News 12 Jan 18

Macedonia President Urged to Veto Language Law

Opponents of the new law that extends the official use of Albanian across Macedonia have called on the country's president to try to block it.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov hinted in his New Year's speech that he might veto the language law. Photo: MIA

Macedonian academics, diaspora organizations and the right-wing political opposition have called on the President to use his veto against a new law on language adopted on Thursday, insisting that the bill is unconstitutional and against the national interest.

Prominent members of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, MANU, Katica Kjulafkova, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova and Simona Gruevska-Madzoska, in an open letter, claimed the bill jeopardizes the constitutional status of the Macedonian language by introducing bilingualism and a form of bi-national identity.

“It is high time for President Gjorge Ivanov to reach for the veto at least once, not to demonstrate his power, but on behalf of the rule of law,” the three professors, all known opponents of the new bill, wrote.

The presidential cabinet on Friday said President Gjorge Ivanov had received the bill. He has seven days to decide whether to sign it or not.

If he chooses not to, parliament can vote for the law once more and, if MPs pass it again, it will become law whether or not the President signs it.

In that case, the only way to annul the bill, or some of its provisions, would be through an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

During his New Year address in parliament, Ivanov, who was appointed under the last right-wing government, hinted that he might veto the law.

“The law on languages is not a threat to the Macedonian language [but] ... endangers the unity of the country. This draft law breaches the biggest law in the country, the constitution,” he opined.

The law, passed on Thursday, extends the official use of Albanian over the entire country, in which ethnic Albanians make up around a quarter of the total population of 2.1 million, thereby easing communication in Albanian with institutions like municipalities, hospitals and courts.

The previous law also defined Albanian as an official language, but only gave it that status in those areas where Albanians make up over 20 per cent of the local population.

The new bill envisages the formation of a special agency to monitor the use of languages by institutions. This should deal with one of the biggest problems with the past law, which often left it up to municipalities and managerial teams to decide on this issue.

A pan-Macedonian organization, the United Macedonian Diaspora, OMD, also called on the President to oppose the law.

The new law “moves the country one step closer to becoming a federal state, endangering Macedonia’s unitary and territorial integrity,” the OMD wrote.

The main opposition right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, whose MPs were absent from parliament during the vote, has meanwhile called the law unconstitutional.

“The law on bilingualism does not contribute towards real improvement of the rights of the Albanian community… on the contrary, it deepens discord. It will create chaos in the legal order and parallelism in institutions,” VMRO DPMNE said.

The main ruling Social Democratic Union, SDSM, has defended the law, however.

“VMRO DPMNE’s reactions are cowardly and ungrounded. If they had any arguments, VMRO DPMNE MPs could have defended them in parliament, instead of running away,” the Social Democrats replied, referring to the opposition boycott.

Macedonia's new centre-left Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, who was elected in May, pledged to adopt the law, having agreed to make such changes in talks with ethnic Albanian partner parties.

Adoption of the law has been welcomed in neighbouring Albania and Kosovo as a significant step forward towards resolving remaining inter-ethnic issues in Macedonia.

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