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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 01:49 GMT 02:49 UK
Analysis: Albanian language demands
Ethnic Albanians returning across the Kosovo-Macedonian border
Ethnic Albanians see the language question as crucial
By Paul Anderson in Skopje

The question of language recognition goes to the heart of the Albanian demands for more equal rights, and to the heart of the Macedonians' objection to granting them.

Language, for the Albanians of Macedonia, is more important as a symbol of a human rights and cultural struggle than as a tool for communication.

It is believed around 90% of them speak Macedonian, while only around 2% of Macedonians speak Albanian.

According to a recent report from the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, language represents the essential validation of equal status for the Albanians.

Minority language

The Albanians argue that if countries like Canada, Belgium and Switzerland, which have equal status for minority languages, can make the idea work, so should Macedonia.

The Albanians form up to a third of the population.

Woman and child on frontline
A third of Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian
They want equal language status enshrined in the constitution, in Parliament, and in dealings with central and local government.

Passports, birth, and marriage, certificates would have to be issued in two languages.

The question is also an important part of the Albanians' vision of a multi-ethnic civic society.

For the Macedonians, it is the opposite.

Splits

According to the International Crisis Group, equal status would lead to a sort of language federalisation which would further split the country.

The group says Macedonians fear they will have to learn a language which shares no roots with Slavic languages.

They will not be able to compete for public sector jobs if they are not bilingual. And they fear they will become second class citizens in their own country.


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See also:

01 Aug 01 | Europe
Breakthrough in Macedonia talks
06 Jul 01 | Europe
Macedonia truce holds
26 Jun 01 | Europe
Macedonian Albanians' grievances
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