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The DUI was demanding for compulsory Macedonian to be treated as an education policy issue that needs to be resolved in parliament by using the double majority. Such a procedure would require their full support before the proposal could be adopted. However, in a move revealing the lack of intra-coalition agreement on the issue, VMRO, through the education minister, rejected the calls to use the available power-sharing and reconciliation mechanisms to come to a more balanced solution, which triggered a government crisis. The rift between the coalition partners was immediately seized upon by the opposition. PDSh accused the government of discriminating against Albanians,30 and accused the DUI of collaborating with VMRO to assimilate the Albanians in Macedonia. The opposition objected to the manner in which the DUI was neglected in the policy-making process, not the contents of the measure. A former minister of education from PDSh accounted how his own daughter learned Macedonian since pre-school age, but that it was a decision for the Albanians to make, not one to be imposed from above.31
In response to opposition criticisms, DUI's Fazli Veliu, a senior NLA and DUI figure, who addressed the PM Nikola Gruevski in a public letter stating that the DUI will never support this decision of the government, would leave the coalition if VMRO proceeds with adopting such discriminatory decisions, and compared the anti-Albanian methods used by Gruevski to those of Milošević.32 While the letter was not publicly embraced by DUI leader Ali Ahmeti, his relations with Veliu were such that no one doubted that the DUI leadership was familiar with the contents of the letter and that it was intended as a warning to VMRO about the survival of the government coalition.33 Not surprisingly, the nationalist statements of Albanian political elites triggered equally ethnically charged responses on the Macedonian side. Soon after Veliu's letter to the PM, the Association of Macedonian Veterans from 2001, politically close to VMRO, responded with a
30 Ilyas Halimi, Vice-President of PDSh, quoted in 'Makedončinjata da učat albanski' [Macedonian childern to learn Albanian], Utrinski Vesnik, 1 September 2009. Miruse Hoxha, Vice-President of PDSh, quoted in 'DPA se oglasi za izučuvanjeto na makedonski jazik od prvo oddelenie' [PDSh view on learning Macedonian from first grade], Kanal 5 News, 16 January 2010: kanal5.com.mk/default.aspx?mId=37&eventId=56875
31 Anonymous, Former Minister of Education and MP for PDSH: personal interview with the author, 22 July 2010.
32 Fazli Veliu, Founder of DUI, public letter to PM Gruevski published by ALSAT-M TV News, 25 January 2010.
33 Fazli Veliu is a maternal uncle of DUI leader Ali Ahmeti, and his closest collaborator since their time in UçK army in Kosovo in 1997–1999 and NLA army in Macedonia in 2001. public letter to Veliu, accusing him of anti-Macedonian rhetoric, disrespect of the OFA as well as the many benefits that the VMRO-led government had brought to Albanians in the country.34 In only ten days, what started as a decision to allegedly bring the two ethnic groups closer through integrated education, developed into a fully-fledged government crisis with worrying signs about the state of ethnic relations in the country.
The OSCE High Commissioner for Minority Rights Knut Vollebaek sent an urgent letter to the government and the minister of education asking to defer the implementation of the decision and to conduct additional preparatory work before proceeding with it.35 On the brink of a diplomatic crisis on top of the rising domestic one, representatives of the international community in Macedonia quickly got involved and demanded deferral of the measures. EU and US ambassadors tried to reconcile the DUI and VMRO leaders by organising informal meetings with the leadership of the two coalition partners and by brokering an agreement between them. The two most influential ambassadors in Macedonia, involved in resolving the problem that the compulsory Macedonian language teaching measure created, confirmed that the problem was not in the contents of the measure, but in the manner in which it was being 'rammed through'.36 Imposed without conducting the necessary preparatory work with the local stakeholders or consulting the coalition partners, it struck a sensitive note with the Albanian leadership by reminding them of the policies and assimilation measures which were often imposed on Albanians in the former Yugoslavia.37 Even more importantly, by attempting to enact measures in education without using the double-majority procedures in Parliament, VMRO appeared to be taking away the bargaining leverage of the Albanian coalition partner and reducing it to its pre-2001 insignificant role in government.
The government coalition survived the crisis. The leaders of the two parties in government, VMRO's Nikola Gruevski and DUI's Ali Ahmeti, met behind closed doors and, prompted by external actors, resolved the problems. The meeting was informal and no conclusions from the conversation were made public, but the crack in the government coalition was repaired. The minister of education did not withdraw the decision, but it was not implemented as the majority of schools across
34 'Pismo na pismoto od Veliu' [Letter to the letter from Veliu], Alfa TV News, 26 January 2010. Available at: time.mk/read/cfb43ca5c0/0defbda141/index.html 35 Excerpts from Vollebaek's letter quoted in 'Ne brzajte so jazikot' [No hurry with the language], Vreme, 27 January 2010. Available at: vreme.com. mk/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabindex=0&tabid=1&ArticleID=132413&EditionID=1928
(accessed 20 November 2010).
36 Anonymous, Western state Ambassador to Macedonia: personal interview with the author, Skopje, 23 July 2010. Anonymous, EU ambassador to Macedonia: personal interview with the author, Skopje, 14 July 2010.
37 Both Veliu's letter's references to Milošević and interviews with Albanian politicians contained comparisons with Yugoslav time assimilation practices, signalling sensitivity to those policy legacies. the state ignored the ministry's decision and did not teach Macedonian during the second term. In the meantime, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling stating that the decision to introduce compulsory Macedonian was unconstitutional, because all decisions concerning the education of minorities had to be made following the double-majority parliamentary procedure. In the same ruling the Constitutional Court reasserted that Parliament was the only institution in Macedonia that could adopt laws and interpret their meaning, not the minister, while in case of conflicting interpretations, the Inter-ethnic Council in Parliament served as a reconciliation body.38 It was a ruling stating that the post-2001 constitutional order in Macedonia and the power-sharing mechanisms introduced in the constitutional amendments have been violated by using an executive decision where legislative procedure should be applied. Ultimately, the Constitutional Court's ruling reaffirmed the permanence of power-sharing principles in policy making, which prevented similar attempts to change policies bypassing parliament.
This case demonstrates that the veto power that Albanian politicians gained with the OFA has had significant impact on the policy process. Even though VMRO tried to bypass the double-majority by avoiding the legislative procedure, the Constitutional Court reaffirmed the importance of the double-majority voting procedure as the mechanism protecting non-majority groups from being out-voted. Moreover, it highlights the importance of legacies of discrimination, whose effect is clearer when one notes that the contents of the proposed measure – learning Macedonian from first grade – was not itself controversial, but rather the manner in which it was introduced, resembling past discriminatory measures.
Finally, this case opens a more general question about the political actors' perceptions of and attitudes to power-sharing. Power-sharing literature claims that political elites tend to benefit from it, as it enables them to remain in power as representatives of their ethnic group. Many criticisms aimed at power-sharing accuse it of being too dependent on elites for its successful functioning, arguing that only an 'elite cartel', not the population, benefits from such an arrangement.39 However, the actions of Macedonian political elites in this case suggest that they have not fully accepted power-sharing as a permanent part of the political system. Despite short-term costs, some among the Macedonian politicians may prefer going back to pre-2001 arrangements when no compromises with Albanian coalition partners were necessary, threatening the stability of the post-conflict political arrangement that OFA introduced. This indicates a continuing lack of unity among the political elites in Macedonia, as ten years after the signing of OFA, the basic principles of the political system and the rules of political competition are still being implicitly disputed by some.
38 Constitutional Court of Republic of Macedonia, Ruling No.70/2010–0-1, 14 July 2010. Available at: ustavensud.mk/domino/WEBSUD.nsf
39 See Sue M. Halpern, 'The Disorderly Universe of Consociational Democracy', in
West European Politics, 9(2) (1986): 181–97.