And what about the Albanian platform?

It was an interesting development, when the Albanian parties in Macedonia launched their platform. One should not remain silent about it because, yes, the Albanian parties have a point.

In recent years, the issue of the Macedonian identity has been shaped by one party, referring to a glorious past under Aleksander the Great and pretending that a national identity can rely on baroque buildings and statues of so-called hero’s form the past. The problem: this national identity is not the one a majority of the inhabitants of Macedonia recognize as theirs, regardless the community they belong to.

In a real democracy, the majority ruling the country should always protect the interests of all the citizens, especially those not belonging to the majority. The national identity as shaped in recent years, is problematic, as most communities in the country (Vlachs, Turks, Roma, Albanians,…) don’t have any affinity with it. For many Macedonians it is also problematic, because the history taught at school increasingly tends to shift away from the scientific truth. Instead one invents a history, glorifying the past and forgetting the horrors of the many conflicts the country went through in the past.

This probably is the main reason — and a valid one — why the Albanian parties demand changes.

The key question for all communities however is: how do we create a real national identity? Not by looking backwards all the time, but by looking forward to the future and how citizens all together can improve the living conditions in the country.

One example: the baroque buildings. If instead of these constructions one would have invested in the construction of passive buildings, buildings for which you don’t need any or very little additional energy to heat or cool them, that would set an example. All over the world, people would admire the Macedonian courage to actively engage in the fight against climate change — and urban pollution. This way, the country would set an example, which over time would become part of the national identity. Yes, by building low energy buildings, you proved to be innovative, to care about the future. And this would certainly support economic development, as the country soon would be thé place to be for any company with innovative ideas.

Now back to the platform of the Albanian political parties: indeed an outcry that the issue of the national identity is mismanaged. Let’s look into some of it:

  • the language issue: your mother tongue is not something you chose, you are born this way. And, yes, you should foster your mother tongue, and you have the right to speak it at home and in your neighborhood. The UNESCO states it the following way: “The right to receive education in one’s mother tongue or native language is recognized in several international instruments. Under the provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992), States are required to take appropriate measures so that, wherever possible, persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue. Similarly, indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning, as is provided in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). Provisions for education in mother tongue are contained in several international conventions, namely, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (1989), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990).” Is it too much to ask for the countrywide recognition of Albanian as a second language — a community representing one fifth of the total population? It certainly would help to strengthen a national identity, where Albanian citizens can see themselves as Macedonian citizens. In addition it would be good to decentralize what we call person-related issues (such as education, media, culture) by moving these competencies to the non majority communities. The principle of subsidiarity, also enshrined in the Treaty on the European Union (article 5), and not the fear for federalism and separation, should be the guiding principle here. Subsidiarity means that decisions should be taken as close as possible to the level where they will have impact.
  • the flag, national anthem and code of arms: a broad parliamentary debate on this certainly make sense, with the aim to come to an agreement where all communities actively accept and support these symbols as part of a common national identity. Adapting these symbols to the national reality is not a shame, but will help to get everyone on board.
  • the dark period 1912–1956: I talked to many people — belonging to all communities — who told me horrific stories about events that happened to their grand parents and relatives during this period. Part of the current divide in the whole Macedonian society finds its origin here. I believe a parliamentary resolution can be a starting point, but will not be the solution. There certainly is a need for the creation of a special commission for truth and reconciliation, looking into the events during this period (and probably later as well) and allowing people to talk openly about it — a first step to accept the past and to leave it behind — similar to the process conducted in South-Africa.

To conclude: national identity is about how you cooperate and live together as citizens, within the borders of the same country. It is about building together your future in the interest of all the citizens, paying special attention to all those who aren’t part of the majority. That is the essence of democracy.

Peter Vanhoutte