The move will improve Macedonia-Albania relations and open the door to address the issues concerning the minority in the Mala Prespa region.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 04/04/13
Pustec, renamed Liqenas by Albania's communist authorities in the 1970s, will now bear its original name. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
The decision by Albania's parliament to restore Macedonian place names in Mala Prespa furthers Macedonia-Albania relations and fosters minority integration, experts said.
The names in Mala Prespa, a region in southeastern Albania with a predominantly Macedonian population, were changed to Albanian names by authorities in Tirana during the authoritarian rule of dictator Enver Hoxha.
Edmond Spaho, an MP of the ruling Democratic Party, initiated the request to parliament on March 12th. This is his second try; his attempt in 2009 failed when Socialist Party MPs quit parliament and stalled its work.
"This is a historical moment for the Macedonians in Albania. Pustec and all the populated settlements in this municipality are getting their authentic names back," Edmond Temelko, mayor of Pustec municipality in Mala Prespa, told SETimes.
Temelko said the Albanian government signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009 with minorities which allows local governments to name villages, roads and bridges with their traditional names.
With parliament's approval, the local government now has the right to restore the names of all eight villages in the Pustec municipality which are populated by ethnic Macedonians.
Macedonians live throughout Albania, but about 150,000 are concentrated in the Mala (Small) Prespa as well as Gora and Golo Brdo.
"This is an act of tolerance, understanding and respect towards one minority, but [also] a positive act of integration," Ilir Meta, president of the Socialist Movement of Integration and former prime minister of Albania, said.
Experts agree the decision is a step forward in improving inter-ethnic relations in Albania, and said it also presents an opening to address the issues facing the Macedonian minority there.
"It means the Albanian authorities are turning a new page in the protection of the national minorities, which will strengthen the latter's trust in the state that they live as equal citizens," Rubin Zemun, expert on minority issues at the NGO Evro Balkan, told SETimes.
Macedonian minority issues are a hot point in Albanian electorial politics. Issues include mother tongue education in schools, identification by ethnicity in the Albanian census and funds for local development.
Temelko said he reached out to the parliamentary parties in Albania to support the initiative, following an official request to the Albanian government and a petition sent to Korca.
Experts said the parliament's decision will also positively affect Albania's international position and good neighbourly relations.
"This will be mentioned in all international reports for respect of the rights of minorities in Albania," Vasil Sterjovski, member of the Macedonian Alliance for European Integration, told SETimes.
"Albania can [improve relations] by respecting the Framework Convention for the Protection of the National Minorities which it has signed and ratified in parliament, as well as to make projects and plans for its implementation. It will be good to sign a bilateral agreement for protection of the minorities, like Macedonia has done with Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro," Zemun said.
Mala Prespa residents said the parliament's decision has positive human rights connotations.
"No one ever used the Albanian names," Kristo Kristo, a resident of the Pustec municipality, told SETimes.
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