Macedonia's parliament has adopted legislation extending the official use of the Albanian language to the entire country.
The bill passed on January 11 with the backing of 69 lawmakers in the 120-member parliament, with the main opposition party boycotting the vote.
The draft law, which makes Albanian the country's second official language along with Macedonian, requires approval by President Gjorge Ivanov before coming into effect.
It has sparked much criticism from members of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party and others who described the text as unconstitutional and against Macedonia’s national interests.
After the vote, the VMRO-DPMNE said that the proposed law "deepens the differences and damages the homogeneity of Macedonian society."
"The bilingualism will create chaos in the legal order; it will create inefficient institutions," it said in a statement.
However, lawmaker Artan Grubi from the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration told journalists that Macedonia “will benefit from this law; ethnic relations will relax."
In neighboring Albania, Prime Minister Edi Rama hailed the vote as a “historical achievement that democratizes and strengthens Macedonia itself."
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 make up around one-quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million population, living 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, AFP, and Reuters