Abstract Agency, 2017). This deep rooted issue in

Abstract

This essay intends to observe how Albanian government reacts in
minority issues and how those reactions had changed and improved through 3
milestones: being recognized as a potential candidate country in the year 2000,
signing SAA in 2006, and obtaining the status of official candidate in 2014.

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Introduction

            The newest Minority Protection Bill adopted in Albania on
13 October 2017 following a request from the European Commission brought up a
wide discussion. The Albanian foreign minister Ditmir Bushati stated that the
lack of this law is a concern and it should have been adopted since 2006 as it
was scheduled, while Vangjel Dule, the head of the Unity for Human Rights
Party, thought otherwise that the bill marks a step back and has no added value
to the framework convention of the Council of Europe for the protection of
minorities that Albania ratified in 1999 (FOCUS Information Agency, 2017).

            This deep rooted issue in Albania had been in European
Union’s eyes along with other mutual issues in Balkan. It might be one of the
key factors that would improve Albania’s status from the current recognized
candidates to future EU membership, as human rights and minorities protection
is one of the five criteria that Albania needs to fulfill in order to start EU
accession.

 

The impact of EU
candidate status on Albania’s minority issues

From the beginning, the relation between Albanian government and
minorities was not as peaceful. Not until 1946 that Albanian constitution
guaranteed equality to all citizens regardless of nationality, race and
religion and the protection of the cultural development, and the free use of
their language to national minorities. The right of minorities to study their
mother tongue in school and equality in all areas of social life were added in
the Constitution of 28 December 1976.

After the democratic changes in the 90s, minorities in Albania
started to have their own movements under The Civil Code provided for the right
to establish the associations and foundations. For instance, Greek organization
“Omonia”, Union of Macedonians and organization of Macedonians “Prespa”, and
Serbo-Montenegrin organization “Moraca Rozafa”. The Greek minority’s political
party, Unity for Human Rights Party, was also founded in 1992. On the other hand,
Albania started to adopt other international standards on minority issues, both
of the United Nations and the European. The frequency of ratification on other
International Conventions or international acts also rose up significantly in
the same decade, just right before Albania was recognized as a potential
candidate country.

Chronologically, Albania signed the Convention on the Rights of
the Child (CRC) on January 26, 1990, ratified it on February 27, 1992, and entered
into force a month later. The Article 30 of CRC sets out a specific provision
with regard to the minority child. In the same year the country also ratified
The Copenhagen Declaration, Charter of Paris for a New Europe.

In 1991, besides ratifying Document of the Moscow Conference,
Albania adhered two standards on October 4: International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Both standards entered into
force on January 4, 1992. The Article 27 in ICCPR has been described as “the
first internationally accepted rule for the protection of minorities” (Xhaxho,
2007, pp.35) and is identical to the CRC. Only that CRC is more specific on
indigenous child rights. Following by the Declaration on the Rights of
Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities
was also adopted in 1992. This is the only one that is not a legally but
politically binding due to its nature of being a declaration.

Lastly, The International Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) was adhered by Albania on 11 May
1994, one year after European Council meeting in Copenhagen and expanded the
requirements for obtaining EU membership in 1993. In order to do so, Albania
was obligated to establish 3 categories including economic, legal, and
political criteria. The last category includes issues about human rights and
protection of minorities.

The first standards from Council of Europe that Albanian ratified
regarding the issue was the European Convention for the Protection of
Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms standards (ECHR) on 2 October 1996.
Following by The Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities standards (FCNM) that signed beforehand on 29 June 1995, ratified
without reservation by the law no.8496 dated 3 June 1999, and entered into
force on 1 January 2000. The FCNM is actually the first legally binding
multilateral instrument concerned with the protection of national minorities in
general and it aims to protect the existence of national minorities within the
respective territories of the Parties (Xhaxho, 2007, p.49). It also led to a
significant step towards the EU accession, as it “identified the guarantee of
minority rights as fundamental requirements that would have to be satisfied
before the recognition takes place” (Lamce, 2015, pp.44).

According to the great amount of standards accepted during the
decade, Albania’s status could improve significantly in EU’s eyes, but the fact
that these standards were ratified in such a short period could imply that
Albania did not have official counter-discrimination procedure before.

After being recognized as a potential candidate country in the
year 2000, Albania submitted its first report on national minorities to the
Advisory Committee in 2001 with a delay of seven months. The report recognized
national and linguistic minorities living in Albania i.e. Greek, Macedonian,
Serbo-Montenegrin, Roma, and Vlach. Regarding Advisory Committee on the FCNM’s
opinion in 2002 and CERD’s observations on the implementation of the ICERD in
2003, Albania made commendable efforts for the protection of national
minorities and CERD satisfied with the progress achieved in legislative and
institutional reform. However, both committees found the lack of accurate
statistic about the number of the minority persons who live in Albania
particularly for Roma.

The statistic inaccuracy occurs due to exclusion of the ethnic
element in a recent general census. According to 1989 census, only 2 percent of
Albanian population is non-Albanian, consists of the Greek, Macedonian, and
Serbian-Montenegrin who have the status of national minorities; while Vlach and
Roma are recognized as ethno-linguistic minorities due to the consideration of
not to have a kin state (ECRI Institute, 2010). Another minority group exists
in Albania like Egyptian and Bosnian minority, but Albanian authorities
considered Egyptian as a community instead of a minority group, and did not
mention Bosnian it in its statistics and international reports in 2001. While
INSTAT reported, the actual registered percentage of non-Albanian minorities
varies between 2-3 percent, and the Greek minority is the dominant ethnic
minority among others constituting 85% of their total number. (Xhaxho, 2007,
p.29)

Albania started negotiations on a Stabilization and Association
Agreement (SAA) in 2003. The same year that Albanian government acknowledged
the Vlachs and Romas as ethno-linguistic minorities. Mu? and Korzeniewska-Wiszniewska
(2013) stated that this is a positive step by the Albanian government leading
to the implementation of the Framework Convention for other minority groups.

From September 2003 onwards, the National Strategy for “Improving
the living conditions of the Roma Minority” approved by the Albanian Government
has been formulated by an inter-ministerial group under the leadership of
Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs (Council of Europe, 2007, pp.29).
The strategy based on 5 main fields: education, cultural and heritage, economy
(including employment, poverty reduction, and social protection), health and
infrastructure, and public order, justice, and civil administration field.

However, the strategy was still lack of 5 crucial things: a
serious engagement of the state institutions, inclusion of the Roma in
implementation process, an efficient coordination between institutions for
information exchanging, necessary capacities in the Roma organizations, and
lastly, capacities of structures responsible for strategy monitoring. These
lacks greatly reduces strategy implementation efficiency. (Ibid, pp.168-170) On
the other hand, while the Roma was in the government’s focus, Egyptian
community had been making continuing efforts to be recognized as a minority,
but is not recognized yet as such by the Albanian Government due to lack of the
linguistic element.

Through Albanian Council of Ministers’ decision no.127 on 11 March
2004, the State Committee for Minorities is established as a part of Albania’s
Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. The committee became an
important institution which is situated very high in the administrative
hierarchy in Albania with juridical authority dependent by the Prime Minister
(Mu? and Korzeniewska-Wiszniewska, 2013, pp.84).

The SAA was successfully agreed and signed on 12 June 2006,
completing the first major step toward Albania’s full membership in the EU even
though the negotiation period was three times longer than Croatia’s and
Macedonia’s. This year Albania also adopted Code of Ethics for the audiovisual
media and established a Council on Media Ethics. The Code covers the need for
the media to respect all kind of opinions and counter any form of
discrimination. By December 2014, the result from questionnaire conducted by
Albanian ombudsman shown that the implement of such code went well among Roma
and Vlach, for the proven existence of printed and audiovisual media in the two
languages. On the other hand, Bosnian has no written press but a private cable
system. Greek and Macedonian, despite having both printed and audiovisual
media, still lack of funding from government. And the Serbian-Montenegrin,
Egyptian, and Goran still did not have any.

After applied for European Union membership on 28 April 2009,
Albanian received comments from EU council regards the minority issues that
Albania still needs additional efforts to ensure minorities’ cultural rights,
and that the legal framework on minority protection needs to be further
developed and clarified (Commission of the European Communities, 2009). A year
later, the National Action Plan for Roma Inclusion was adopted with the aim to
make progress in the field of civil registration. Albanian government named it
as “The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2010-2015”, in which the plan later extended
to benefit also the Egyptian under the name The National Action Plan for
Integration of Roma and Egyptians 2016-2020. 2010 is also the year the European
Commission’s Opinion requested Albania to meet 12 key priorities, in order to
reach the membership criteria, which Albania successfully met the requirement
by December 2012. (Institute for Democracy and Mediation Albania, 2017, pp.7-8)

Albania received candidate status from the Council of the European
Union on 23 June 2014. The European Council endorsed its status a few days
later. In December of the same year, Albanian ombudsman published their special
report consisted of questionnaire results formulated through contacts with
residents of areas where minorities or other communities live (Republic of
Albania Ombudsman Special Report, 2014). The questionnaires concerned 8
minorities: Greek, Macedonian, Serbian-Montenegrin, Roma, Vlach, Bosnian, Egyptian,
and Goran. This report summarized the minority issues progression in Albania
from the year of signing the SAA in 2006 until 2014, before it was able to take
the next step in EU accession.

The result showed dramatically improvement regarding the right of
education. All minorities also agreed that they are able to exercise of freedom
of assembly and association, expression of conscience and religion, and that
they are able to maintain free contacts with persons of the same nationality
outside the borders. However, only Bosnian had satisfactory level of being
taken by Albanian government to preserve and develop their own identity such as
culture, religion, language, traditions, and cultural heritage. While Greek,
Roma, and Egyptian claimed that Albanian government’s action in this issue was
insufficient, and the other 4 minorities: Macedonian, Serbian-Montenegrin,
Vlach, and Goran said there was no action taken at all.

The result also showed that Albanian government still lack of
effort on the issue regarding textbooks of the minorities’ identity, and the
opportunity to learn in the minority language in the state education system.
For instance, the Vlach has textbook of their mother tongue only in private
school, which means they probably not get funded by the government, while the
Egyptian and Goran had none at all. Of all 8 minorities, only the Greek,
Macedonian, and Bosnian had access to their own bilingual school system.

Interestingly, the questionnaires shown the positive result in
issue regarding the access and participation of minority children in the state
education system, except that Roma had subjective problem like dropped-out or
non-attendance, and that all children are entitled to one year’s free preschool
education since 2012, but the Council of Europe’s European Commission against
Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in March 2015 reported otherwise that only
one-fourth of Roma children has access to preschool education and education
outcomes of many Roma and Egyptians remain poor and obstruct their access to
the regular labor market (United Kingdom: Home Office, 2017, pp.26). This
worryingly outcome is the reason that ECRI pushed for more effort from Albanian
government.

EU’s feedback on 2016 said that EU had noticed the effort Albania
made, however, the commission still had some remarks for improvement on living
conditions for Roma and Egyptians due to insufficiency despite budgetary
allocations for housing the two groups have tripled in 2015 (European
Commission, 2015, pp.61). And those additional efforts are required on
counter-discrimination policy implementation and inter-institutional
cooperation (European Commission, 2016, pp.21).

Even though many sources mentioned that Albania’s progress on
minority issues was still limited, Albania made a big progress on September
2017 by announcing the new Minority Protection Bill. It firstly recognized the
existence of 8 national minorities including the Macedonian, Greek, Vlach, Roma,
Montenegrin, Serb, Egyptian, and Bosnian, in which the latest two were newly
added. The initial absence of Bulgarian minority recognition in the Bill was
widely criticized so that Albanian government eventually re-decided on 12
October 2017, under the pressure of Boiko Borissov, Bulgarian prime minister,
and the EU parliament. The Bill was officially published in the next day with 9
minorities recognized, including Bulgaria this time. On the other hand, Goran
was the only one that was mentioned in 2014 (Nikolovska, 2017) but totally
disappeared from the current recognition. If the government is able to make
this Bill a foundation for further minority issues improvement and prove that
the Bill has critical added value to the 1999 framework convention, it might
have potential to positively impact Albania’s EU candidate status in the long
run.

But what’s the obstacle for EU to push Albania further than a
candidate after so much the country had done? Besides the credibility of
democratic values, it is also the fact Albania has still not adopted the European
Charter for regional and minority languages even though Albanian language
is protected in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia. The
lack of ratification signifies that the role and the capacity of the State
Committee on Minorities remained limited and need to be reinforced (United
Kingdom: Home Office, 2017, pp.17).

 

Conclusion

Judging by the urge of Albania to adopt the international
standards before the year 2000 and the urge to adapt according to EU’s
recommendations afterwards, a path led to EU candidate status surely impacts the
country in the certain level. Such impacts urge Albania to improve through
years. However, it’s easier to start than to maintain. More the time passed, the
more difficult for Albania to catch up with the implemented standards.

Albanian government’s priority in this current decade is to
strengthen the most vulnerable minorities like the Roma and Egyptian, whose
situations are more critical for the country according to the EU’s opinion.
However, as seen by lack of mentioning other minorities in many reports and
improvement strategies, Albania ended up overlooking those whom still encounter
various problems. For instance, the Macedonian’s and Vlach’s everyday life
inequality issues, or the Greek’s current insufficient knowledge of the main
legal acts affirming and protecting their rights.

Both data from 2014 and EU’s responses that insist on Albania to
push more efforts, despite having many projects realized through the years, are
the proofs that the minority issues outcome seems to be more bureaucratic than
practical. In order to step out of this unpractical data pile, Albania still
needs more minority representatives and institutional engagements, as well as
expand its focus and include other minorities into the next decade’s
improvement plans.

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