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Home arrow Political science arrow After Ethnic Conflict : Policy-making in Post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia

Case 2: Compulsory Macedonian in Primary Schools

Political elites were aware of the divisive trend in education, which led to segregation, but did not act to alter the direction of education reforms towards building an integrated multi-ethnic educational system. The OFA says nothing about integrating the ethnic groups through education, merely that '[in] primary and secondary education, instruction will be provided in the students' native languages'.22 That is also the criterion for measuring the progress of education reforms and the successful implementation of the OFA, as required for EU and NATO integration. Naturally, the OFAsays nothing against multi-ethnic integration in education and these two policy directions are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But the OFA offered no guidelines that could be used to overcome the difficulties, resulting in a painful trial-and-error cycle of policy adjustments to address the symptoms of growing segregation in Macedonian schools.

The outcomes from the first round of minority education policy suggest that reforms focusing on a single ethnic group attract greater support among that group's members than cross-group reforms. As some critics argue, power-sharing does not provide incentives for cross-group politics.23 Instead it encourages political elites to only seek single-group support for their platforms. Since 2001, Albanians have enjoyed de-facto functional autonomy in the area of education. From primary school to post-graduate study Albanians have separate educational institutions, designed and managed by their leaders. The attempt to impose compulsory Macedonian was seen as encroaching upon this autonomy and elicited negative reactions by Albanian politicians, who have been enjoying the benefits of the ethnically exclusive policy domain in education. With the additional benefit of presenting such ethno-centric policies as fulfilling the requirements set by the OFA,

22 Ohrid Framework Agreement, Section 6: Education.

23 Donald Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University of California, 1985) argues that power-sharing hardens group boundaries and prevents moderate crossgroup politicians from winning. a radical change in the direction of minority education policy seems very unlikely, as the case with compulsory Macedonian language in primary schools illustrates. On the 2006 elections the government changed, seeing SDSM and DUI replaced by a coalition of VMRO and PDSh, as the Albanian partner. Despite the changes in the course of many policy areas, the VMRO – PDSh coalition did not reverse minority education reforms. Although while in opposition VMRO opposed many of the measures the previous government adopted, in order to roll-back those reforms they needed a double majority in parliament, which they were unlikely to win since that would entail PDSh voting against the mother-tongue education measures for Albanians. While consecutive education ministers launched various projects in education, they did not adopt multi-ethnic or multi-lingual education as a policy priority.24 By the next elections and the new coalition government between VMRO and DUI in 2008, education for ethnic minorities had fallen down the reform priorities agenda. Each group was content to preserve its control over education for their own ethnic group, guarding their policy competence from external interference. The government's 2006 four-year programme had little to propose on minority education and nothing concerning multi-ethnic education or

ethnic integration through education.25

Therefore, it was not the government coalition, or even the opposition, who put the issue of integrated education on the political agenda. Rather, international organisations and a few domestic NGOs kept the problems of ethnic segregation and ethnic violence in schools in the spotlight. The news abounded with stories about the problems in Macedonian education of ethnic segregation, with violent incidents and demands for separate shifts and buildings for Macedonian and Albanian students.26 In addition to media attention, the issue was taken up by some of the influential international organisations present in Macedonia, such as the USAID and OSCE, which pressured the government to take measures to address the issue. The government coalition, faced with domestic and external pressure, responded by committing to prepare a strategy for integrated education with the assistance of OSCE's High Commissioner for National Minorities (HCNM).

24 Pero Stojanovski, Minister for education 2008–09, 'Obrazovanie za promocija na vistinskite vrednosti' [Education for promoting true values]. Interview in Prosveten Rabotnik, 56(964) (March 2009). Nikola Todorov, Minister for education 2009–2010, 'Dobar nastavnik – osnova za dobro obrazovanie'[Good teacher – basis for good education], Interview in Prosveten Rabotnik, 56(967/8) (November 2009). Both interviews available at: prosveten.mk (accessed 20 November 2010).

25 Government of Republic of Macedonia, Program for the work of the Government of Republic of Macedonia for the period 2006–2010 (Skopje, 2006). Available at: vlada.mk/files/programa_za_rabota_na_vladata_mk.pdf (accessed 20 November 2010).

26 Among many news stories: 'Violent high-school protests', A1 News, 23 October 2002: a1.com.mk/vesti/default.aspx?VestID=13259 (accessed 20 November 2010); 'High-school Fight between Macedonians and Albanians in Struga', Utrinski Vesnik, 28 March 2009: utrinski.com.mk (accessed 20 November 2010). A long-term strategic document, the Strategy for integrated education was prepared by the Ministry of Education and OSCE HCNM without the deliberate consultation and feedback that a legislative procedure entails. Although Albanian politicians were not closely involved in drafting the strategy, their expectations were that if, once adopted, the strategy called for further reforms in education, the double-majority vote requirement in parliament would be sufficient to ensure acceptable amendments on the existing education legislation. Indeed, the strategy proposed five sets of recommendations relating to: integration through common activities, through better knowledge of languages, better training of teachers, curriculum reform and harmonisation and school management.27 It aimed to open up multi-ethnic integration through education while not limiting the right to mother-tongue education for all ethnic groups in Macedonia.

Shortly after the strategy was adopted in 2009, the ministry of education made a decision to introduce compulsory Macedonian language classes for all Albanian students from first year of primary school. The minister, Nikola Todorov from VMRO, claimed that the Law on primary education requires all students to learn Macedonian, as it is the official state-language in Macedonia, and although Albanian children were already learning Macedonian at school, classes started in fourth grade. English classes on the other hand started in first grade, which the minister found to be unacceptable in the public educational system.28 He justified the measure with the recommendations from the strategy for integrated education, which suggested learning Macedonian from the first grade, but also called for incentives for Macedonian children to learn Albanian, a recommendation that the minister did not address or include in his decision.29 To make matters worse, the minister announced the decision during winter holidays, to take effect at the start of the second term of the school year, rather than waiting until the start of the next year.

This decision of the ministry of education caused many bitter reactions from the international community in Macedonia, the Albanian teachers, parents and NGOs. The measure was immediately rejected by Albanian teachers and parents, who claimed that the curriculum of first graders was already too heavy and children could not study three languages from the age of six. Albanian parents threatened not to send their children to school and Albanian teachers' union threatened not to teach if the minister insisted on proceeding with the controversial measure.

27 Ministry of Education and Science, Čekori kon integrirano obrazovanie vo obrazovniot sistem na Republika Makedonija [Steps towards integrated educational system in Republic of Macedonia], Skopje, 2009. Available at: mon.gov.mk/index. php?option=com_content&view=article&id=649:integriranoobrazovanie&catid=67:novos timon&Itemid=128 (accessed 20 November 2010).

28 Nikola Todorov, cited in 'Albančinjata mora da učat makedonski' [Albanian children have to learn Macedonian], Vreme, 14 January 2010. Available at: time.mk/read/2d78dfa648/5f0c6404e7/index.html (accessed 20 November 2010).

29 Ministry of Education and Science of RM, Strategy for integrated education. NGOs quickly collected 15,000 signatures from the population to challenge the decision in front of the Constitutional Court.

 
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