancelled, "with very little prior notice"
according to one official. In the end, the highest official the
distinguished guest met was Imer Aliu, the Deputy Prime Minister responsible
for the sector involved <http://www.siofa.gov.mk/default-en.asp> in
implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement and a nominee of the
Albanian DPA party, the coalition partner of Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE. No
offense to Mr. Aliu, but simple protocol demands that an official of the
commissioner's stature be received by the prime minister or president.
This blunder of protocol appears infinitely more suicidal in light of the
specific content of the OSCE high commissioner's speech in Tetovo. Numerous
media reports have increasingly mentioned that European officials are
becoming more and more disenchanted with the government's perceived
disinterest in at least listening to their well-meaning advice.
When visiting officials are not even acknowledged when they take
considerable risk to defend Macedonia's national interest, as was the case
with Commissioner Ekéus, it becomes hard not to sympathize with these
concerns. And so under the current conditions, if the high commissioner, or
another official of his stature, returns to Macedonia he or she will have
every reason to weigh the options before taking a spirited stance in support
of the country.
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