Feature 08 Sep 16

Macedonia’s Dreams Unrealised 25 Years After Independence

Neither of Macedonia’s two strategic main goals - European integration and NATO membership - have been fulfilled 25 years after it became independent, while ethnic relations with the Albanian minority remain troubled.

Semra Musai BIRN Skopje
Protests in the Macedonian capital Skopje. Photo: Robert Atanasovski.

Twenty-five years after becoming independent from Yugoslavia on September 8, 1991, Macedonia still has external problems with its neighbour Greece and internal problems with democracy which are blocking its ultimate goals of Euro-Altantic integration.

“These goals were set by all political parties after the country gained its independence in 1991, but they didn’t succeed,” Mirjana Malevska, a professor at South East European University, told BIRN.

“The democratisation process in the country is tightly linked with the integration processes and is the main condition to enter the Euro-Atlantic family,” she said.

Macedonia obtained EU candidate status back in 2005. At that point, the country was a regional leader among ex-Yugoslav states in the race to join the European club. In 2009, it was given the recommendation to start the accession negations.

But now the recommendation is at risk. Due to institutional failings in reforms and the ongoing political crisis that has gripped the country, the European Commission said in autumn last year that it would issue another recommendation after Macedonia’s next elections - but only if the polls are judged free and fair and if the country carries out the necessary reforms.

But the unsolved ‘name’ dispute with Greece is another stumbling block in the Euro-Atlantic integration of the country. NATO’s door will also not open to Skopje until two neighbours find a mutual solution for the problem - and Greece is still strongly opposed to Macedonia calling itself Macedonia.

Malveska says that there have been some democratisation efforts but the ongoing political crisis had a negative impact.

“The political crisis emerged after the massive illegal wiretapping by government services. It is massive violation of human rights and freedoms. If the [current] investigations [by the special prosecution into wrongdoing allegedly revealed by the tapes] prove the allegations of corruption true, that would be a jolt for the democratic process in the country”, she said.

The crisis escalated in February 2015, when the opposition Socual Democrats started releasing batches of covertly recorded tapes, which it said showed that the VMRO DPMNE-led government was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including ministers. The oppostion said the tapes proved many that government members were involved in various crimes.

Nikola Gruevski. Photo: gov.mk

Nikola Gruevski, who was prime minister from 2006 until he resigned earlier this year under an EU-brokered deal aimed at ending the crisis, has said the tapes were “fabricated” by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the opposition in order to destabilise the country.

Professor and political analyst Sefer Tahiri expressed concern that 25 years after independence, Macedonia not only hasn’t been able to consolidate its democracy, but has developed new problems.

“In the political and institutional sphere, as well as in the exercise of power we are seeing signs of totalitarian dictatorship, because in many spheres we are witnessing the party-isation of public life and political clan-isation,” Tahiri told BIRN.

He said that instead of being a free and open society, critical voices are being silence, the state has not been separated from the ruling party, and state resources are used for ideological aims.

Analysts believe that inter-ethnic relations in the country remain fragile and that political elites should dedicate more effort to improving the rights of Albanians - who make up a quarter of the country’s 2.1 million population - and other ethnic minorities.

Malevska said that the 2001 Ohrid Framework Accord, the internationally-brokered peace deal that ended a short inter-ethnic armed conflict in the country that year and granted more rights to Albanians, achieved some progress in improving the situation for ethnic minorities and their integration into the society, but not enough.

“Some things have been achieved… There are some universities [teaching] in the Albanian language, equitable representation of smaller communities in the public administration, the army, the police. Yes, there is progress,” she said.

“But we could not have expected that miracles could happen overnight... there is a lot of work to be done,” she added.

However, she said it is a problem when a nationalist party like the VMRO DPMNE continually wins elections, even though the governing coalition also contains a minority party representing Albanians.

“We were unfortunate that in Macedonia, the elections have been won by a ethnocentric party, which makes it difficult for society to function in harmony and difficult for better integration,” she said.

Protest against the arrests of ethnic Albanians on terrorism charges in Skopje in 2012. Photo: Darko Duridanski.

Tahiri meanwhile argued that Albanians’ official status within society still defines them as lesser citizens than ethnic Macedonians.

“Instead of having equal status, Albanians are still defined in the constitution as ‘a part of Albanian nation’, an invented term that resembles to terms used during communism or in the constitution of 1991,” he said.

Tahiri added that Albanians are not even mentioned specifically in Macedonian legislation; instead, it is written that certain rights are guaranteed to ethnic groups making up “at least 20 percent of the population”.

“This shows the legislative-juridical degradation of Albanians’ status which is a result of the lack of the power of the Albanian political party in government; not only now, but also those [who were in the governing coalition] in the past,” he said.

However, analysts suggest that the political system could improve and institutional failings could be rectified if the country manages to organise fair and democratic elections in December.

But Malevska said that this could can only happen if those who have committed wrongdoings are brought to justice and discredited politicians do not take part in the elections.

“If these people take part in the elections, that would be unfair, and in that situation, is difficult to speak about fair and democratic polls,” she argued.

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