By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
If ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia get their way, the capital may soon get its first batch of streets renamed after Albanian heroes.
Authorities in Skopje have started evaluating proposals from Macedonia’s two largest Albanian parties to rename about 50 streets in the capital after ethnic Albanian heroes.
The proposals come from the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, which is part of the centre-right government, and the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA.
Albanians make up about a quarter of country’s population and about the same proportion of the population of Skopje.
Streets named after the 15th-century Albanian warrior George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, the writer Ismail Kadare, former Albanian Prime Minister Hasan Prishtina and the 19th-century Albanian revolutionary Dervish Cara are likely to be approved by the city council, sources in the DUI told Balkan Insight.
There have also been proposals to name streets after the Albanian capital, Tirana, and the Kosovo capital, Prishtina.
“It is high time that street names started to reflect reality in the capital,” a DUI member of the city council said.
Macedonia’s main ruling party, VMRO DPMNE, remains cagey about whether it will back the changes. This party holds a majority on the city council.
“I’m only hearing for the first time that we have agreed to change street names,” the coordinator of the VMRO DPMNE caucus on the council, Dafinka Sazdova, said.
Unofficially, the renaming of Skopje streets for the first time in two decades is part of a wider bid to refresh Skopje’s old odonyms that mainly date from the Socialist era. VMRO DPMNE and DUI officials say a list of about 1,000 new street names is in the pipeline.
Violeta Ackovska, history professor at Skopje state university, says changing the names is a natural process. “History in the Balkans is turbulent and each change in the political system brings its own heroes,” she noted.
But she urges caution, saying a consensus needs to be reached that the person chosen for the honour has played a positive role in the country’s history.
In 2001 Macedonia saw an armed conflict between Albanian insurgents and Macedonian security forces. The conflict ended the same year with a peace accord that guaranteed greater tights to Albanians.
As part of the deal, Skopje altered its street signs to include names written in Albanian. But the actual street names have remained unchanged from the Yugoslav era.
The last attempt to rename some 40 streets in Skopje happened in 1993, shortly after Macedonia became independent. However, the Constitutional Court annulled this move.
As a result, Skopje’s central square which then was renamed “Macedonia”, is still formally named after former Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito.