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News 13 Jul 17

Macedonian Albanian Party Presses Zaev on Language Law

A small ethnic Albanian party has threatened to withdraw its vital support for Macedonia's new government if it does not speedily adopt a law expanding the official use of Albanian.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
 Zijadin Sela. Photo: BIRN

Macedonia's new reformist government faces it first big test after a small coalition partner, the DPA - Movement for Reforms, said it would quit the Social Democrat-led government if it fails to adopt a law extending the official use of Albanian by early September.

“This is a demand that is of the utmost priority for Albanians and for our party. If the law is not adopted within a reasonable time, we will reconsider our participation in the government,” the party said on Wednesday, confirming what its leader, Zijadin Sela, announced earlier on Sunday.

The DPA - Movement for Reforms forms part of a coalition of three ethnic Albanian parties,  the Alliance for Albanians, which won three of the 120 seats in parliament at the December 11 general election.

If only two of these MPs quit the governing coalition, it will no longer have a majority of 62 MPs in parliament.

Sela’s coalition partner, Vesel Memedi, leader of National Democratic Rebirth, NDP, said he did not share Sela’s opinion on leaving the government. But the third MP in the coalition, Surija Rаshidi, is seen as very close to Sela.

Macedonia’s Vice Prime Minister on European Affairs, Bujar Osmani, said all the government partner parties were now working hard on the new language law, which has already been placed on the government’s priority list for adoption in the next three months.

But the main ruling party, the Social Democrats, and the biggest ethnic Albanian party in Macedonia, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, insist that the draft law must first be checked by the European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission.

Osmani insisted that sending the draft to the Venice Commission would not delay adoption of the law, which he said could be sent to parliament very soon.

“While the parliamentary discussion is still ongoing, we will get the opinion from the Venice Commission,” Osmani told Makfax news portal.

Meanwhile, some media have suggested that a small opposition party, the Democratic Union for Albanians, DPA, which won two seats in the election, could replace Sela’s party if it leaves. However, the DPA was not available for comment on this report on Wednesday.

Such speculation has been fuelled by the fact that DPA leader Menduh Thaci has met Social Democrat Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and DUI leader Ali Ahmeti over the past two weeks.

It was officially announced that the party leaders discussed current politics and the challenges facing the forthcoming local elections due this autumn.

Albanians in Macedonia make up around a quarter of the country’s population of 2.1 million - and have long been aggrieved by what they see as their second-class status.

Macedonia's current law on languages defines Albanian as an official language - but it only has that status in areas where Albanians make up over 20 per cent of the population.

In the north and west of the country, where Albanians make up local majorities in many areas, this is not a burning issue. However, in many other parts of the country, the percentage of Albanians is often far lower than 20 per cent.

On striking a government deal with several Albanian parties earlier this year, Zaev promised a new law that would expand the official use of Albanian throughout the entire country.

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