Albanians (Albanian: Shqiptarë, Macedonian: Албанци, Albanci) are the largest ethnic minority in the Republic of Macedonia. The largest Albanian communities are in the areas of Tetovo (Tetova), Skopje (Shkupi), Gostivar (Gostivari), Debar (Dibra), Kičevo (Kërçova), Struga (Strugë) and Kumanovo (Kumanova).
Of the 84 municiplaities in the country, 16 have Albanian majorities. Municipalities of the Republic of Macedonia with Albanian ethnic majority (according to the 2002 census data):
Since the end of World War II, Socialist Republic of Macedonia's population has grown steadily, with the greatest increases occurring in the ethnic Albanian community. From 1953 through the time of the latest census in 2002 (initial results were released December 2003), the percentage of Albanians living in the Republic of Macedonia rose 31.3%. The western part of the country, where most ethnic Albanians live, is the most heavily populated, with approximately 40% of the total population. The net influx in the past 30 years has been close to 100,000 Albanians.
In the late 1980s when the autonomy of the province of Kosovo was revoked, and the repression of the Albanian population significantly increased, these developments also took place in the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. The Albanian language was removed from public sight, Albanian families were prohibited from naming their children with Albanian names on the ground that it caused divisions with the other communities in the republic, and finally, to lower the significantly high birth rate of the Albanian population, Albanian families were prohibited from having more than two children (Milosavlevski and Tomovski, 1997:205, and Politika ekspres 10-6-1986). This assimilative campaign can be clearly seen by the fact that in 1990 the amended Constitution redefined the state from "a state of the Macedonian people and the Albanian and Turkish nationalities" to a "national state of the Macedonian people" (Poulton, 1995:122).
In January 1992, some Albanians organized a referendum on territorial autonomy. The Macedonian government claimed this was an attempt to secede and began a crackdown by declaring the referendum illegal. The Council of Albanian Political Parties in the Former Yugoslavia, an organization that represents ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia proper and the Republic of Macedonia, promptly decided that autonomy would only be a possibility for Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia if other democratic efforts failed to procure political and cultural rights.
Ethnic minority grievances, which had erupted on occasion (1995 and 1997), rapidly began to gain political currency in late 2000, leading many in the ethnic Albanian community in the Republic of Macedonia to question their minority protection under, and participation in, the government. Tensions erupted into open hostilities in the Republic in February 2001, when a group of ethnic Albanians near the Kosovo border carried out armed provocations that soon escalated into an insurgency. Purporting to fight for greater civil rights for ethnic Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia, the group seized territory and launched attacks against government forces. Many observers ascribed other motives to the so-called National Liberation Army (NLA), including support for criminality and the assertion of political control over affected areas. The insurgency spread through northern and western Republic of Macedonia during the first half of 2001. Under international mediation, a cease-fire was brokered in July 2001, and the government coalition was expanded in July 2001 to include the major opposition parties.
The expanded coalition of ruling ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders, with facilitation by U.S. and European Union (EU) diplomats, negotiated and then signed the Ohrid Framework Agreement in August 2001, which brought an end to the fighting. The agreement called for implementation of constitutional and legislative changes, which lay the foundation for improved civil rights for minority groups. The Macedonian parliament adopted the constitutional changes outlined in the accord in November 2001. The grand coalition disbanded following the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement and the passage of new constitutional amendments. A coalition led by Prime Minister Georgievski, including DPA and several smaller parties, finished out the parliamentary term.
In September 2002 elections, an SDSM-led pre-election coalition won half of the 120 seats in parliament. Branko Crvenkovski was elected Prime Minister in coalition with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) party and the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP).
Minority rights are extended to the maximum where education is concerned. The Albanian minority in the country has education in its mother tongue, up to and including University level. The US Department of State 2000 Report on Human Rights Practices for Macedonia states that "there are eased admission requirements for minorities at the universities in Skopje and Bitola for up to 23% of entering places, although the quota has not always been filled. In 1991, 302 ethnic minority students attended university; in 1998, 1,073 attended, representing about 16 % of all university students." There is Albanian-language university education for students at Skopje University's teacher training college, for students studying to be teachers at Albanian-language primary and secondary schools. The US Department of State sees the major obstacle to increasing university attendance of ethnic Albanians, especially for girls, being their low but slowly increasing enrollment in secondary education. In July 2000, the Government adopted legislation to address longstanding demands by ethnic Albanians for university-level courses taught in the Albanian language with the passage of a new Law on Higher Education, which authorizes private institutions of higher learning and, under an OSCE sponsored plan, a new internationally- and state-funded institution is being created which would be designed to conduct classes in Albanian, English, and Macedonian. Construction of the SEE University at Tetovo began early in 2001. Moreover, there is an Islamic Theological Seminary, as well as an Islamic High School in the Republic of Macedonia, similar to the Orthodox Theological Seminary and the Orthodox Theological High School. At the Skopje Summit of Leaders of Southeast European countries, the Macedonian and Albanian Foreign Ministers, Srdjan Kerim and Paskal Milo, signed agreements on education and health care cooperation. Minister Milo stated that the Agreement on educational cooperation is very significant and presents a legislative frame for exchange of staff and literature (for more information go to the Summit's official site at www.seecp.gov.mk). Furthermore, the Republic of Macedonia accepts university diplomas from the University of Priština (Kosovo). After all, all but one of the ethnic Albanian Ministers in the Government of the Republic of Macedonia (Bedredin Ibrahimi, Xhevdet Nasufi, Besnik Fetai, and Ernad Fejzulahu) have received their degrees from the University of Priština.
Regarding the freedom of expression, many TV and radio stations in the Republic broadcast full programming in Albanian, including the state-funded Macedonian Radio and Television Network; the second channel of the state television predominantly broadcasts in the language of the ethnic minorities. Interestingly, the Republic of Macedonia had Albanian language TV programs much before even Albania had a TV station. There are numerous Albanian daily newspapers, magazines, and literature, privately and state-funded. Finally, there's even a state-funded theater that performs plays in Albanian.
In the ten years since the Republic attained its independence, the parties of the Albanian minority have participated in every coalition government. In the governments up until 1998, the Party for Democratic Prosperity was the voice of the ethnic Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia. In the current coalition government, the political party of the Macedonian Albanians (PDPA-NDP) holds 5 out of 16 ministerial posts and several deputy minister positions. Currently, there are 25 Albanian MPs in the 120-seat Macedonian Parliament, and in the 1990-1994 and the 1994-1998 there were about 20 MPs from Albanian political parties. The ethnic Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia have four parties primarily focusing on the rights of the ethnic Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia, that are either in the opposition, or in the ruling coalition.
Ethnic Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia also hold high-ranking executive positions in public enterprises, the army, the police, as well as local government etc. The Macedonian Army (the Deputy Minister of Defense and 2 of a total of 10 general officers are ethnic Albanians) and Police (the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Rifat Elmazi, is after all, an ethnic Albanian) have ethnic Albanian generals and other high-ranking officers. The 2000 US Department of State Human Rights Report on Macedonia states that in order "to raise the percentage of ethnic minority police officers, the Government for several years has set a recruiting quota of 22 % for enrolling minority students at the police secondary school. Attrition has kept the graduating classes from retaining that percentage of ethnic minorities." The speaker of the Parliament at the time when the Republic was becoming an independent state was Vulnet Starova, an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia. Currently, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament is Iliyaz Halimi from the Democratic Party of the Albanians. The Vice Prime Minister is Bedredin Ibraimi, again, an ethnic Albanian. In those municipalities where Albanians are more than 20% of the population, the Albanian language is an official language of communication. Republic of Macedonia's ambassadors to Switzerland (Alaydin Demiri), Denmark (Sami Ibraimi), Qatar (Abdulkadir Mehmeti), and Croatia (Servet Avziu) are also ethnic Albanians.
The Albanian newspaper Lajm, Macedonian edition, reported in November 2006 that both Serbian and Macedonian hooligans during a football match between Russia and Republic of Macedonia shouted and screamed expressions Albanians find very offensive. Some of the hooligans were arrested and deported out of the Republic.