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Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Page: 109

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (21:39): When I visited the Republic of Macedonia and also Albania to seek a better understanding of the issues of concern to my Macedonian constituents I was particularly seeking an understanding of the way different ethnic groups and religions interact in those nations and what parallels or issues exist in Australia because of the background in those nations. Whilst I learnt a lot from my second visit to Macedonia, it did leave me concerned about the future of the Republic of Macedonia and ethnic Macedonians in Albania. In Macedonia, along the road between Skopje and Ohrid, there are many ethnic Albanian villages. Despite being in Macedonia, in those villages I saw nothing but Albanian flags and no Macedonian flags. This is in contravention of the law, which allows the Albanian flag as an ethnic symbol but requires the display of a larger Macedonian flag adjacent to it on public buildings. That law also states that the ethnic flag can be only two-thirds the size of the national flag. I observed that compliance with the law was not evident for 30 kilometres in and around the municipality of Zajas. It is my view that the display of another nation's flag in such numbers and to the exclusion of the national flag was not only highly provocative but also disloyal. I believe that by these actions they show a lack of respect for the Republic of Macedonia and suggest that some seek a future seeding of territory for a greater Albania.

The Republic of Macedonia is a wonderful example of tolerance and of respect of the rights and full participation of minorities, which is completely enshrined in the constitution. However, in my opinion, many in the Albanian community abuse that tolerance. This is a challenge for the parliament of the Republic of Macedonia.

In the visit to Albania, I met the mayor of Pustec and representatives of the significant Macedonian community from across Albania. Owing to a number of governance and process inadequacies in the most recent Albanian census, the ethnic Macedonian population is numbered at only 5,000 when, in reality, those of Macedonian origins number in excess of 100,000. The numbers are repressed because it is widely believed that, if people declare themselves as Macedonians, only negative outcomes will result. The recent census had some 18 per cent of people not declare ethnicity because they believed a 1,000 euro fine could result. It is also true that only in the Prespa region of Albania are you allowed to even say that you are Macedonian. Everyone at birth is stated as being of Albanian ethnicity and active steps must be taken to change that. But, again, only in the Prespa region can you dare to legally change a birth certificate to state you are ethnically Macedonian.

There are around 39 villages across Albania that are ethnically Macedonian. There are also large numbers of ethnic Macedonians in the cities. The mayor of Pustec said that they are faithful to their nation, Albania, but that they are also given only a fraction of the money that Albanian municipalities are given. It is worth noting that I saw an Albanian flag flying in the ethnically Macedonian village of Pustec alongside a Macedonian ethnic flag—being the star flag of old Macedonia—but not the flag of the Republic of Macedonia.

As Albania approaches national elections in mid-2013, the signs are ominous. The agenda of the major Albanian parties is being driven to the extreme right with the emergence of the ultra-nationalist Red and Black Alliance. Minorities, such as the Macedonians, are being targeted for domestic political reasons. I believe that the European Union must closely monitor the situation to safeguard the rights and safety of Macedonians and other minorities. I wrote to the EU about my concerns last month. In the letter, I included information on a situation that occurred in recent months, whereby the Red and Black Alliance—accompanied by a significant number of biased media—staged a protest and intimidated those living in the village of Pustec. They told me that they no longer feel safe as a result. It appears that the central government in Tirana does not want, or does not what to protect, ethnic minorities, because they repress the numbers in the census, they allow political intimidation and they provide just a fraction of the resources that are provided to ethnic Albanians. It appeared to me that the Albanian government seeks to assimilate them or to drive them out of the country.

From the visit it was clear that the Republic of Macedonia does stand as a great example of how tolerance and the constitutional recognition of minorities can deliver rights and participation. This is in stark contrast to the repression that Albania provides or that is present even in Greece, where minorities are not recognised at all. My concerns remain that, while the Republic of Macedonia may be much more advanced than its neighbours, they should be careful that their tolerance and acceptance is not taken advantage of, as the future of their nation could well be at stake. While Albania pays lip service to European laws that should ensure the safety, security and equity of ethnic minorities, the reality is actually so different.