News 21 Nov 12

Albanian Flag Day Causes Jitters in Macedonia

Plans by Macedonian Albanians to celebrate Albanian flag day on November 28 are drawing questions from the country's main opposition party.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Some Macedonians are protesting over plans by the country's large Albanian miniority to celebrate Albania's "flag day".

Macedonia's junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, erected two 35-metre-high flagpoles at the weekend with Albanian flags in the villages of Gresnica and Kolibari near the western town of Kicevo.

In a speech, the DUI leader, Ali Ahmeti, declared: “This is Albanian territory”, adding: “These flags will be waving for ages”.

The holiday, celebrated on November 28, is dear to ethnic Albanians who make up a quarter of Macedonia’s population of 2.1 million. For years they have unsuccessfully pushed for its inclusion in the list of Macedonian holidays.

But Gordana Siljanovskia, law professor at Skopje state university, said the erection of the flags and Ahmeti’s rhetoric were worrying.

“Symbols say more than words”, she said, arguing that Macedonia was undergoing what she called “Bosnia-isation” - in reference to the ethnically divided former Yugoslav republic.

Flag day commemorates the day in 1912 when Albania proclaimed its independence from the Ottoman Empire and when the red-and-black flag of the Albanian hero, Skanderbeg, was hoisted in the town of Vlore.

Albert Musliu, an ethnic Albanian analyst, said the pomp surrounding the flag day, along with moves that “may be interpreted as provocations towards Macedonians”, are primarily fuelled by the forthcoming local elections in March.

“I am concerned by the approach of both the [main ruling VMRO DPMNE and the DUI] parties and their pursuit of ‘easy’ votes, by causing ethnic tensions,” Musliu told the Utrinski Vesnik daily.

The DUI spokesperson, Bujar Osmani, says the celebrations meant no harm to anyone.

“By November 28 the whole of Macedonia will be covered in red, marking the anniversary," he said.

"All citizens of Macedonia should share the joy of Albanians and in a sign of mutual respect they should not start questions about whether the flags were erected legally,” he added.

So far, the government and the VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski have been relatively silent.

When the main opposition Social Democrats urged him to explain the actions of his coalition partner, Gruevski said at the weekend only that authorities would “check if the display of the flag was in accordance with the law”.

In 2001, Macedonia experienced a brief armed conflict between government forces and Albanian fighters, which ended with the signing of the Ohrid Peace Accord.

The accord gave more rights to Albanians and allowed for the display of the Albanian flag, along with the Macedonian flag, in front of local institutions in municipalities where Albanians make up a substantial part of the population.

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