Albanians Get Better Status in Amended Constitution


SKOPJE, Nov 16, 2001 -- (dpa) The Macedonian parliament Thursday night adopted constitutional changes that improve the position of the restive Albanian minority and are aimed at removing the cause of a bloody ethnic conflict.


The 15 amendments were agreed in a peace and reform deal of Macedonian and Albanian leaders on August 13 in Ohrid and in subsequent talks, mediated by European Union foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana on October 26.


The changes were enacted immediately after the 1 a.m. vote.


The new constitutional preamble, as set by the first amendment, introduces other ethnic groups, in addition to Macedonians, as constitutive nationalities.


"Citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, the Macedonian people, as well as the citizens that live within its borders, which are a part of the Albanian people, Turkish people, Vlach people, Serbian people," the new preamble says.


The second amendment introduces any language of a minority making up more than 20 percent of the population as an official language - it applies only to Albanians at this point.


Retaining Macedonian as the overall official language, it also allows the use of other languages as official in municipalities where the nationalities speaking them make up more than a fifth of the people.


The third amendment brings "equitable representation ... to all communities in public bodies at all levels and in other areas of public life", while amendments 10 through 12 regulate representation of ethnic communities in the national Security Council, the Republican Judicial Council and the Constitutional Court.


The Islamic religious community, Jewish religious community, Evangelical-Methodist communities and other religious groups are included in the constitution by the fourth amendment, joining the Macedonian Orthodox Church that already was named.


Amendment five strengthens the right of ethnic communities to preserve their identity and attributes, as well as cultural and educational rights.


Amendment six "guarantees the protection, promotion and enhancement of the historical and artistic heritage of Macedonia and all communities in Macedonia and the treasures of which it is composed".


Institutes of the Committee on Inter-Community Relations and positive discrimination in the voting procedure are introduced by amendments 7 and 8, for "laws that directly affect culture, use of language, education, personal documentation, and use of symbols".


Such legislation, but also the election of some officials, will also require majority support from non-Macedonian deputies in the assembly, with the Committee authorized to solve disputes.


Amendment 14 boosts local autonomy "on issues of ... public services, urban and rural planning, environmental protection, local economic development, local finances, communal activities, culture, sport, social security and child care, education, health care and other fields determined by law".


The final amendment initiates the constitutional changes.



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