Multiculturalism and national minorities

By Marinko Çullafiq

Chairman of the Organisation of Montenegrins Community in Albania

The term “multiculturalism” appeared during the 1960s and 1970s in Canada and Australia and also, a little less, in Britain and United States (Canatan, 2009; Yanık, 2013). A new serious debate emerged at the beginning of the 80s and within a very short period of time multiculturalism turned into one of the most widespread intellectual and political movements in the West. All countries, where ethnic and cultural minorities live, are faced with this challenge regardless of having it as part of the official agenda or not. Most scholars of multiculturalism consider the latter as non-confli-cting. For example, Kristina Inglis states that multiculturalism is “a response of democratic policies against cultural and social change”.

In a descriptive sense, multiculturalism refers to all societies compound of several ethnic, cultural and religious groups. In this context, multiculturalism represents just a demographic and not political fact. On the other hand, in the normative context, multiculturalism is an ideology or poli-tical stance that promotes the concept of a multicultural society. The truth is that, in the ideological aspect, multiculturalism is one of the most important issues of the European society of the first half of the 21st century. This ideology in the European Union opposes with the American system related to emigration, known as “Melting of cultures” which implies the complete assimilation of emigran-ts into the American society. The Unites States of America are a typical multinational state, which means that there is a cohabitation of many nations, who share a common language and culture, in the same territory. Opposed to these American policies, in the European Union, multiculturalism protects the conservation of ethnic, cultural and religious characteristics of minorities within so-ciety. As long security and peace will reign in the European Union, this ideology will play its role against gender ideology, homosexuality, feminism and human rights.

The nature of multiculturalism differs from country to country and from one society to another.

In most western countries there exists an ethnic and cultural group that makes up the majority of the population. Typical examples in Europe are Greeks in Greece and Castilians in Spain. In these countries the language of the dominating group is the officially recognized language. In different historical periods, especially in times of economic or social crises, almost all the European countries have tried to establish as mono-ethnic states. The only state which has never tried to legally establi-sh a national language in its territory is Switzerland. In this country, national minorities that speak French and Italian exist as separate ethnic and cultural groups with no restrictions. Switzerland is the best example of civil solidarity, a necessity for economic well-being. In Europe, there are also a lot of racist ideologies, where the idea that a mono-ethnic state is easier to manage dominates.

According to these ideologies, languages and cultures of minorities are outdated and inferior, that is why they should not be respected and protected by law. There are a lot of premises on which a multicultural nation is built. The main premise is the awareness of policies that suggest that it is a state that equally belongs to all its citizens. A multicultural state absolutely excludes the implemen-tation of discriminating policies that lead to assimilation of national minorities, which means that in front of state institutions, all have equal rights without hiding their ethnic origin. What is most important is that in a democratic state should accept the historical injustices committed against national minorities through discriminating and assimilating policies. Multiculturalism acquires dif-ferent shapes in different times and places. History has proved that in many democratic countriesvarious ethnic groups have supported discriminating policies against smaller ethnic groups. A typi-cal example is the francophone community in Quebec, Canada who insists on conserving their cul-ture and traditions but do not support the same requirements for the Indian population that lives in the same area. In the Balkan region there is also a variety of ethnic and cultural groups. After the Second World War, in a lot of countries of the region, there have been witnessed intolerant and discriminating practices against some ethnic and cultural groups.

Under communist dictatorships, there were efforts to not consider national minorities and assimilate them slowly by banning their language, the promotion of their culture or obliging them to change names and nationality. I am providing an example of Montenegrin minorities in Albania, since I also belong to this community. This minority lives in Shkodra and some villages along the border with Montenegro. During the 45 years of communist regime there was a continuous attempt to lower the real number of Albanian citizens with Montenegrin origin, through various pressure, banning schools in Montenegrin language, banning cultural activities that promoted Montenegrin costumes, songs and traditions etc. In September 1975, HaxhiLleshi, head of the presidium of the Popular Convention signed the decree on changing unsuitable names. According to this decree, children born in the territory of Albania should be given names that reflect the Albanian identity and culture. Foreign names were forbidden. Every civil office at the time possessed a list with sui-table names among which you could choose the name of your child. During those years there was a tendency to change Slavic surnames with Albanian surnames. Also, the Montenegrin minority in Albania, has produced some well-known historic personalities that have affected Albanian culture, literary criticism and literature but their origin has remained unknown.

These long term non-tolerant and discriminating policies have resulted in a reduction of numbers of this minority. Of course, after the arrival of democracy things have changed but the damage has occurred. Also, I want to mention here the census of 2011 which was very problematic concerning the real registration of Albanian citizens of Montenegrin origin. According to this registration, in the Republic of Albania there are only 366 Montenegrin people. This data is far from reality.

While, in the census forms there was an optional question on the ethnic origin of the citizen, the government decided to apply fines for all wrong answers on ethnic origin which were not in accor-dance with the civil office. This procedure is considered as a pressure on the free choice of people on ethnic origin. Even though this minority has always lived within the territory of Albania, the Montenegrin minority was recognized by law only 3 years ago.

In 2017 the Albanian parliament approved the new law on national minorities. According to this law, the national minorities in the Republic of Albania are the Greek, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Bulgarian, Serbian, Romanian, Egyptian and Bosnian minorities. Unfortunately this law remains just on paper even three years later. It is unexplainable and not tolerable the creation of a new Committee on national Minorities, an institution under the dependence of the Prime minister which aims at protecting the promotion of national minorities’ rights and interests. (Article 18 pf law

  1. 96/2017 On the protection of National Minorities in the Republic of Albania- Committee on national minorities). Such a long delay implies that this process is just considered an obligation thatAlbania has to fulfill on the way towards European integration. Albanian politician must understand that only the complete respect of the rights of minorities and the implementation of the law on the protection of these rights will transform the Albanian society in a modern and democratic society and will lead Albania towards the European Union.

One aspect of multiculturalism is the protection and promotion of cultural diversity, also part of the basic principles of the European Union. The protection of our common heritage and the promotion of cultural diversity is as important as the integration of communities and the deve- lopment among different cultures. This is illustrated with the official documents of the Council of Europe and other organisms inside the EU, where the cultural diversity in the countries of the Western Balkans, is promoted as an important factor in the sustainable development, integration and peace. A negotiating chapter on the basic human rights stresses the respecting of the cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of national minorities and the measures that should be taken to face xenophobia and racism. The European Union system of protection of national minorities also has its issues.

The Resolution of the European Parliament on Minimal Standards for Minorities in the EU, approved in November 2018, enfolds the problematic situation in the field of minority protection.

This resolution states that:

  • The system of the European Union on the protection of minorities does not guarantee total

rights to the minorities.

  • The EU does not possess the mechanisms to evaluate the engagement of states in relation to the

Copenhagen criteria after they become member states.

  • The EU does possess the suitable measures to monitor and strengthen the protection of minority

rights.

  • The EU does not possess common standards for the protection of minorities and the recognition

of their minority status.

  • The EU has not created an institution for the recognition and protection of national minorities

at European level.

  • Not all the EU member states have signed the Convention on the Protection of National Mino-

rities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

  • The EU has not approved common minimal standards for minority protection.

(Source: The Resolution of the European Parliament on Minimal Standards on Minorities in the EU)

Montenegro and Albania are two Balkan states, culturally rich and diverse. These two countries are also a positive example on cohabitation and ethnic, religious and cultural tolerance, not only in the Balkans but in Europe too. Beyond this tolerance, and also the approval of the law on minority rights, during these 30 years of democracy, activities on the promotion of folklore, popular costumes,

music and tradition of minorities have been very rare and mainly organized by the Greek minority which is the biggest minority in Albania. I hope that Albanian folk festivals will be joined by folk minority groups. I want to stress that the Organization of the Montenegrin Community in Albania, during these 2 years of its existence, has brought a lot of innovation into the field and has organized important activities that promote historic events and personalities that have affected the history of the Montenegrin and Albanian people, almost with no financial support. In order to achieve the objectives of our program we are opened for collaboration with legitimate representatives of other minorities, but also organizations, foundations and NGOs from the Republic of Albania, Montenegro, Greece, North Macedonia etc. All in accordance with the Constitution of Albania and international conventions. The cooperation will aim to resolve issues of common interest which are achievable through continuous contacts, initiatives, projects and other forms of collaboration.

What is more important in the development of these activities and the overall program of the Montenegrin Community in the Republic of Albania is providing a contribution in the excellent relationship between Montenegro and Albania.

This article was prepared in the framework of the project "Education for All", Elbasan

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