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Macedonian President Vetoes Albanian Language Legislation

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov
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