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Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov has vetoed legislation extending the official use of the Albanian language to the entire country, saying it could endanger Macedonia’s unity and sovereignty.

Ivanov said on January 17 that the proposed law would introduce a "very expensive redundancy" in state institutions and make state administration dysfunctional.

He said that it would also threaten the “unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity” of Macedonia, "instead of building a multiethnic society through a spirit of dialogue and coexistence."

The draft law makes Albanian the country's second official language along with Macedonian.

The government regretted Ivanov’s decision, saying that the bill was "in line with the constitution" and motivated by the "care for all citizens of Macedonia."

The proposed law passed in parliament on January 11 with the backing of 69 lawmakers in the 120-member parliament, with the main opposition party boycotting the vote.

It will now be sent back to lawmakers for a second vote. If it is approved again, the president is obliged to sign it.

The legislation has sparked much criticism from members of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party and others who described it as unconstitutional and against Macedonia’s national interests.

The bill is meant in part to make it easier for members of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority to communicate with institutions such as municipalities, hospitals, and courts.

The current law on languages defines Albanian as an official language, but it has that status only in areas where ethnic Albanians make up at least 20 percent of the population.

Ethnic Albanians -- who make up around one-quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million population -- live mostly in the northwest near the borders with Kosovo and Albania.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia promised to bring in the new law when he struck a coalition deal with Albanian parties last year.

The coalition agreement ousted the VMRO-DPMNE party, in power since 2006.

With reporting by AP and AFP
European Security Commissioner Julian King: "We have to conclude that Russian disinformation can be extremely successful." (file photo)

The European Commission and lawmakers have accused Russia of orchestrating a “disinformation campaign” aimed at destabilizing the bloc and called for increased measures to combat the threat.

"There seems frankly little doubt that the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign is an orchestrated strategy, delivering the same disinformation stories in as many languages as possible, through as many channels as possible, as often as possible," EU Security Commissioner Julian King told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on January 17.

During the same parliament session dedicated to Russia’s propaganda influence on EU countries, MEPs “regretted the EU’s limited response” to what they called “Kremlin-orchestrated leaks, fake news, disinformation campaigns, and cyberattacks” against the bloc and its member states.

They cited Russian meddling in Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union and recent elections in France, Germany, and Spain, according to a press release.

EU leaders responded to Russia's disinformation campaign in September 2015 by launching the East Stratcom task force aimed at promoting the bloc's values and policies in the "Eastern neighborhood."

The task force also aims to increase public awareness of disinformation activities by external actors such as Russia and improve EU capacity to anticipate and respond to such activities.

King said that the task force gathered over two years “more than 3,500 examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation, contradicting publicly available facts, repeated in many languages on many occasions."

"If we look at opinion polls measuring how many people accept obvious disinformation planted in pro-Kremlin media, then unfortunately we have to conclude that Russian disinformation can be extremely successful," he warned.

"So that's why we need to redouble our efforts to debunk this propaganda," the commissioner added.

To improve EU resilience to “Russian propaganda tools” such as state-sponsored media outlets Sputnik and RT, European lawmakers called for measures to “improve media literacy, raise awareness, promote independent and investigative journalism, and revise the EU audiovisual directive so as to mandate national regulators to enforce zero tolerance of hate speech.”

They also stressed the need to improve the transparency of media ownership and funding of political parties and their campaigns.

On January 15, the European Commission's high-level expert group on how to tackle fake news met for the first time.

The group aims to contribute to the development of an EU-level strategy to be presented in late April on “how to tackle the phenomenon by defining the roles and responsibilities of relevant stakeholders and formulating recommendations.”

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak and AFP

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