A debate in parliament over a controversial law on armed forces exposed predictable divisions between ethnic Macedonians who support it and Albanians who oppose it.The law, put forward by the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party, concerns the rights of members of the Macedonian armed forces who fought in the 2001 armed conflict, and their families.
The draft law has angered ethnic Albanian parties, which either want the same rights extended to former Albanian guerrilla fighters and their families in the 2001 conflict – or the bill dropped altogether.The government’s own junior coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, also opposes the bill, putting the government stability in question.
At Wednesday’s session of parliament, a VMRO DPMNE legislator, Vele Gjorgievski, insisted that the law’s aim was “to make a real step forward towards [ethnic] reconciliation” and to “amend the historic injustice made towards the defenders [of the country], among whom there were also Albanians”.
But this statement was ridiculed by ethnic Albanian legislators.
“I never heard an explanation so full of rubbish,” Zeljadin Sela, from the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, said.
He added that this “anti-Albanian” draft was fast uniting all Albanian forces in the country against it.
Xhevad Ademi, from the DUI, agreed that the law had divided Macedonian legislators on ethnic lines.
“This will be a long and exhausting battle but at the end the Albanians will win it,” Ademi predicted.
Another DUI legislator, Arben Ljabenista, called both the draft and their partner party’s explanations for it “miserable” and “cowardly”.
The country’s biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats, SDSM said that in principle it supported the law.
Radmila Shekerinska of the SDSM said that the law was not intended against ethnic Albanians.
But she also said that responsibility for re-kindling ethnic tensions in the country lay with the government of Nikola Gruevski.
The DUI has previously threatened to block the work of the parliament by submitting hundreds of amendments, and possibly leave the government, if VMRO DPMNE keeps pushing for the law.
After being discussed in commissions, the law is to be put before a plenary session of parliament next week.