"Try telling a minority community to take down their flag and you will soon learn what a recipe for trouble is," says Krzysztof Drzewicki, a senior lawyer at the office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM). "Signs and symbols are a powerful expression of identity for many individuals and communities.”
Although national minorities are free to choose their own flag without interference from the authorities and are free to display their symbols on their buildings, it has become a sensitive subject in recent years in both Montenegro and Serbia.
Ultimately it is up to the state to permit or to limit the use of flags in the public domain. But while national minorities don't have the right to display their symbols on the premises of public authorities, it is necessary to find a way to accommodate their interests.
Accommodation sometimes proves next to impossible when a national minority flag is identical to the flag of the country next door, such is that of an Albanian flag being flown in Montenegro’s municipal offices. Governments may fear that displaying a foreign flag on their turf may convey a message of separation or separatism.
Such reactions are understandable given the sensitivities involved. A flag is the ultimate symbol of sovereignty which no country wants to share with another. But limitations often go too far. Some states have completely banned the use of foreign flags on their territory, even in private life. These limitations breach the right to freedom of expression, as has been the case in Serbia, and until last week in Montenegro.
Just days prior to Albania’s November 28th independence ceremonies, Podgorica assigned Nikolle Gegaj and Ferhat Dinosha the responsibility of allowing the Urban Municipality of Tuz to fly the Albanian national flag. Dinosha claimed the event was a result of Podgorica’s change in policy, allowing national symbols to now be displayed in public institutions.
But the right to express one’s national/ethnic symbols continues to permeate dissent among governments throughout Serbia and Montenegro, primarily fearing separatist movements. In the following article by BIRN, Albanians in South Serbia struggle with this question: "Is flying a national flag belonging to a different state a right of expression or a recipe for trouble?"
Balkan Insight – Ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia are on collision with Belgrade over use of a flag by their new National Council. The Council wants to fly the flag of neighboring Albania.
But Serbia's Law on the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities says that symbols of national minorities cannot be identical to the flags, symbols or emblems of another state.
Baki Rehxepi, head of media in the National Council of Albanians, said they wanted to use the existing Albanian flag rather than invent a new one. "I don't see one reason why we shouldn't use the Albanian flag," he told Balkan Insight.
The question of the use of the Albanian flag comes up every year on November 28, when Albanians in southern Serbia mark Flag Day, their national holiday.
From 1968-1989, and from 2000 to date, ethnic Albanians have celebrated the day with a special ceremony, flying Albanian flags from town halls in their strongholds of Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja.
Like other ethnic minorities in Serbia, ethnic Albanians obtained the right to establish a National Council under legislation adopted last year.
The Albanian council, formed in June, has no legislative authority but enjoys broad competences over the use of symbols and over cultural, educational and language matters. National Councils also have the right to access funds and set up their own media.
According to Rehxepi, the department for symbols within the council has just been formed to discuss the flag issue.
Serbian officials say they have no objection to a flag that resembles Albania's, so long as it is not identical. "Such a solution does not prevent the selection and use of traditional symbols that are similar to the symbols of other states," ministry of human rights officials told Balkan Insight.
Riza Halimi, the only ethnic Albanian MP in Serbia's parliament, said he doubted that Albanians in the south would agree to fly anything other than the Albanian flag, a double-headed eagle on a scarlet background.
"This [issue] will be a tough task for the Council, taking into consideration that ethnic Albanians got used to using the Albanian flag in Serbia for years," Halimi told Balkan Insight. Albanians in the neighbouring Macedonia and Montenegro routinely use the Albanian flag as their symbol, he noted.
Valo flamur ne te gjitha trojet shqiptare i lire, valo ne Shqiprin natyrale!
It is absurd to refute a minorities wishes to fly whatever flag teh desire. It impinges upon their right of expression, period.
Look at any nation and you will see that minorities always attach themselves to their motherlands. In the USA, racial and ethnic minorities display their national symbols in many forms, whether it be flying a flag or whatever else. It doesnt necessarily mean that they seek secession.
Only the paranoid Slavs od Eastern Europe act this way.
Shqiperia Ethnik edhe Natyrale!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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