Albania yesterday (16 March) warned Macedonia, where Albanians make up around a quarter of the population, not to try and turn a political crisis into an ethnic one.
Earlier this month, Macedonia’s rightwing president, Gjorge Ivanov, refused to give Social Democrat Zoran Zaev a mandate to form a coalition government with ethnic Albanian parties.
The Albanian demands, he said, would undermine the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ivanov’s move was swiftly denounced by the opposition as a “coup” and condemned by the United States and the European Union, which Macedonia aspires to join.
But thousands of Macedonians agree with the president and for the past two weeks have taken to the streets, chanting patriotic slogans and urging unity.
Their main problem is with the demand to make Albanian an official language in this Balkan country of 2.1 million inhabitants.
Albania’s President Bujar Nishani yesterday met with Ivanov on the sidelines of an international forum in Baku.
Nishani “voiced concern over general political situation and inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia”, a statement from his office said.
And he warned “that attempts to turn the political crisis into an ethnic crisis could have serious consequences for everyone,” it added.
The problem appeared to be settled in 2001 following a peace accord which ended a seven-month ethnic Albanian insurgency that left more than 100 people dead, with the deal providing more rights for the minority.
But snap elections in December, part of an EU-brokered deal aimed at solving long-running political troubles, has reawaken the issue in the former Yugoslav republic.
Russia has warned that the push by Tirana to introduce Albanian as a second language in Macedonia amounts to foreign interference and is contrary to the Macedonian constitution. Russia also says the EU plays a “detrimental role” by supporting the so-called “Albanian platform”.