The text of the new language law – seen as the last legal remaining provision stemming from a 2001 peace deal that ended an armed conflict between Albanian insurgents and FYROM security forces – is expected to be put before parliament for adoption soon.
The law would extend the official use of Albanian to the entire country, where ethnic Albanians make up around a quarter of the total population of 2.1 million. It will mainly ease communication in Albanian with institutions like municipalities, hospitals and courts.
In a compromise between the main ruling Social Democratic Party, SDSM, and its junior Albanian coalition partners, they have agreed to send two key parts of the law to the Venice Commission for evaluation.
The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, will be asked to evaluate whether the possible introduction of bilingual banknotes and uniforms for the army and police are in line with FYROM’s constitution and the 2001 Ohrid peace accord.
If so, they could easily be incorporated into the law a bit later, the government source, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told media on Saturday.
“There will be no bilingual banknotes and uniforms [in the new law], unless the Venice Commission confirms that this is in line with the constitution. We have no prejudices regarding those things,” Zaev said.
“Anything that improves the quality of life of the citizens and that the constitution allows has been included in the law,” he added.
Zaev promised to bring in a law that would extend the official use of Albanian when he struck a coalition deal with several Albanian parties earlier this year.
In July the small, ethnic Albanian-led DPA – Movement for Reforms party threatened to withdraw its vital support for the government if Zaev did not deliver on the law within the first 100 days of his administration.
The current law on languages defines Albanian as an official language, but it only has that status in areas where Albanians make up over 20 per cent of the population.
In the north and west of the country, where Albanians are the majority in many areas, this is not a burning issue.
However, in many other parts of the country, the number of Albanians is often far lower than 20 per cent.
The proposed new law has sparked much criticism from the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party, which has accused Zaev of making too many concessions to his Albanian partners and betraying FYROM’s national interests.
This VMRO DPMNE insists that the law might endanger the unitary character of FYROM.
Commenting on the possibility that some will see a threat in this ethnically-sensitive legislation, the US ambassador to Skopje, Jess Baily, said on Friday that it is important that the law “falls within the guidelines set out in the Ohrid Framework Agreement [that ended the 2001 conflict]”.
“This is an important issue to discuss and find solutions that both create an inclusive society and an inclusive political system, but also maintain the unity and the common sense of purpose among all the peoples of this country,” Baily told Alsat M TV.