The Macedonian Tendency: Small Helping Hand from Rolf Ekeus, OSCE

Friday, June 15, 2007

Small Helping Hand from Rolf Ekeus, OSCE

By David Edenden

This is a long and thoughtful article on
Rolf Ekeus' (OSCE) ideas regarding minority rights and minority responsibilities in Macedonia. It should be translated into Macedonian and read by every Macedonian politician. As to whether Rolf Ekeus will have an impact on American or EU positions, I have my doubts. However, if they follow his logic, then it will go along way to promoting stability in Macedonia.
Albanians in Tetovo Stunned by OSCE Official’s Call for Minority Language Obligations, but Government Fails to Capitalize

6/14/2007 (

It was completely ignored in the local and international press. But the visit and speech of a top-ranking OSCE official to Macedonia on May 10 might just herald a turning point in the “international community’s” stance on minority rights and responsibilities in this small Balkan country, one necessitated by a realization that European Union countries are starting to suffer from the very same ills that have been notable in Macedonia for years, and which in fact led to a brief war in 2001.

Nevertheless, the government failed to take advantage of this support for Macedonia and the tacit acknowledgment that it is being treated as an equal with the Western countries- displaying yet again the hazards of a chronic head-in-the-sand policy of ignoring outside views on the country.

... One crucial and fundamental responsibility of minorities is language acquisition. At least this is so according to the very senior OSCE official who visited Macedonia last month and shocked an audience that had expected a much different lecture. In a speech called, “The Role of Education in Building a Pluralist and Genuinely Democratic Society,” OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekéus made a succinct but powerful case for why minorities must learn the majority language of the country they inhabit.

Speaking in front of a crowd of professors, students and local politicians, Ekéus gave a speech that caught the mostly Albanian audience by surprise. After a decade of being coddled when demanding – and getting – unending privileges while contributing little to the state’s welfare, and indeed causing a ruinous war in the process, it was not hard to understand why the Albanians might be surprised. The sea change in policy was evinced in pointed language that spoke directly to the source of the problem.

This, however, was preceded by the usual arguments for minority rights- which perhaps contributed to the way in which the primarily Albanian audience was caught off-guard. The high commissioner first underscored that the right to an education is a fundamental human right which “should be guaranteed without discrimination of any kind,” and that states “are obliged to promote mutual respect and understanding, and co-operation among all persons living on their territory, irrespective of those persons’ ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity, in particular in the fields of education, culture and the media.”

The turning point in the speech began with the link to the pan-European problem of ethnic separatism. “While a pluralist and genuinely democratic society should enable the preservation of minority rights, separation along ethnic lines should be avoided at all costs,” affirmed Commissioner Ekéus, “since it reinforces ethnic divisions within communities and serves as a fertile breeding ground for negative stereotypes and prejudices among different ethnic groups.”

The commissioner went on to discuss the importance of language, which “can be a tool of integration.” The crucial statement followed thus:

“However, for this to function properly, both the majority and minority must be willing to accept compromise. Integration, therefore, involves responsibilities and rights on both sides. The minority should be prepared to learn and to use the language or languages used by the State, normally the language of the majority. At the same time, the majority must accept the linguist rights of persons belonging to national minorities.”

For Macedonians, who have bitterly complained that they have made all of the compromises and received nothing in return from their country’s only restive minority, this should have been music to their ears. However, there were apparently few ears to hear, and no one subsequently reported the groundbreaking statements, which represent a sharp change of direction in policy from a representative of one of the most powerful Western institutions.

Commissioner Ekéus went even further, however. Adding that a “lack of proficiency in the State language can further increase ethnic tension and segregation of communities along ethnic lines,” he hypothesized a long-term strategy for state survival in Macedonia, which would include “increasing State-language classes in the existing state curriculum and/or introducing bilingual educational programmes in schools,” a process which for minorities “benefits their integration into society and their access to public goods.” Such a scenario was decidedly not what Albanians wanted to hear, and in the question-and-answer period that followed they made this clear, according to one lecture attendee.

... All things considered, one might think that the center-right Macedonian government might highlight the Western call for the national integrity of the country that Commissioner Ekéus’ visit and speech represented. However, they failed to take advantage of this great and unexpected gift, which by means of a not very challenging extrapolation put the country on equal footing with all of Europe on the issue of minority rights and responsibilities. Through the OSCE, Europe was speaking Macedonia’s language, and all that was needed was a response. None came.

Most scandalously, planned meetings of Commissioner Ekéus with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Gabriela Konevska-Trajkovska were all cancelled, “with very little prior notice” according to one official. In the end, the highest official the distinguished guest met was Imer Aliu, the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the sector involved in implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement and a nominee of the Albanian DPA party, the coalition partner of Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE. No offense to Mr. Aliu, but simple protocol demands that an official of the commissioner’s stature be received by the prime minister or president.

This blunder of protocol appears infinitely more suicidal in light of the specific content of the OSCE high commissioner’s speech in Tetovo. Numerous media reports have increasingly mentioned that European officials are becoming more and more disenchanted with the government’s perceived disinterest in at least listening to their well-meaning advice.

When visiting officials are not even acknowledged when they take considerable risk to defend Macedonia’s national interest, as was the case with Commissioner Ekéus, it becomes hard not to sympathize with these concerns. And so under the current conditions, if the high commissioner, or another official of his stature, returns to Macedonia he or she will have every reason to weigh the options before taking a spirited stance in support of the country.

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