An international observer explained that the Ohrid Agreement did not build ‘bridges’ between the communities only ‘because it is a peace accord, it wasn’t an intensive, detailed reform package’.143 Yet by 2008, the Macedonian government was under strong international pressure to introduce ‘corrective measures’ in its education policy. It attempted to do so through the Strategy for Integrated Education (intended to reverse the ethnolinguistic separation in schools) and through the creation of a new Directorate for Development and Promotion of Education in the Languages of the Communities.
The Strategy for Integrated Education was formulated by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Ministry of Education to address the increasing separation of children of different ethnic backgrounds into parallel schools, and avoid ‘comparative disadvantages among the ethnic groups’ in future employment prospects.144
While the strategy was being drafted, ethnic Albanian parties ‘spoke quite clearly against it politically’ and expressed their worries that integration would amount to assimilation into a Macedonian culture and language. They temporised and ‘came up with all kinds of excuses’, including complaints about the lack of preliminary consultation and local involvement, protesting that learning further languages would burden children.145 In particular, ethnic Albanian parties resisted the strategy’s proposal to teach Macedonian as a subject ‘as soon as possible’ in Albanian-, Serbian- and Turkish-medium classes. As a political counterweight, the strategy proposed offering the languages of ‘communities over 20 percent and the other communities’ as elective courses.146 Ethnic Albanian parties argued that the strategy was asymmetrical: it forced children attending Albanian-, Serbian- and Turkish-medium classes to study Macedonian from first grade, but it did not require children studying in Macedonian to learn another local language.147 Such asymmetry was inevitable: the constitution demands the teaching of Macedonian to all citizens, but does not ‘give [anyone] means to force’ Macedonian native speakers to learn other local languages.148 Thus, as one of the drafters of the strategy put it, forcing every pupil to learn Albanian would be ‘political suicide’.149
Even before the strategy was completed, Minister of Education Nikola Todorov announced that from September 2009, every child would learn Macedonian from first grade. The OSCE High Commissioner on
National Minorities Knud Vollebaek admitted that ‘this initiative has caused some disquiet among non-majority communities’.150 In fact, ‘nonmajority communities’ interpreted the announcement as a ‘pure provocation based on ethnic dominance’.151 Ethnic Albanian political parties cried assimilation and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) appealed to the Constitutional Court. Ethnic Albanian parents and teachers protested against the decision, and from January 2010, students enrolled in Albanian-language classes boycotted Macedonian lessons.152 In July 2010, Macedonia’s Constitutional Court declared that teaching the Macedonian language from first grade contradicted existing laws and annulled the provision.153 Todorov, who had emerged as ‘the saviour of Macedonian identity against the Albanians’, promised to ‘seek other ways to enforce the program’.154
Meanwhile, the Strategy for Integrated Education had ‘basically died with language’.155 After Todorov’s announcement, the strategy remained identified with one politically controversial provision: the introduction of Macedonian-language lessons from first grade. As explained in Chaps. 5 and 7, some aspects of the strategy were later implemented, but ‘language is a political issue, so it’s left aside’.156
Recep Ali Cupi explains that when the gulf between the ethnic Albanian and ethnic Macedonian communities deepened and violent incidents started occurring in schools, governments began focusing on educational initiatives for children of Roma, Turkish, Serb, Vlach and Bosniak backgrounds. Attention to the smaller communities increased after the sidelining of the Strategy for Integrated Education: they emerged as a potential political buffer between the ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians. Reform initiatives could be ‘tested’ on smaller communities and evaluated in a less politicised environment before being mainstreamed.157 Similarly, smaller communities could provide badly needed legitimacy and support for educational change.
To tackle the sense of political and educational exclusion of the Roma, Turks, Serbs, Vlachs and Bosniaks, the Directorate for Development and Promotion of Education in the Languages of the Communities (DDPELC) was created in 2002. The DDPELC was tasked with furthering education in the Roma, Vlach and Bosniak languages, but initially maintained a low profile.158
The curriculum was also amended to introduce the elective subject in Language and Culture of the Roma, Vlach and Bosniak communities. From 2008, the subject was offered one hour per week in third grade and two hours per week between fourth and ninth grade.159 The Ministry of Education maintains that the elective subject is only open to children belonging to the Roma, Vlach and Bosniak communities.160 Indeed, Cupi argues that the elective subject aims to benefit children who do not speak the language of the community they belong to at home or, as he puts it, ‘don’t know their own language’. The elective course aims to ‘strengthen [children’s] belonging, their identity, which is very important. Not to give a space for cultural assimilation’.161 This suggests that schools are employed to foster the internal cohesion and collective esteem of smaller communities in Macedonia’s consociation, in the hope that this will temper their sense of political exclusion.
This approach produced negligible results. For one, very few students selected the elective course in 2008-2009, leaving the Ministry of Education and international observers puzzled.162 In fact, a study on Roma Language and Culture found that the elective subject was ‘more a declarative commitment of the government and relevant state institutions than [a] reality’.163 Between 2008 and 2010, information about the subject often did not reach illiterate families, those taking seasonal work abroad or those without a permanent address.164 The BoE, the ministry and individual schools provided contradictory information over who could select the subject, and the minimum number of students required to establish a class was sometimes set at 15, sometimes at 20.165 Even when classes were established, teachers lacked pedagogical training and teaching qualifications.166 Curricula existed but no one had responded to the call for textbooks, so no teaching materials were available.167 Finally, schools often discouraged parents from signing up and parents feared overburdening their children and singling them out as different from other pupils. The study concluded that ‘the State has not secured [the] necessary preconditions for the implementation of the said elective subject’.168
Since 2010, the DDPELC has worked to address the shortcomings in the implementation of the elective subject in Language and Culture of the Roma, Vlach and Bosniak communities. It organises meetings with parents in schools and has appointed textbook authors and published textbooks. The DDPELC has also attempted to provide better training for teachers of Language and Culture of the communities, and to create University chairs in the languages of the smaller communities. In 2012, it succeeded in introducing an elective course in Roma Culture and Language in the Pedagogical Faculty of the Saints Cyril and Methodius University.169
Enrolments in the elective classes have increased since 2010 but a fundamental dilemma remains. The state provides education in the Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish and Serbian languages according to a language shelter (or even voluntary segregation) model. Yet children from smaller ethnic communities are forced to study in a language that is not their mother tongue. They can only study their mother tongue or heritage language as an additional subject. This reflects the inter-communal power hierarchy in Macedonia’s consociation and contributes to reproducing it. Children from smaller minorities face greater difficulties at school because of their limited proficiency in the language of instruction, but they also have an additional workload compared with children of Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish and Serbian backgrounds. Thus, the Foundation Open Society Macedonia observes that ‘the right of these communities to study their language and culture is being provided to the detriment of the principle of equality among pupils’.170
Ironically, these considerations are of limited interest to many parents, who often would prefer additional classes in English or Macedonian to the elective language and culture of the Roma, Vlach and Bosniak communities.171 While appreciating opportunities to cultivate their mother tongues and community traditions, members of smaller communities are deeply aware that ‘the market forces say you have to know Macedonian and if you want more you have to know Albanian’.172