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Macedonia Opposition Sees Red Over Albanian Flag Day

March 21, 2012

Opposition Social Democrats are not happy with the government plans to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Albania’s red and black flag.

By Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 20.03.2012

At a session of parliament’s commission on culture on Tuesday, opposition Social Democrats demanded that the anniversary be struck off the national agenda for the commemoration of events for this year.

“Macedonia has enough national holidays already and this will only further raise [inter-ethnic] tensions,” Gordan Georgiev, vice-president of the party and chairman of the commission, said.

The holiday, celebrated on November 28, is very dear to ethnic Albanians who make up one-quarter of Macedonia’s population of 2.1 million, and for years they have pushed for its inclusion in the list of Macedonian holidays.

A hundred years ago in November, Albanians, proclaiming independence from the Ottoman Empire, first hoisted the red and black flag of the Albanian hero Skanderbeg in Vlore.

Last month, the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, failed to persuade the parliamentary commission to include the day on the list.

But the ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has since endorsed a smiliar request by its junior ethnic Albanian partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, and put the anniversary on the proposed national calendar.

This was done “in the spirit of good inter-ethnic relations” a VMRO DPMNE legislator, also members of the commission on culture, told Balkan Insight. Speaking under condition of anonymity, the legislator insisted that this did not automatically mean that they had agreed to make Albanian Flag Day a national holiday in the future.

Although the actual anniversary is far ahead, various events to mark it have already begun. To honor the occasion, on Wednesday the National Gallery of Macedonia opens an exhibition dubbed “100 artists, 100 paintings”, initiated by the Albanian embassy in Skopje.

Some of the media have queried why the permanent collection of the gallery has to closed to make space for the new exhibition.

“On the occasion of such special events the head of the gallery has the right to allow removal of the permanent exhibition. All the artworks will be reinstated later,” the head of the gallery, Halide Paloshi, replied to the Dnevnik daily.

In 2001, Macedonia suffered a short-lived armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and the security forces. The conflict ended that year with the signing of the Ohrid Peace Agreement, an internationally brokered accord guaranteeing greater rights to the Albanians.

From the beginning of March Macedonia has experienced the worst outbreak of inter-ethnic gang violence since 2001, however.

Gangs of mainly young people attacked people in commuter buses and on the streets in capital and in other towns, leaving at least 15 injured.

Back in 2007 Macedonia almost doubled the number of holidays reaching a number of 27. Instated at the behest of Gruevski’s government, most of the new holidays mark events related to the country’s religious and ethnic communities.

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