Macedonia: Not out of the woods yet

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This briefing paper from the International Crisis
Group
on Macedonia examines the difficult path of putting
in place the final elements of the 2001 Ohrid Peace Agreement, and
highlights the confidence-building measures now needed to overcome
recent political difficulties, strengthen the government, and
smooth the way for joining the EU.

Overview

Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski and representatives of his
government and the opposition converged in Brussels on 14 February
2005 to hand over Macedonia’s response to the European Commission’s
3,000-item questionnaire, the latest stage in the EU membership
application, which was formally submitted almost a year ago. The
occasion was celebrated by a concert starring Macedonian musicians
at an exclusive Brussels venue. Appropriately enough for St.
Valentine’s Day, the relationship with the EU had taken on a new
depth, but nuptials are far from concluded. The considerable
progress Macedonia has made is still fragile. The crucial
decentralisation process requires careful implementation, and the
coalition government and its constituent parties should apply a
number of confidence building measures. 

The previous twelve months had been eventful. After experiencing
the tragic death of President Boris Trajkovski in February 2004 and
the subsequent election of President Branko Crvenkovski, it
appeared the government could return to implementing the final
elements of the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement for Peace. In April
2004 the ruling coalition — the Alliance of Social Democrats in
Macedonia (SDSM), the much smaller Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
and their ethnic Albanian partner, the Democratic Union for
Integration (DUI) — opened negotiations on legislation to redefine
municipal boundaries. This legislation, the Law on Territorial
Organisation of Local Self-Government, would fulfil a critical
element of the decentralisation program mandated by the Ohrid
agreement. 

However, when negotiations within the ruling coalition became
difficult, the main opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE[1], and a little
known nationalist group, the World Macedonian Congress, seized the
opportunity to make political hay. Playing upon growing concern
among ethnic Macedonians that it would unduly surrender power and
influence to the Albanian minority, the two parties forced a 7
November 2004 referendum vote on the proposed law.

Although VMRO was a signatory to the original peace agreement,
it used the pre-referendum period to question sharply the
government’s performance and the general wisdom of power-sharing
among the ethnic communities. The government worked to reassure its
supporters and argued that its plans would guarantee fast track
economic growth, European integration and better governance. The
emergence of Albanian paramilitaries on the outskirts of Skopje
increased tensions and gave rise to concerns that Macedonia’s young
and fragile multi-ethnic democracy might be at serious
risk. 

A strategically-timed U.S. decision to recognise the country’s
official name as “Macedonia” helped to ensure the referendum’s
resounding defeat on 7 November. With that vote behind it, the
government could again focus its political energies on the
practical aspects of implementing decentralisation. However, with
fallout from the referendum still reverberating — local elections
were postponed, Prime Minister Hari Kostov resigned and a successor
was appointed — the legislative details are still receiving
dangerously inadequate attention. Tensions stirred up by the
campaign have yet to evaporate, and the country’s various
nationalist elements remain poised to exploit any
opportunities.

The referendum demonstrated for Macedonia the high cost of
serious divisions within the ruling coalition. If the coalition
continues on its present path, the cycle of frequent short-term
crises will likely continue, the governing parties will suffer in
the local elections, and the entire process of decentralisation
will remain at risk. It is incumbent upon President Crvenkovski,
Prime Minister Buckovski, and DUI Leader Ali Ahmeti to coalesce
around a common vision for the future and exercise the political
will to implement it. The DUI also has a special responsibility to
take concrete steps to reassure ethnic Macedonians that in areas
where ethnic Albanians are a new majority, they will extend the
same rights and privileges they demand. 

To read the full report, visit the Crisis Group website.

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