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Macedonia: OSCE Urges Help For Ethnic Albanians

Vienna, 12 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is urging Macedonia's future government to do more to foster better relations between the country's Macedonian majority and its ethnic Albanian minority.

A report presented in recent days by OSCE High Commissioner for Minorities, Max van der Stoel, argues that providing better educational facilities for the Albanian minority would help them win more prominent positions in state and local administrations, the army and the police.

Ethnic Albanians make up 23 per cent of Macedonia's population of almost two million.

Van der Stoel's report and recommendations were prompted by last month's parliamentary elections in Macedonia. The coalition that won the elections is still negotiating over the composition of a new government.

In his report, van der Stoel argues that the turmoil across the border in Kosovo will force the new government to focus on means to ensure security, stability and economic progress in Macedonia. He says: "I hope that the discussions on the program of the future government will find solutions acceptable to both sides for a number of inter-ethnic questions which have been the subject of discussion for many years."

"Failure to do so," he warns, "will increase the risk of future inter-ethnic tensions. Success would provide a firm basis for the stability of the country in the future."

The OSCE High Commissioner touches on some of the political difficulties that have surfaced in Macedonia, saying that "there is an obligation by all ethnic groups to respect the territorial integrity of the state." He says that constitutional order must also be respected, and can only be changed in accordance with constitutional rules. According to van der Stoel: "Disregard of these basic rules will inevitably lead to destabilization of the state and, quite possibly, also to violence. All concerned would suffer and no-one would gain."

The Commissioner says there is a need to move beyond the discussions among those Macedonian parties which favor the present unitary system and the ethnic Albanian parties that want to change it. He says: "Experience elsewhere in Europe has shown that within a unitary state important steps can be taken to accommodate the specific desires of minorities." In his view, Macedonia's various political parties should now engage in a dialogue about reforms in which the views of the Albanian minority would be seriously considered.

The report says: "It would be wrong to consider any concession to a minority as a weakening of the state. It ought not to be forgotten that meeting the wishes of a minority within the constitutional framework of a unitary state might even strengthen the state --because the removal of major sources of its dissatisfaction will strengthen the willingness of a minority to identify with the state." Van der Stoel also criticizes the inadequate quality of teaching in Albanian-language primary and secondary schools which, he says, has prevented many from passing the entrance-exams to universities. He calls for an improvement in primary and secondary education, saying it is essential for the social and economic advancement of the ethnic Albanians. It would also, he notes, enable more Albanians to enter universities and gain the qualifications that would enable them to take on leading positions in the state and society.

Van der Stoel, a former Dutch diplomat, says the Foundation for Inter-Ethnic relations in The Hague has offered to help with a transitional program providing additional schooling to enable Albanian students to pass their university-entrance exams and to follow the courses at the university. The number of applicants has turned out to be more than expected, he adds.

But van der Stoel emphasizes there is still clearly a need for more far-reaching steps to ensure a better quality of education at Albanian primary and secondary schools. One of his recommendations is the creation of a special Albanian State University College for training teachers. He suggests it should be linked to the University of Skopje.