“The Macedonian authorities should implement policies that encourage interaction and understanding between ethnic communities and promote social cohesion while protecting diversity,” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, after a five-day follow-up visit to “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” between 29 January and 2 February.
The peace agreement that ended an inter-ethnic conflict in 2001 has led to changes, for example, in the fields of equitable representation of communities in public institutions, decentralisation and the use of languages. However, social cohesion has not been achieved. “Macedonian society remains deeply divided along ethnic and linguistic lines and it is high time for political leaders to devise an integration strategy to overcome these divisions,” said Commissioner Muižnieks.
The Commissioner was particularly concerned about increased separation between ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian children, who have little opportunity to meet, learn and play together because the education system is divided according to language of instruction. Separation breeds mistrust, stereotypes and prejudices. The Commissioner visited two schools in Tetovo and one in the Shuto Orizari neighbourhood in Skopje. He learned with interest about the implementation of projects in some schools that enable children to mix in joint extra-curricular activities. While encouraging the authorities to continue these projects, the Commissioner also urged them to develop a more systematic and long-term policy to avoid separation between children from different ethnic communities in the education system. He also urged the authorities to promote possibilities from an early age to learn the Macedonian language for all children and Albanian and other non-majority languages in areas where such communities live in significant numbers.