Macedonian lawmakers pass law making Albanian 2nd language

Lawmakers in Macedonia passed a law Thursday making Albanian the country's second official language, in a parliamentary vote boycotted by the main opposition party.

The law passed with the backing of 69 lawmakers in the 120-member parliament. It still requires approval by the country's president — who had earlier expressed strong misgivings over its constitutionality — before taking effect. Parliament had voted in favor of a draft of the bill in November.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million people, and the new law allows them to use Albanian in communications with all official institutions throughout the country.

A previous law, which arose from a 2001 peace deal ending an armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces, granted that right only in areas where the minority was larger than 20 percent of the population.

Macedonia's main opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE party said that the law contravenes the country's constitution, which stipulates that "the Macedonian language and its Cyrillic alphabet is the official language in the Republic of Macedonia."

A party statement argued that the new law won't lead to real improvements in the rights of the Albanian minority.

"On the contrary, it deepens the differences," it said. "Bilingualism will create legal chaos. It will create inefficient institutions that will be lost in the translation, instead of being of real benefit to the citizens," VMRO-DPMNE said.

Across the border in Albania, Prime Minister Edi Rama hailed the decision as "a historical achievement that democratizes and strengthens Macedonia itself." Albania's main opposition Democratic Party also welcomed the decision.

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