Macedonia: Passports Row Threatens Poll

Renewed dispute about the use of Albanian language on Macedonian passports may jeopardise parliamentary elections

Macedonia: Passports Row Threatens Poll

Renewed dispute about the use of Albanian language on Macedonian passports may jeopardise parliamentary elections

Ethnic tensions are increasing following a row over the inclusion of the Albanian language in Macedonia's new passports.

The Ohrid agreement, which halted six months of armed conflict between the communities last year, stipulated that Albanian should be included on the cover of all travel documents.

However, Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski and his VMRO-DPMNE party have blocked the law after fierce pressure from the Macedonian public and opposition parties.

The Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, had called for Albanian to be used in the documents and now the party's deputy head, Menduh Thaci, has warned that they may boycott parliamentary elections due to be held on September 15.

"If the passports law is not approved, it will be difficult for us to participate in the elections," Thaci told IWPR after a meeting with President Boris Trajkovski.

He claimed the country's four biggest political parties and the international community had previously reached an agreement where, if the DPA supported the new electoral laws, all other parties would support the passport proposals.

Those favouring multilingual passports back the "Slovenian model", in which documents were printed not only in Slovenian and English but also in Italian and Hungarian to satisfy all minorities living in the country.

DPA leader Arber Xhaferri has warned that failure to accept new passport rules could jeopardise the stability of the country.

"If the law is not approved along the lines of the Slovenian model, then the Ohrid agreement and the coexistence of different ethnic groups in Macedonia will be at risk," Xhaferi told a Tetovo press conference on June 25.

Xhaferi went on to claim that the issue could spark Albanian demands for territorial separation. He stressed that while his own party is against this, they would blame the Macedonians if it were to flare up again.

"We would hold president Trajkovski and the leader of the Social Democratic League of Macedonia, Branko Crvenkovski, responsible for that," he said.

Ali Ahmeti, former political leader of the Albanian National Liberation Army, NLA, and now head of the new Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, responded indirectly to Xhaferi's declaration last Saturday.

"We have said one year ago that we will not accept any sort of territorial divisions because we think that the time for such a solution is over," Ahmeti told members of his party in Skopje.

Georgievski has not yet explained what sort of passports he would like to see. Yet he dismissed suggestions that the issue could revive territorial separation demands.

Meanwhile, international community leaders have expressed their concern over the dispute. NATO secretary general George Robertson, speaking on a visit to Skopje last week, said that all Macedonia's parties should show restraint and seek to avoid new ethnic tensions.

EU external relations spokesman Chris Patten has also called on Macedonian politicians to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections are held in a correct and calm atmosphere.

"We support the Ohrid agreement, which gives Macedonian people the opportunity to live as good neighbours and join the rest of the European family," Patten said.

Without Ohrid, he warned, the alternative for Macedonia would be poverty and long-term instability.

Arben Ratkoceri is an editor of the Skopje-based Albanian language daily Fakti.

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