Eyewitness: University test for Macedonia peace plan

September 7, 2001

The Albanian-taught University of Tetovo reopens this autumn but its role in the reconciliation process between ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian authorities is still unclear.

Founded in 1994, the university has had an uneasy relationship with the government, which refuses to recognise it, arguing that it contravenes the constitution.

But a promised change in the law to permit Albanian-taught higher education in the state system will play a critical part in agreement to end the conflict.

Nato has a big interest in making the broader agreement work. Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at the University of Bradford, said Nato leaders were eager to avoid criticism of the Kosovo operation and to stop drawing neighbouring countries into the conflict "Usually, at the end of a war, there is a victor who imposes disarmament on the loser. In the case of Macedonia, the unusual thing is that disarmament is part of the negotiating process, not the outcome of it."

While early reports of the disarmament process were encouraging, big risks remained, he said. Not all weapons would be handed in, and a hard core of ethnic Albanians would reject the agreement.

James Pettifer, visiting professor at the Institute of Balkan Studies in Thessaloniki, said: "People often disagree afterwards on what was agreed.

"Unless Albanian is recognised as a second official language, the University of Tetovo will never be accepted in the state system.

"If Macedonia fails to fulfil its commitments on the university issue, then the Albanian community would see it as a betrayal and this, in the long run, could lead to more violence."

Jim Dingley, head of the language unit at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, questioned whether Macedonia had enough money to supply higher education in the two languages.

"Macedonia would have to deliver and be seen to deliver in making both sets of courses, Albanian-taught and Macedonian, of equal status. But who would set the criteria? And who would carry out the necessary monitoring?"

  • Ilinka Mitreva , Macedonia's minister for foreign affairs: "The majority of Macedonian citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin, did not accept civil war as a solution."
  • Will Albanian-taught courses be available only in the University of South-East Europe, proposed as a compromise by Max van der Stoel , commissioner for national minorities with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe?
  • Jack Straw : "This is a country which has been through crisis and trauma."

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