Kosovo’s potential Prime Minister Albin Kurti has used his growing popularity in the wider Albanian diaspora to call on ethnic Albanians from North Macedonia to take part in that country’s census.
In snap elections in Kosovo on February 14, Kurti’s Vetevendosje party received the support of more than 75 per cent of the more than 50,000 votes that Kosovars living abroad cast.
In a video message on Facebook, Kurti explained the technical details for diaspora members to register on the online registration form while pledging that all offices of his party abroad will be mobilised to help people to register in the census.
“For the first time, our diaspora has the opportunity to carry out the registration process from the place where they live, without being forced as before to take all that [documentation] and come to their homeland to register,” Kurti said as quoted by Balkan Insight on Thursday.
Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of the population of North Macedonia and Kurti said its Albanian diaspora needed to register because under the country’s constitution, the “political rights of the citizens of North Macedonia are dictated by and stem from their numbers” in ethnic terms.
Some dispute this. A recent BIRN fact-check recalled that the principles of equitable representation of ethnic communities, use of language and ethnic expression in North Macedonia cannot be altered without broad consent.
As a result, legal experts told BIRN that while parties in the country may try to profit from census-related ethnic issues, the outcome of the census would not offer a legal basis for sharply widening or reducing ethnic minority rights.
On Thursday, a day after Kurti released his message, North Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian First Deputy Prime Minister, Artan Grubi, visited Kosovo and sought support from Kosovo political leaders on the census, meeting Enver Hoxhaj, acting head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, the biggest opposition party in Kosovo.
“This is not [just] a technical process but a very important political process,” Hoxhaj said about the census, adding that Albanians in North Macedonia have to “prove with statistics that they are to the Balkans what the Germans are to Europe” – that is, a crucial factor.
Grubi said that since March 1, when the census in the diaspora began, around 72,000 citizens from abroad had registered – a far cry from some unofficial estimates that North Macedonia’s Albanian diaspora numbers 600,000 people or more.
North Macedonia is carrying out its national headcount 19 years since the last census took place. Once again, however, the process might not succeed due to opposition defiance.
Opposition parties in North Macedonia have denounced the census, insisting that the ruling parties will artificially inflate the number of Albanians in the country – a matter that has long been a cause for political and ethnic tension.