By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonian education minister, Pance Kralev, has ordered four schools in a mainly Albanian part of the capital to remove their new Albanian names on the grounds that they are illegal.
The four schools at the centre of the dispute lie in mainly Albanian areas of the Macedonian capital but are currently named after Macedonian heroes.
Education Minister Pance Kralev threatened to press charges if the Skopje municipality of Cair fails to remove the plaques, put up two weeks ago.
“The first move is to press charges for the offence… afterwards, if they do nothing, we have other mechanisms at disposal,” Kralev warned on Thursday, without specifying what he had in mind.
Kralev said that he remained optimistic that the problem could be solved by agreement and that police would not be needed to remove the disputed plaques.
The local authority in Cair renamed “Cvetan Dimov” school as “Hasan Pristina”, while “Rajko Zinzifov” became “Ismail Kjemali”, “Nikola Vapcarov” became “Imri Elezi” and “Jane Sandanski” became “Jashar Bey”.
This week, media reports said that the municipality had started removing busts of the Macedonians from the school grounds.
Cair mayor Izet Mexhiti said they acted unilaterally after it became apparent that the ministry, run by an ethnic Macedonian, would not allow them to rename any schools.
Bickering over the names of the schools is part of an ongoing conflict over symbols between Macedonia’s main ruling VMRO DPMNE party and its Albanian partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI.
The trouble started in mid-August when Defence Minister Fatmir Besimi, an ethnic Albanian, paid homage to a war memorial put up to honour Albanian fighters in the 2001 conflict, angering ethnic Macedonians.
Tensions increased after VMRO DPMNE then laid before parliament a new draft law increasing the rights and privileges of members of the Macedonian military who fought in 2001.
The sticking point for the DUI was that the bill does not include former Albanian fighters whose former leaders now dominate the DUI. They have threatened to leave the government if the bill, already in parliament, passes.
The DUI recently responded with another provocative move, when its government ministers intonated the Albanian national anthem, not the Macedonian anthem, at the opening of a new school in the village of Dzepciste near the mainly Albanian western town of Tetovo.