Analysis 02 Sep 14

Macedonians Still Split Over Ohrid Deal’s Success

Thirteen years after the Ohrid Accord ended the fighting between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, they remain far apart on whether it has worked or not.

Sase Dimovski
BIRN
Skopje

Signing of the Ohrid accord in August 2001 | Archive photo

Thirteen years on from the signing of the Ohrid peace accord in August 2001, ending the armed conflict between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents, Macedonians and Albanians still have very different interpretations of it.

A straw poll among Skopje residents conducted by BIRN shows that Macedonians see the Framework Accord as a done deal, and that the job was completely accomplished with its incorporation into the constitution.

Albanians, on the other hand, believe the spirit of the accord leaves room for much improvement, and that the letter of the deal has not been completely implemented in practice.

Smaller ethnic communities meanwhile say the emphasis on improving the rights of the Albanian minority have left them feeling neglected.

The first reaction of most people to the question about what the Ohrid Accord means is that it is a deal concerning “the proportional participation of Albanians in state institutions”. Albanians make up about a quarter of the country’s population.

“Everything contained in it [the accord] was translated into the constitutional changes of 2002. Now we need not talk about whether and how the Framework Accord is being carried out, but should discuss whether the constitution is being respected,” Angele Trajanovski, a pensioner from Skopje, said.

“Albanians expect much from the Accord. They demand rights but they do not wish to accept obligations as well,” Igor Trajcevski, a café owner, complained.

“Tax collection and the payment of utility bills are lowest in the areas where Albanians live,” he added.

He also said that the Government Secretariat in charge of implementing the Peace Deal is run by an Albanian minister who is at the same time Government’s Vice President - and does not do its job properly.

“The Secretariat has turned into an employment bureau that only publishes calls for employment of the ethnic communities,” he continued.

“If the Accord is seen only as an opportunity for state employment, we have a problem with its interpretation. We should carry out the constitution, not the Accord,” Trajcevski concluded.

Albanian perspectives are different. “The politicians are only worried about their positions and only talk about the Framework Accord during elections. For those who run for state offices, the accord is very good, but for me it changed nothing,” Basri Bajram, a vegetable seller at the Bit Pazar green market, said.

While Macedonians make up majority community in the country of 2.1 million, and while Albanians are by far the biggest minority, Turks, Roma, Serbs, Bosniaks, Vlachs and others also live in the country.

Many members of smaller ethnic communities say that although the Ohrid Accord was intended for them as well, they have been neglected.

Skopje | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

“It’s as if only Macedonians and Albanians live in this country. Why aren’t the others asked about the Framework Accord and why aren’t we being employed like the Albanians?” Elvin Muarem, a Roma citizen from the capital, asked.

“I have a faculty degree but I am jobless. The Accord should not serve exclusively for the Albanians,” he added.

The Vice Prime Minister in charge of overseeing the Accord, an ethnic Albanian, Musa Xhaferi, agrees that readings of the accord differ widely. He also says it is time to end the different perceptions.

“The Macedonian side thinks implementation has been carried out and that, with some of their demands, the Albanian side wishes to overstep the agreed framework,” he told Balkan Insight.

“The Albanian side, on the other hand, believes that the accord is being implemented restrictively and that this process is not yet finished,” Xhaferi added.

Xhaferi called for a serious debate that would identify the obstacles that slow implementation of the accord in practice.

A law professor at FON University, Mersel Biljali, a former ethnic Albanian legislator in parliament, said the Accord has become a “monotonous document” that is late in implementation and serves only for party boasting and propaganda.

“The Accord failed to impose the citizen and his professionalism as a factor in employment,” he said. “

“It has turned into a mechanism for the employment of unqualified party activists and soldiers. Skilled people were left behind,” Biljali added.

To overcome the gridlock, Biljali proposes a new deal that is not signed by the big political parties, but has a more civic basis.

“We need a new deal, not between the parties but between the people, which would ensure that we become normal citizens with a normal country,” he said.

Political analyst Saso Klekovski says social issues like the huge rate of unemployment in Albanian-populated areas are among the country’s biggest problems, and may lead to fresh conflicts.

Vice Prime Minister Musa Xhaferi | Photo by: gov.mk

“The Accord has increased the stability of the country. But if the gains from it are not felt by the poorer social layers, if there is no decrease in unemployment and of poverty, the potential for another conflict will still be there,” Klekovski said.

The 2001 deal was signed by Macedonia’s then-president, the late Boris Trajkovski, and by the four main political parties at that time: the Social Democrats, VMRO-DPMNE, the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, and the now defunct Party for Democratic Prosperity.

The deal enjoyed the active support of the EU and US and envisaged the disbandment of the Albanian paramilitary National Liberation Army, NLA. The NLA was later transformed into a political party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, which is now a member of the ruling coalition.

Under the accord, the constitution was changed and positive discrimination towards the ethnic Albanian population was introduced into the civil service, the military and police. The wider use of the Albanian flag and language were also allowed, alongside other supporting measures.

Although the agreement still has the support of the key political players and of the international community, in the past few years calls have emerged for a revision.
The opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, which also signed the deal, has claimed that the accord has barely functioned since its rivals in the DUI joined the government in 2008.

Cases in which ethnic Albanians have been accused of grave criminal offences have also stirred dissatisfaction and protests by the Albanian community. They accuse the judicial authorities of ethnic bias.

The Accord has not changed their perception that the courts are tilted against Albanians.

Albanian protests in Skopje this summer | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The latest expression of mistrust happened this summer when thousands of angry Albanians stoned the Skopje Criminal Court after it gave life sentences to six Albanians for the killing of five Macedonians near Skopje in 2012.

Xhaferi agrees that mistrust in the judiciary is a problem. He says it can only be tackled if more judges, prosecutors and police officers came from the ranks of ethnic Albanians.

The employment of Albanians as judges and prosecutors has been moving slowly because of the slow and gradual process of professional promotion in these callings, he said.

Since 2001, four ethnic Albanians have served as Justice Ministers. Asked why this has not improved the level of Albanian trust in the judiciary, Xhaferi said: “The minister has no influence on the work of the judicial institutions because they are independent”.

But many Macedonians also distrust the courts, and maintain that their ethnic community has also been deprived of justice when it comes to the 2001 conflict.

The People’s Movement for Macedonia, NDM, a small rightist party, has been demanding an investigation in the killing of several Macedonian soldiers near Karpalak, on the Skopje-Tetovo highway, when Albanian rebels ambushed an army convoy.

“Parliament should adopt a political declaration on solving the controversial killing of the defenders at Karpalak because we cannot look into the future while the past continues to haunt us,” the party said.

In July 2011, the ruling coalition of VMRO DPMNE and DUI voted in parliament to abandon the four remaining war-crimes cases related to the 2001 conflict. They concerned atrocities allegedly committed by former rebels. This move also angered Macedonia’s opposition parties and human rights organizations.

One case involved the kidnapping and murder of 12 people, only four of whose remains have been found so far.

Another case has been raised against the former NLA leadership, including its former leader, Ali Ahmeti, who now heads the junior ruling party, the DUI.

Another case concerned former NLA combatants charged with kidnapping and torturing construction workers on the road from Skopje to Tetovo. The fourth case charged NLA members with cutting off the water supply to the town of Kumanovo.

Relatives of the kidnapped Macedonians | Archive photo

In mid-July, a monument to the 12 kidnapped and presumably murdered Macedonians was opened in the village of Neprosteno and relatives of the victims said they would not give up their fight to reverse parliament’s decision to amnesty the case.

They announced that they were suing Macedonia in Strasbourg after the Constitutional Court in 2012 declined to review the legality of parliament’s decision to scrap the four cases.

They say they feel encouraged by the Strasbourg court’s previous ruling on a plea by a Croatian citizen, in which it said: “Countries and their parliaments have no right to grant amnesty for war crimes, which is against the international law.”

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