News 25 Oct 13

Bilingual Signs Cause Ethnic Jitters in Macedonia

An ethnic Albanian mayor has threatened to retaliate after the nearby ethnic Macedonian municipality removed bilingual Macedonian-Albanian signs from its territory.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Struga mayor Ziadin Sela

The mayor of Struga in south-west Macedonia, Ziadin Sela, has expressed anger that the nearby Vevcani municipality removed bilingual signs from the regional road that leads into his municipality where the majority of people are ethnic Albanians.

The state roads authority recently removed bilingual signs in Vevcani and replaced them with ones written only in Macedonian Cyrillic letters. This was done on Vevcani’s request.

The move caused Sela to threaten to demolish the recently-built Vevcani entrance gate and a nearby small church on the boundary between the two municipalities if they prove to have been constructed on territory under his control.

“I have to obey the laws because there is no logic in legalising an illegal object,” Sela told media.

“I do not know why the agency rushed the removal of the signs. This reminds me of [Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity] Republika Srpska where signs with Latin lettering are being demolished. I do not wish for Struga to become Republika Srpska but I am here to uphold the law,” he said.

Vevcani mayor Cvetomir Ugrinoski explained that his municipality was “100 per cent populated by ethnic Macedonians and that is why we asked the agency to remove the [Albanian-language] signs”.

He accused Sela of raising ethnic tension for no reason, insisting that the Vevcani gate, which is decorated with ethnic Macedonian symbols, was only built for tourism purposes.

The local government ministry attempted to calm the situation but warned that the gate and the church should not be demolished.

“The Vevcani gate and the church are not on Struga’s territory,” minister Tahir Hani told Alsat M.

Vevcani mayor Cvetomir Ugrinoski in front of the

newly-built gate and church

But the minister, an ethnic Albanian, also criticised the Vevcani mayor for removing the bilingual road signs.

“The Vevcani mayor should not act with prejudice regarding the signs. They should in fact be trilingual [Albanian, Macedonian and Turkish] because the regional road connects many different people from nearby municipalities and they [Vevcani] should be careful not to upset them,” Hani said.

In 2001 Macedonia went through a short armed conflict between Albanian rebels and the security forces. The conflict ended the same year with the signing of a peace accord that gave greater rights to Albanians, who make up a quarter of the country's population.

The accord also stated that there should be wider official use of Albanian and other non-majority languages. A municipality that has more than 20 per cent of a non-majority population on its territory has to allow the official use of its language alongside Macedonian.

The threat to demolish Vevcani's property is not the first time that the Struga mayor has warned that he could use force.

In November last year, Sela, who was then a legislator with the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, threatened to burn down the national assembly if all other attempts failed to stop the passage of a controversial army bill that angered Albanians.

However the government-proposed bill did not pass.

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