ALBANIAN RIGHTS IN MONTENEGRO
Submitted by the
Albanian-American Association – “Malësia e Madhe”
13 November 2005
THIS COMMUNIQUÉ WAS CONCEIVED as a petition stressing the Montenegrin government to review, assess and implement a decentralized, municipal government for Tuz, that would be better suited for allowing monitoring on protection from discrimination focused on the fields of education, employment, healthcare, housing and criminal justice, and promote not only stability and prosperity, but also democratic values, including respect for and protection of Albanians.
The Albanian-American Association “Malësia e Madhe” introduced this Communiqué at a demonstration on November 13, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan. The concerns of the Albanian Diaspora are those shared by the international community at large: that the Montenegrin government construct and put into place a separate municipality as a framework for minority protection, its implementation in practice, and national institutions responsible for minority protection.
The Albanian-American Association “Malësia e Madhe” maintains that Albanians in Montenegro should not be treated differently from other national and ethnic groups for unjustifiable reasons. But instead, policies and programs should be aimed to allow Albanians to preserve their differences so as to avoid forced assimilation into the Montenegrin majority culture. Anti-discrimination and minority rights are complementary responses to the problems facing Albanians in Montenegro today, who confront risks both of exclusion and assimilation.
According to The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Montenegro has violated 7 of the 18 specific principles outlined in Section II of the charter:
1. Promotion of the conditions regarding the preservation and development of the culture and preservation of religion, language and traditions
2. Linguistic freedoms:
3. use of the minority language in private and in public as well as its use before administrative authorities;
4. Use of one’s own name;
5. Topographical names in the minority language;
▪ learning of and instruction in the minority language;
▪ freedom to set up educational institutions;
▪ trans-frontier contacts;
7. Participation in economic, cultural and social life;
▪ participation in public life;
▪ prohibition of forced assimilation.
These violations are detailed under the following paragraphs:
In accordance to international law and the governing bodies for the protection of minority rights, Montenegro is in violation of the following acts that must be redressed in order to foster its democratic development into the family of Europe:
1. CULTURE and PRESERVATION of RELIGION, LANGUAGE and TRADITIONS
The Montenegrin government does not respect the basic principal of the independence and autonomy of the judiciary and media; does not encourage Albanian language programs as stipulated in the Montenegrin Constitution; has limited finances for Albanian television programs, and does not appropriately allocate funds for newspapers in the Albanian language, hence their grants and funds are unequally distributed among the general media in Montenegro.
Europe’s identity is based primarily on its cultural heritage. A particular significant element of culture, which is decisive for social identity, is language. Analogously, a minority’s language is an important element of a given ethnic and national group. Montenegro has continually overlooked the significance and historical importance of the
Albanian language, which is fully detailed in paragraph 3 below.
2. LINGUISTIC FREEDOMS, including use of the minority language in private and in public as well as its use before administrative authorities Article 9 of the Constitution states that languages of scripts of minorities may be used as official languages in municipalities with a considerable share of the minority of the population. However, administrative authorities in the Podgorica municipality do not reference the Albanian language, or its bilingual version, as a means of communication in public administration. Additionally, Podgorica does not finance Albanian translation and terminological research services to maintain appropriate administrative, commercial, economic, social, and technical documents in the Albanian language.
Montenegro’s judicial structure does not provide for or conduct judicial proceedings in languages other than Serbo-Croatian, and does not produce documents and evidence of these proceedings in any minority language. As a result, the judicial system fails to recognize the validity of documents written in languages other than Serbo-Croatian.
3. TOPOGRAPHICAL NAMES IN THE ALBANIAN LANGUAGE
A specific language constitutes a symbolic expression of tradition and culture of a particular geographical territory. In Montenegro, as well as in other European countries, what is being observed nowadays is a renaissance of regional cultures and attitudes favorable towards the languages of both ethnic and national minorities and regional
In Montenegro, however, bilingual names are nonexistent; Montenegro does not display respect for the increase knowledge of minority language place names. Place names of Montenegro’s national minorities shall be entitled to official approval and use on maps, road signs, etc. Montenegro fails to include the Albanian language in public and private settings, especially regions populated by majority Albanians, both within and outside of official institutions, denies the right to put private inscriptions in the Albanian language and the right to hang out traditional local names, names of streets and other public topographic signs in the Albanian language. In certain cases two parallel names should be allowed, one in the language of the local majority, the other in the language of the local minority.
4. USE OF ONE’S OWN NAME
During the entire post-war WWII period, members of the Albanian minority were constantly subjected to assimilation, denationalization and displacement and completely deprived of any possibility of expressing their national, ethnic and cultural identity.
Throughout most of the 20th century, Albanians in Montenegro were forced to change their surnames to the Slavic suffix (e.g., from –aj to –vič), which makes judicial procedures to change the names back to their original foundation very difficult, timely and costly. Appropriate administrative institutions should alleviate the gridlock associated with changing surnames back to their rightful origin.
5. EDUCATION: Learning of and instruction in the minority language and the freedom to set up educational institutions A strong Slavic bias in the modes of instruction exists in schools predominately populated by Albanians students. Article 68 of the Montenegrin Constitution grants the right to mother-tongue instruction even unconditionally and, furthermore, requires that the curricula of public educational institutions comprise the history and culture of national and ethnic groups (Art. 71). The curricula of the Tuzi region does not conform to the stated articles of the Montenegrin Constitution, hence disregarding the promotion of one’s history as discussed above.
In those slight cases where Albanian language textbooks exist (3%), the curriculums are directly translated from the Serbian language into Albanian, thus promoting a Slavic perspective on all areas of instruction. Albanian students in Montenegro are the only ethnic group in the Balkans not sufficiently equipped with proper and unbiased textbooks that represent equal distribution of history, culture and language. This is a unique circumstance given that other national minorities are allowed to import textbooks from their home country and use them as mode of instruction, thus preserving their national heritage. This practice has a devastating effect on a national minority for it promotes assimilative practices, thus denying bilingual and/or multicultural education in its curriculum.
Most of the schools in Montenegro were built immediately following World War II and little has been done to refurbish them and bring them up to national/international standards. Many of these schools lack proper facilities for physical education and general assemblies; there is widespread deteriorated school desks and learning objects, and teaching equipment is so pathetic that learning objectives are not attained, hence keeping students behind the other school districts and international standards. The primary school “ Mahmut Lekic” in Tuz is a prime example, where the classroom conditions are in such grave conditions that safety has become a concern for teachers and parents.
Furthermore, according to The Ministry of Education in Montenegro, there were 4888 educational instructors in the 1999-2000 school year in Montenegro. What the statistics fail to show is that out of 4888 active instructors, only 110 are Albanian.
In addition, Libraries throughout Montenegro lack books in the Albanian language. Although the Education Ministry claims that most books are maintained in the mother tongue, the schools in regions populated with Albanians do not accommodate sufficient books.
High rates of unemployment have denied Albanians equal access to the benefits of all society’s public economical and political structures. According to the latest state statistics, Albanians constitute only .01% of the total workforce in Montenegro. With unemployment in state jobs this low, Albanians do not qualify for government benefits and as a result cannot secure pension rights.
As a precondition to establishing democratic institutions practical to a working democracy, Montenegro has failed to allocate the necessary resources to foster the development of infrastructures amiable to European standards. In particular, Podgorica has failed to proportionally allocate funds for the construction and maintenance of public administrative institutions in villages outside its city-center. As a result, citizens are disenfranchised and reluctant to participate in the political process and in turn have a distrust of government. In the region of Tuzi, for example, there exist no infrastructure to manage the growing population and administrative duties that are only exercised through Podgorica.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, this complication definitely exists in the villages surrounding Tuzi, where the local Albanians are supplied with drinking water from individual wells that are not treated or tested. This is only one example where Podgorica’s municipal responsibilities have failed to deliver on their promises.
8. ESTABLISHMENT OF AN EMERGENCY MEDICAL CENTER
There is currently one makeshift clinic in Tuzi that operates under poor conditions and lacks the necessary medical equipment required for the most basic needs, including ambulances, x-ray equipment, difibulators, etc. The existing medical equipment is classified as old and poorly functioning or obsolete. In medical emergencies where immediate medical attention is required and time is of the essence, there is no medical facility to accommodate the medical emergency needs of its citizens. The closest emergency medical center is in Podgorica, a distance approximately 45 minutes from most villages surrounding Tuzi, a distance too far for people in need of immediate medical attention.
9. PUBLIC SAFETY
Public safety officials in the Tuzi region do not represent the ethnic make-up of the region. 99% of the police force are of Slavic descent and do not speak Albanian, which is a problem when attending emergencies that require communication with Albanians who are unfamiliar with Serbo-Croatian.
Tuzi does not have its own fire emergency center that would handle fire catastrophes in and around its surrounding villages. In cases of fires and other medical or natural disasters, the only means of handling such situations would be to send emergency vehicles from Podgorica, a distance too far away according to international public safety standards.
WHEREFORE, the Albanian Diaspora rightfully appeals that a distinct and fully operative municipality be constructed to remedy the aforementioned economic, political, academic, social, cultural and medical needs of Albanians in Tuz (Malësia e Madhe). This appeal falls under the legal jurisdictions as outlined by the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the domestic and international laws protecting minority populations.
The Bill Law of Local Self Government drafted on the Union of Municipalities of Montenegro explicitly states that municipalities “shall be accomplished on principles of democracy, decentralization, depoliticization, autonomy, legality, professionalism, efficiency of local government bodies, and mutual co-operation between the state and a municipality” [Article 3] in an effort to meet the “needs of immediate and common interest for local population” [Article 4]. It goes on to state, “citizens shall participate in decision-making processes concerned with their needs and interests, directly and through freely elected representatives in local self-government bodies” [Article 6].
Montenegro claims to have endorsed the principle of decentralization. Although the Constitution of 2002 grants local communities the legal authority to perform functions of local interest, in practice, however, the legal structure continues to give Podgorica control over most local government spending and intergovernmental financing system continues to assign to Podgorica the final word about most local government revenues. In particular, the Montenegrin legal and administrative structure is inconsistent with the European Charter of Local Self-Government to which Montenegro has been a signatory since 2003. Concerning legal autonomy, Article 9 of the Charter provides that:
■ local authorities shall be entitled, within national economic policy, to adequate financial resources of their own, which they may dispose freely within the framework of their own powers;
■ at least part of local government resources shall be derived from local taxes and fees and, within limits established by law, local governments will have the power to establish tax rates and fee amounts;
■ financial resources of local governments shall be commensurate with the responsibilities reserved to them by the constitutions and the law;
■ local authorities will be consulted on how redistributed tax revenues are allocated to them; and
■ local governments have access to national capital markets to finance capital improvement projects.
The Montenegrin government has made practical decentralization and harmonization of the legal framework with the minimum standards of the Charter a public policy framework. However the Montenegrin government has abused its democratic power by tyrannizing its minorities. If a state wants to hold its whole society together, the majority must recognize the right of the minorities to be treated equally both as individuals and as communities. So how does a country implement its promise of the equality of its people? The answer, according to Montenegro’s draft constitution is that: “Persons belonging to a national minority shall have special rights, which they exercise individually or in community with others.” These “special rights” have yet to be recognized and put into practice.
By moving control of issues such as health, education, law enforcement, justice and other administrative functions to the local level, local communities can have control of the elements of daily life most essential to preserving their identity and rights. Decentralization will benefit all of Montenegro’s citizens, but will be especially important for advancing the rights of Albanians, Roma and other minorities. At the same time, all of these local structures must be accountable to a municipality separate from Podgorica. Podgorica is not in a position to respond effectively to the needs of the local population in Tuz because they lack the necessary information and knowledge about the priorities and needs of Albanians living there, and do not allow for the direct participation of citizens in programmes and projects, which directly concern them. The Capital City Bill is regarded as a tool that will fail to respond to the needs and concerns of minority groups in Montenegro, and that Albanians will turn away from involvement in the political decision-making processes because they are unable to voice their demands through a locally-constructed government.
In addition to the violations outlined above, a recent Freedom House report indicated that, “Nevertheless, the number of individuals from ethnic minorities participating in government does not represent their percentages in the entire population. An important constitutional and political challenge facing Serbia and Montenegro is to satisfy increasing demands from regions with large ethnic minorities.”
ADDITIONALLY, according to recent public opinion polls, the voters of Montenegro are split between independence and pro-union with Serbia, which places the Albanian electorate in a position to play a determining role in the final outcome of Montenegro’s statehood. Albanians from Montenegro are ready, willing and prepared to participate in the political process to support the independence of Montenegro if the existing government recognizes and implements the aforementioned demands.
V. International and Regional Laws Protecting National Minorities
▪ European Charter for Regional or Minority Rights
▪ European Charter for Local Self-Government
▪ European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
▪ European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950)
▪ Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995)
▪ European Social Charter (1965)
▪ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
▪ Convention Against Discrimination in Education (1962)
▪ Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (1991)
▪ Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic or Religious Minorities (1993)
▪ Human Rights Committee General Comment No.18 (Article 27) (1994)
▪ Human Rights Committee General Comment No.23 ( Article 26) (1989)
▪ United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
▪ Constitutional Charter of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro
▪ Serbia and Montenegro Charter of Human and Minority Rights and Civil Liberties
▪ Federal Law on the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities (2002)
▪ Convention Against Discrimination in Education (UNESCO, Paris, 1960/62)
Copyright © Malësia e Madhe, 2005