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Macedonia Lawmakers Advance Albanian Language Bill

Protesters in Skopje wave flags during one of several demonstrations this year against a law making Albanian the second official language of Macedonia.

Macedonia's parliament has given preliminary approval to legislation that would extend the official use of the Albanian language to the entire country.

In its first reading on November 15, lawmakers voted 66-41 in favor of the bill, which 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.

Ahead of the vote, lawmaker Ilija Dimovski of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party described the text as unconstitutional and discriminatory against Macedonian and the other languages spoken by the country’s citizens.

The proposed legislation needs to pass two more readings in the legislature before it is sent to President Gjorge Ivanov for signing.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had promised to bring in the law when he struck a coalition deal with Albanian parties earlier this year.

It has sparked much criticism from the VMRO DPMNE and others, who have accused Zaev of betraying Macedonia’s national interests.

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