Case 1: Tetovo University – Establishment and Legalisation
Despite continuous demands for higher education in Albanian, Macedonian politicians refused to accommodate their Albanian partners in government and allow Albanians access to mother-tongue education, opposing ideas for an Albanian language university or even for Albanian language courses in existing universities. In 1994, without obtaining government approval, a group of Albanian intellectuals and politicians established Tetovo University (TU), an Albanianlanguage university in the north-west Albanian dominated part of the country. High-ranking PDP members were involved in establishing the controversial university. The declaration for establishing the university, signed and approved by all Albanian MPs and mayors was read in the Tetovo headquarters of PDP.4
The government at the time was composed of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), which controlled an absolute majority in Parliament, and PDP as a junior partner. The actions of SDSM and PDP revealed a major chasm between the coalition partners. The response of the government was to send police troops to Tetovo to break-up the celebrations and opening ceremony. While members of PDP were involved in establishing illegal educational institutions, SDSM leaders resorted to using violence as an answer to the demands for education reform. Although government use of violence to suppress undesirable popular demands was not unusual in the region during the 1990s, this example stands out as one in which the government used violence against its own coalition partner, thus rendering any notion of accommodation through informal inter-ethnic executive
4 Zeqirja Rexhepi, Opštestveno-političkite nastani kaj Albancite vo Makedonija
1990–2001 (Tetovo: ARS-33, 2007). coalitions very problematic. Indeed, a senior member of the first SDSM cabinet confirmed that Albanian members of the coalition often 'served only as décor', that they were not even consulted over issues concerning the Albanian population, such as sending security forces to prevent the opening ceremony of the TU in December 1994.5
And yet, the coalition survived this incident and SDSM and PDP remained in power until the next elections in 1998. Nonetheless, an illegal but functioning university using the Albanian language was difficult for Macedonian politicians to ignore, and the violence of the TU opening ceremony certainly attracted enough attention to the problem to prompt the government to react. This may be the reason the coalition survived, as over the next few years SDSM came up with proposals to introduce courses taught in Albanian in the Pedagogic Faculty in Skopje and to introduce ethnic quotas in universities for students from minority backgrounds, to increase their access to education.6 This was not what PDP demanded, nor what SDSM would have preferred had it not been for the violence in Tetovo, but it was a compromise, an initial attempt at accommodating the demands of the ethnic minorities and adopting a policy that would be acceptable for both sides. The first instance aimed at ethnic accommodation occurred only after political elites on both sides had resorted to drastic steps: Albanians to establishing illegal institutions, Macedonians to using violence.
Although the Law on languages of instruction was adopted in Parliament and the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of its alignment with constitutional principles upon subsequent challenges, it is difficult to see it as a success, either for ethnic relations or for elite accommodation in Macedonia. What followed only turned this initial victory into a disappointment. The Macedonian opposition at the time, conservative and more vocally nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, launched massive student protests against the law and brought thousands of students and citizens onto the streets, chanting slogans of ethnic hatred and intolerance. Meanwhile the opposition leaders deemed the law a 'dangerous precedent of raising the rights of national minorities above international standards'.7 This scared the already reluctant SDSM, as the proposed compromise not only lacked popular support, but allowed the opposition to take people to the streets and raise fears of a violent overthrow of the government.
No further instances of ethnic accommodation concerning the sensitive issue of
minority education followed. The Macedonian elites in government, outflanked by
5 Anonymous, former Minister in the Government of Republic of Macedonia: personal interview with the author, Skopje, 15 July 2010.
6 Law on the languages of instruction at the Pedagogical Faculty, Official Gazette of Republic of Macedonia (No.05/97), 6 February 1997.
7 VMRO-DPMNE reaction quoted in 'Deset godini od protestite koi go izmenija političkiot ambient' [Ten years from the protests that changed the political ambiance], Utrinski Vesnik, 17 February, 2007. Available at: utrinski.com.mk/?ItemID=3 B91761ECFEA5B479DDBAFDC6C0A2782
the more nationalist opposition, retreated and abandoned ethnic accommodation. Intolerant rhetoric and ethno-national mobilisation thus strangled the fledgling attempts for ethnic accommodation in government coalitions. Despite the relatively moderate stances of both Macedonian and Albanian partners in government, their hands were tied and little progress was achieved without formal power-sharing arrangements. The case of establishing TU in 1994 demonstrates the limits of the pre-2001 political system in Macedonia in encouraging elite accommodation and integrating the divided society.