Serbian-language school in Albania is a sign of improving relations

23/01/2014

A new school in Hamil will serve Serbian students in their native language.

By Erl Murati for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 23/01/14

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A Serbian-language school recently opened in Hamil. [Erl Murati/SETimes]

Albania and Serbia are improving relations by attending to the needs of their respective national minorities.

The warming of relations has gained momentum following the European Parliament's recommendation for Albania to obtain EU candidate member status, but the country is encouraged to ensure it develops an environment of greater tolerance toward national minorities.

Albania opened a primary school this month that conducts instruction in the Serbian language in the village of Hamil near Fier, 150 kilometres southwest of Tirana. The school will serve 60 Serbian students.

"The opening of this school makes it possible for our children to learn their native Serbian language and pass it to other generations," Eqerem Dulevic, head of the Serbian association Jedinstvo, told SETimes.

Dulevic said the opening the school is significant not only for the Serbs of Hamil but also for all other areas in Albania where Serbs live.

Ludovik Markic, a 41-year-old trader of sanitary appliances in Hamil, said he is excited to send his daughter to a school whose language of instruction is Serbian.

"Until the age of 6, I did not know Albanian because my parents spoke Serbian at home. I learned Albanian at school. Now my daughter speaks Albanian and does not know Serbian. At last, she can learn her native language," Markic told SETimes.

The Serbian embassy in Tirana, which provided support for the building of the school, praised the opportunity for the Serbian minority to preserve their heritage.

"The school not only keeps alive the native language of the Serbian community, but embodies the significance and value of the relations between the two countries," said Miroljub Zaric, Serbia's ambassador to Albania.

Meanwhile, Serbia has allowed the Albanian government to supply books to Albanian children living in Presevo in the south of Serbia.

Albania-Serbia relations were frozen during the 1999 Kosovo war, but the situation has steadily improved since, and both countries are making efforts to further improve relations.

Albania officials said Prime Minister Edi Rama will soon visit Belgrade to sign agreements in the fields of economy, energy and tourism to lay the framework for co-operation.

Relations between Albania and Serbia are on the right track, said Vangjel Dule, leader of the Union for Human Rights Party, which defends the rights of minorities in Albania.

"The opening of the Serbian school is a gesture to be applauded. At the same time, it highlights the problems in the education system in Albania regarding minority education. There are still residues from the communist times about the right to minority education. A state of European parameters, like the one we aim to erect, is obliged to guarantee that right," Dule told SETimes.

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Serbian association representatives in Albania said their community numbers 20,000, many times more than the official 2011 census figure of 500.

Serbian representatives in Albanian institutions said they are requesting the Albanian government to allocate funds to finance Serbian-language schools.

"It is a responsibility of the state to create space for a minority to learn their native language and get educated. Equality between the Albanians and minorities is essential. That is why these courses need state funding," Bledar Bashanovic, representative of the Serbian-Montenegrin communities in Albania's state committee for minorities, told SETimes.

What should the Albanian government do to guarantee the rights of national minorities? Share your opinion in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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