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Balkan Report: July 24, 2001

24 July 2001, Volume 5, Number 51

MACEDONIA: SPEAKING A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE. During the past two weeks or so, a number of proposals for a new legal framework to end the crisis in Macedonia have been put forward by a variety of sources (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 17 July 2001). Domestic ethnic Macedonian legal experts drafted a proposal with the help of an internationally well-known legal expert. This was countered by a rival document by the ethnic Albanian political parties. And, after separate talks between the leaders of the Albanian political parties and the international mediators from the EU and the U.S., a third proposal was presented by the foreign envoys -- to the ethnic Macedonian politicians, but not to the public.

This latest proposal led to the temporary breakdown of the political dialogue, mainly (but not exclusively) because the ethnic Macedonian political leaders could not accept the provisions concerning language (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001). Some days later, after the talks resumed on an expert level, violence escalated again in a massive exchange of fire in the Tetovo area on 22 July.

What does the latest proposal say about the use of languages in Macedonia? To understand what it entails, one should first take a look at the current Article 7 of the constitution, which regulates the status and therefore the use of languages in state institutions. The current wording of the constitution is: "The Macedonian language, written using its Cyrillic alphabet, is the official language in the Republic of Macedonia.

"In the units of local self-government where the majority of the inhabitants belong to a nationality [ed.: a minority], in addition to the Macedonian language and Cyrillic alphabet, their language and alphabet are also in official use, in a manner determined by law. In the units of local self-government where there is a considerable number of inhabitants belonging to a nationality, their language and alphabet are also in official use, in addition to the Macedonian language and Cyrillic alphabet, under conditions and in a manner determined by law." (Translation as provided by

The first draft proposal by the Macedonian legal experts, as published by the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" on 10 July, states under point 6.4., that "every citizen who belongs to a community that makes up at least 20 percent of the population of the municipality [opstina] where he lives, can turn to the central state authorities [as opposed to the local/municipal authorities] in his mother tongue; the central administration will answer him in either Macedonian or the respective language."

Point 6.5. of the original draft proposal refers to the use of language on the local level: "In connection with local self-government, in municipalities [opstini] where a community provides at least 20 percent of the population, the community's language will be an official language. Regarding the languages that are spoken by less than 20 percent of the municipality, the local authorities will democratically decide about their use in public institutions." Point 6.6. states that "during the sessions of the Sobranie (the parliament), the Albanian language can be used."

The Albanian rival document, published by "Vecer" on 12 July, was less concrete in its formulations: "In order to secure the adequate development of a civil society, fair and equal expression of political thought, full participation in social questions, and equal opportunities in public administration, the Albanian and the Macedonian language will be recognized as the two major languages of Macedonia. Both languages will be used in state and municipal-local institutions and offices [as needed] in order to secure the full integration of all citizens of Macedonia into the civil society."

Francois Leotard of the EU and his U.S. counterpart, James Pardew, then worked out the details together with the leaders of the ethnic Albanian political parties. The fact that this took place in separate talks without the participation of the Macedonian side aroused Macedonian suspicions. When the mediators presented the results to the leaders of the Macedonian political parties and to President Boris Trajkovski, the latter reacted in a manner that was obviously totally unexpectedly for the international community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 July 2001).

If the excerpts of the disputed document that were published in the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" on 19 July are correct, the document proposes a number of changes to the Macedonian Constitution:

"(1) In the Republic of Macedonia, the official [sluzben] language is Macedonian written in its Cyrillic alphabet.

(2) Any other language spoken by at least 20 percent of the population will be an administrative language as well, in its respective alphabet.

(3) In the units of local self-government where at least 20 percent of the population speak this language, this language together with its respective alphabet will also be used together with the Macedonian language.

(4) Any official document that refers to the speakers of the official language other than Macedonian will be published both in Macedonian and in this language. Every person can use this language to communicate with the institutions of the central administration, which in turn respond in this language as well as in Macedonian.

(5) In the institutions of the Republic of Macedonia, any official language other than Macedonian will be used according to the law."

The paper also formulated proposals for the use of languages in government and legislative business. "Any official language can be used in the parliament, and all official documents of the parliament will be printed in the official languages. Laws will be published in the official languages. Members of the government can use any of the official languages while fulfilling their official duties. All government officials can write their name in any of the official languages in any official document."

To understand why many of the ethnic Macedonian political leaders reacted almost hysterically to these proposals, it is necessary to look beyond the borders of the Macedonian state. There are Macedonian minorities in Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania. In none of those three countries is the Macedonian language recognized as an official language. Any attempt by the Macedonian government to press for more minority rights in those countries would inevitably result in a breakdown in relations with them. Macedonian politicians would be accused of interference in their neighbors' internal affairs.

Ethnic Macedonian politicians are now stuck in a bind. On the one hand, they will have to accept some form of improvement in the rights of the large Albanian minority in Macedonia. But on the other hand, they will not be able to press for more rights for the small Macedonian minorities in neighboring countries. And they will have to explain to their electorate why they must do the one thing while they cannot do the other. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

ALBANIAN SOCIALIST LEADER SLAMS GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION. Speaking in Lezha on 20 July, Socialist Party (PS) leader Fatos Nano slammed the practices engaged in by some government officials of "trading influence and power" and of building regional power bases. He implied that some officials, including PS politicians, are involved in "corruption and illegal trafficking." He did not elaborate, however.

Albanian commentators suggested that Nano was alluding to current Prime Minister Ilir Meta and thereby opened the battle for the nomination of the next prime minister, "Albanian Daily News" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 July 2001). The daily believes that Nano targeted Meta because the latter has in the past favored people from his home region of Skrapar by appointing them to top positions in the central administration.

During the election campaign, however, Nano openly supported Meta as the "prime minister of continuity." But the daily added that there is at least one more indicator that relations between the influential Nano -- who was prime minister until October 1998 -- and Meta appear to be strained: Meta fired the chief of the state-owned Telekom, Nano appointee Dhimitraq Rafti, on 19 July. He slammed Rafti for failing to pursue a successful investment strategy in the company.

The daily further reports that Nano's more conservative wing of the party is going to send Arben Malaj, who is the former chairman of the PS parliamentary group, into the race against Meta. Malaj already announced that he is going to seek the nomination for the premiership at the upcoming party congress. If Malaj represents parts of the conservative wing of the PS, Meta appeals to many younger voters as the former leader of the PS youth forum during most of the 1990s.

Nano engaged in a bitter fight with Meta's predecessor, Pandeli Majko, over control of the party in October 1999. Majko then resigned as premier after losing the race for the party chairmanship to Nano. Both Majko and Meta are 32 years old and belong to the post-communist generation of PS politicians. Previously, Meta supported Majko's candidature against that of Nano. The older party leader, however, repeatedly made his influence felt against the young premiers by publicly criticizing them for their policies.

Meanwhile, former opposition Democratic Party (PD) leader Tritan Shehu criticized his successor, former President Sali Berisha, for returning to the "politics of boycott" and failing to recognize the party's own responsibility for the opposition's election defeat on 24 June (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 July 2001). Shehu told "Gazeta Shqiptare" that "Berisha and his staff do not want to analyze the elections. Instead, they will hold the international community responsible and invent internal party enemies to justify their defeat in the 24 June parliamentary elections," "Albanian Daily News" reported. Shehu added that "the PD leadership, rather than the center-right, was the loser in the elections."

Shehu was commenting on a two-day visit by Berisha to Austria, from whence he returned on 20 July. There he had hoped to get support from Foreign Ministry officials for his call for new elections. "Koha Jone" reported, however, that all high-ranking officials refused to receive the former president.

Berisha ousted Shehu from the PD three years ago. Shehu is now a senior leader of the reformist New Democratic Party (PD e Re), which finished third in the elections. Shehu suggested that Berisha will expel a few party leaders from the PD and hold them responsible for the defeat. Shehu called on the reform-oriented forces within the PD to properly investigate the causes of its defeat.

He did not rule out the reunification of his party with the PD, depending on whether the latter makes sufficient progress in reforming itself and becoming more democratic. He suggested, however, that the current PD leadership is afraid of such a process, fearing competition from reform-oriented politicians. (Fabian Schmidt)

A RUSSIAN VIEW OF THE MACEDONIAN CRISIS. On 21 July, Russia's Interfax news agency carried the following report from Genoa: "A senior Kremlin aide said...that the current crisis in Macedonia has its roots in NATO's air strikes against Yugoslavia in 1999.

"The crisis is the result of 'systematic mistakes that date back to the period of the bombings of Yugoslavia,' Sergei Prikhodko, deputy chief of the Russian president's staff, told reporters. 'We are now reaping the fruit of that action,' he said.

"Prikhodko said Russian President Vladimir Putin received a letter on [20 July] from Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski setting out Macedonia's position on the crisis, assessing Russia's role in settlement efforts, and asking the Russian leader to back the Macedonian leadership.

"'The pessimistic forecasts of the Russian leadership that were ignored [in 1999] are coming true,' Prikhodko said (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 March 2001).

"He also accused the West of [employing] double standards. On the one hand, the West is suggesting making Albanian an official language in Macedonian regions populated by ethnic Albanians, 'and on the other, everyone knows the situation in Latvia and the attitude of the Western countries to it, despite the fact that about 40 percent of the population of that country is Russian-speaking,' he said." (Edited by Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Slobodan [Milosevic] is in a fighting mood and still does not recognize the legitimacy of this so-called tribunal." --His brother Borislav Milosevic, quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 19 July. The former ambassador is now working in Moscow for "a private Yugoslav company."

"No one accused of war crimes committed in Bosnia is under protection of the Bosnian Serb authorities." -- Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic. Quoted by AP in Sarajevo on 21 July.