Education Law Splits Albanians

Albanian political parties in Macedonia are increasingly at odds over the government's higher education policy

Education Law Splits Albanians

Albanian political parties in Macedonia are increasingly at odds over the government's higher education policy

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

A new law on education in Macedonia has sharpened divisions between the country's two main Albanian political parties.

At the heart of the disagreement over the education law lies the unresolved issue of Tetovo university. Ever since it was first established five years ago, the unofficial Albanian language institutions, which claims to have 10,000 students and 400 professors, has been a source of political tension.

The authorities have repeatedly attempted to close the institution - set up by ethnic Albanian intellectuals from Pristina University - without success. Over the years, several people have been killed and dozens injured in clashes between police, students and academic staff.

For the Albanian community the institution is an important symbol of their demand for linguistic and cultural parity - they want equal status with state-funded Macedonian universities.

Many Macedonians, however, regard an Albanian language institution as the first step towards secession for the predominantly Albanian region of western Macedonia.

The law, which was passed on July 25, incorporated a proposal by the OSCE High Commissioner for Minorities, Max Van der Stoel, for an internationally-funded, multi-lingual higher education institution, focusing on teacher-training, business management and public administration.

The new university will require in the region of 50 million German marks over the next four years. The European Union and the United States are among those who have pledged to make donations.

Tetovo university would be effectively sidelined by such an institution, which would also sidestep the issue of whether higher education institutions teaching in languages other than Macedonian should receive state-funding.

Under the new legislation, Albanians will be able to study in their own language at the new, privately funded university, but their diplomas will not be officially recognised until they take an extra examination in Macedonian.

"The law is an important part of a strategy aimed at reforming the education system, " said Education Minister, Gale Galev. " It's high time that the politicising of the education of minorities stopped."

The law was passed with the support of the Albanian DPA party, a partner in the ruling coalition. This represented a complete reversal by the party, which in opposition had always demanded a state-funded Albanian language university.

Most of the opposition Albanian PDP party left the chamber before the vote. They said Albanians were entitled to their own state-funded higher education institution since they pay taxes. PDP deputy, Sefedin Haruni, said the law treated Albanians like "immigrants" and warned that they would soon start leaving the country.

While facing scorn from the Albanian population, most of whom opposed the education law, DPA leader, Arbën Xhaferi. is simultaneously trying to smooth over relations within the governing alliance. He is fearful that his Macedonian coalition partners, VMRO-DPMNE, might be tempted to harden their line on ethnic issues to boost its prospects in upcoming local elections.

The VMRO-DPMNE have seen their fortunes slump of late, in part due to what ethnic Macedonians regard as excessive concessions to minority communities.

Before the vote, Xhaferi's party boycotted protests in the main Albanian centres demanding full recognition of Tetovo university. The rallies marked the return to active politics of a former DPA activist, Rufi Osmani.

Osmani was sentenced to a seven year prison term in the summer of 1997 for raising an Albanian flag over a municipal building in Gostivar. He broke with the DPA over the issue and was released in a general amnesty when the government changed in 1999.

Osmani is currently a professor at Tetovo university and enjoys support among the Albanian population for his radical stance. The potent university issue could enable him to build his own powerbase beyond the two main Albanian parties and mount a serious challenge to his former colleagues in the DPA.

Veton Latifi is an analyst and journalist from Macedonia

Support our journalists