Macedonia: Albanian Education Battle

Macedonians exploit divisions between Albanians over higher education to win the minority's backing for a new constitution.

Macedonia: Albanian Education Battle

Macedonians exploit divisions between Albanians over higher education to win the minority's backing for a new constitution.

Friday, 16 November, 2001

The Macedonian authorities appear to have bought off support from the biggest Albanian political party for a controversial revision of the Ohrid peace deal by offering them state funding for a university they have been demanding for the last year.

Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, is believed to have agreed to a change in the preamble of a future constitution - which was formally passed by parliament on Thursday - in exchange for government financial support for the Albanian language East European University, SEEU.

Xhaferi along with premier Ljubco Georgievski initiated the SEEU project - nicknamed Stoel university after one of it main sponsors, the OSCE commissioner Max Van Der Stoel - one year ago.

Xhaferi's apparent success is a major blow to Tetovo university, a bastion of Albanian national identity in Macedonia, which has long been fighting for state funding.

It is also a political setback for the second largest Albanian party, the Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP, which has been struggling for government financial backing for Tetovo university for the last five years.

A top Macedonian official told IWPR, under condition of anonymity, the authorities offered Albanian political parties money for one higher education institution in the Albanian language, as a "reward" for their accepting a revision of the preamble of the constitution.

Xhaferi immediately accepted the latest version, proposed by President Boris Trajkovski, and was thus offered state funding for his university, according to IWPR sources.

In Ohrid, the Macedonians, under tremendous international pressure, accepted an alteration to the old preamble of the constitution, defining the country as a state of all citizens rather than one of Macedonians.

But for months after the accord was agreed, the Macedonians refused to pass it in parliament, largely because of their unhappiness over the constitutional wording agreed at Ohrid.

Trajkovski then offered a solution, according to which Macedonian would be mentioned first in the preamble, followed by Albanians, and then Serbs, and so on.

After Xhaferi accepted it, the PDP said it would only do so if Tetovo university also received state funding. But the party eventually relented in order to defuse tensions following a sharp escalation in tensions last weekend when three Macedonian policemen were killed and seven ex-NLA soldiers were arrested.

Since its foundation in 1995, Tetovo university has been vying for recognition from the Macedonian government. Roughly 10,000 Albanian students have enrolled and those who graduated during the past seven years are still waiting for their diplomas to be officially acknowledged.

The university has survived against the odds becoming a symbol of the Albanian struggle in Macedonia.

Until its formation by a group of Albanian professors from Macedonia who had previously worked at the University of Pristina, Albanians were restricted in their studies in higher education. They could only study in their own language at the Faculty of Albanian Literature or the High Pedagogical School, both in Skopje.

The question of whether Tetovo university will get funding has long been a dominant issue in Macedonian political life. But since the emergence of SEEU, the question has changed to which of the two Albanian institutions should receive government cash. This issue has been a great source of friction between them.

Just 800 m away from Tetovo university, SEEU opened its doors to Albanian students on October 29. Cooperation between the two is non-existent.

SEEU supporters believe it will offer a quicker means of integrating Albanians into Western Europe. "It doesn't matter where my son is going to get his knowledge. What matters is the European standard of teaching," said the parent of one student.

Given the appeal of SEEU, Tetovo university has begun to lose the significant support it enjoyed from the Albanian community. Some professors have quit and joined the new university.

Tetovo university dean Fadil Sulejmani is clearly worried by SEEU, threatening to snatch some of its premises as "property of the Albanian higher education".

While tensions between the two universities continue, the students who idle around in the yards of both worry about the fees they have to pay to get themselves registered. At present SEEU is charging 1400-1600 German marks, Tetovo University between 400 and 600 marks. According to IWPR sources, only the former will be relieved of these concerns in the near future.

Veton Lafiti is IWPR assistant editor in Macedonia.

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