Costs for the Languages Law Implementation Are Much Higher than “Symbolic”
The costs of the difficult implementation of the Law on the Use of Languages in the healthcare or the inaccessibility to quick and fair justice, as a consequence of this law, for example, are much higher than “symbolic”
Author: Teofil Blaževski
Member of the North Macedonia’s Parliament Artan Grubi from the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI – main ethnic Albanian party, part of the ruling coalition) gave the following statement we deem as spin:
The price of peace, equality and inter ethnic relations are incomparable to the symbolic price of implementing a law.
[Source: Дојче Веле – Законот за јазици повторно … date: 8 October 2019]
Counterspin: DUI’s MP and senior office holder, Artan Grubi, made a statement about the opinion of a group of experts from the Venice Commission, who evaluated the Law on the Use of Languages, and in which there are two distortions of the truth, i.e. spins (see the full statement here).
PEACE DOES NOT (SHOULD NOT) DEPEND ON A LAW
At first the spin can be noticed in the part of the statement that is debatable, since the price of war and peace, according to Grubi, depends on one law, i.e. its implementation. There is nothing particularly debatable about whether this is a distortion of the truth, because the axiom is that peace has no price, including the existence of a law, i.e. implementation of a law. Any request for something that others regard as their fundamental human right can and should be implemented or not implemented solely through democratic means and standards – public debate, assembly, government, judiciary, respecting procedures and other peaceful means will allow one to hear the other and try to understand him/her. This applies to individuals, as well as nations and ethnic groups in a multi-ethnic society such as the Republic of North Macedonia.
Why is this element debatable? Because the practice in the world, often in our country as well, is not so, and individuals or political elites easily reach for the language of threats, violence or intolerance and hatred. Fortunately, practice is a good teacher, so it can be generalized that inter-ethnic tolerance is an increasingly dominant process, unlike, for example, the intolerance between the ethnic communities in one country, which has grown in recent years and has reached an unpleasant state.
And that is why, first with the changes to the Constitution in 2001, then with the first Law on the Use of Languages in 2008, and with the 2011 amendments, the state has legally, through the Parliament, adopted a completely new law in 2018, the law for which a debate is now reopening. It should be made clear to the public that there is no debate about the need for such a law, but about some of the legal solutions embedded in it, adopted – which is a fact – without wider debate by experts or institutions and in a shortened procedure in Parliament.
Pinning a European flag on this law, to make the adoption procedures easier is legally difficult to explain. That happened in the Parliamentary Committee chaired by Grubi (much of the parliamentary procedure and the shorthand remarks from the debate in the Committee on European Affairs, as well as the text of the Law, can be seen at the following link – in Macedonian).
WHAT IS “SYMBOLIC” IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LAW IN THE JUDICIARY OR HEALTHCARE?
What is debatable is the part of Gruby’s statement claiming that the implementation of the Law demands a “symbolic price”.
It can be said that the symbolic price applies only to the estimated 1.7 million euros set aside annually from the state budget for implementation of the Law, likely to include the State Law Enforcement Agency and the Inspectorate taking care of the use of languages.
Nothing else is symbolic. From the bilingual (or somewhere multilingual) highway signs and boards across the country, bilingual uniforms, the use of bilingualism in schools, in the army and the police, firefighters, ambulances, to notaries and finally in the courts.
Each of these elements, if analyzed separately, will show that the implementation of the law, as envisaged in its articles, in particular, Article 2, Paragraph 3 and Article 8, already analyzed by “Truthmeter”, is also not symbolic.
There is now only one public debate on the application of the law, which, according to experts from the Venice Commission, at least from what is publicly available, is extremely complex, and that is its application in the judiciary:
Conclusion number 100 states: “However, in the opinion of the Venice Commission, in certain areas the law goes too far, imposing unrealistic legal obligations on public institutions. This is particularly the case with provisions providing for the use of the Albanian language in court proceedings formulated in such a wide manner that would certainly require years of preparation to be fully implemented. The enormous and expensive obligations imposed by the law on judicial authorities are accompanied by heavy monetary sanctions in the event of non-compliance (Article 23). In addition, the failure to provide the translation and interpretation required by law during the proceedings constitutes grounds for a judicial decision to be restored (Article 9 (5)). Under the right circumstances, if the law is fully implemented, it will significantly slow down the functioning of the entire judicial system, thus seriously jeopardizing the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.” (source: Плус Инфо)
These implementation problems arise from Article 9 of the law. Paragraph 5 states that the non-application of the Law represents an essential violation of the court proceedings and nothing is valid after it.
The full findings and expert opinion of the Commission will be available to the public either in less than ten days or in a month (two different claims). Then it will become clear whether the statements of the Commission are symbolic or not, to use Grubi’s vocabulary. This also applies to another very important issue in the life of every citizen, which is not elaborated in the articles of the law, and that is its application in all health institutions.
Is the price of a lost human life or impaired health at a health institution symbolic, resulting from (non) implementation? Will the failure of, lets say, the hospital in Kocani to employ people who speak the language of the community spoken by 20% of the population in the country, which is a legal obligation of the hospital, be a substantial obstacle to refusing medical care or for understanding between the doctor and the patient at a critical moment? Or, on the other hand, let us suppose that in the Medical Center in Tetovo it would be a problem if Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the law is not applied and it has unintended consequences on the life or health of a citizen?
All these are essential and not so symbolic dilemmas or costs in the implementation of the law, as Grubi would say. Including the Commission’s view that certain parts of the law are not clear to which ethnic group and languages they refer to, because, let’s not forget, our state is multi-ethnic, not bi-ethnic, and accordingly every citizen has the right to expect the fulfillment of their basic human rights.
All of this is especially important when making statements which claim that experts made a mistake in their approach (it is very courageous to make such an assessment) or that they will consider what to review, despite the Venice Commission’s recommendations and despite its’ statement of readiness in providing expert assistance in any further proceedings it proposed.
Due to the arguments presented above and the assessment by domestic legal experts during the law’s adoption process, that certain solutions would be difficult to apply in practice, we consider Grubi’s statement to be a distortion of the truth, i.e. we deem it as spin, especially claim that the price of implementing the law is symbolic.
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