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23 Oct 13

Macedonia’s Leadership Crisis

Anna Milovanovic

Exemplary leadership is absent from Macedonia. Political revenge taints elections, corruption is omnipresent, and the country has been in transition since 1991, having never truly achieved either political or economic stability.

Promising Macedonian leaders succumb to “Brain Drain” while the remaining practitioners avoid leading by example. Macedonia’s politicians have not taken bold, creative decisions regarding the “name” dispute with Greece. Leadership on internal issues, like providing minority rights, remains lacking because a solution would be considered tantamount to affronting the ethnic Macedonian identity.

On February 15, the European Union Commissioner for Enlargement, Štefan Füle, cancelled his visit to Macedonia, stating: “I am frustrated by the lack of progress in putting an end to the political stalemate.

“The previous rounds of the HLAD [High Level Accession Dialogue] and the December Council conclusions created an opportunity to make further progress on EU-related reforms and for opening the accession negotiations. The current situation is putting at risk this opportunity,” he added.

Füle partially referred to the events of December 24, 2012 when opposition MPs and journalists were expelled from parliament while the ruling majority passed controversial budget proposals. On October 16, 2013, Füle repeated that political leaders should put the country’s interests before their party’s, indicating that the political repercussions of this event have monopolized high-level meetings since and stalled progress. But Macedonia’s leadership lacks political will to compromise, which in turn halts constructive decision-making processes and squanders opportunities.

Macedonia’s leadership problems are compounded by the government’s welcome for dubious foreign investors, and disregard for their responsibility in helping Macedonians invest in their own country. Entrepreneurship is stifled in the country, as small businesses are replaced by banks and casinos (locations from which to get money from non-existent funds). The Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, openly supports Subrata Roy, a businessman embroiled in a multi-billion-euro investor fraud case in India, who plans to build a hotel complex in a UNESCO-protected heritage zone in Ohrid. The government supports Roy without considering the environmental or societal impact of the project, the lack of transparency regarding funding, or the example this sets for future investors.

Politicians meanwhile exacerbate popular misconceptions about the Ohrid Framework Agreement, OFA, which terminated the 2001 conflict and established minimum parameters for minority inclusion in the state. The OFA guarantees minority language protection and decentralization, yet, many ethnic Macedonians see it as an agreement that transfers their rights to Albanians. Popular reaction to the OFA mirrors that of the reaction to affirmative action in South Africa and the United States. A 2008 State Department Human Rights Report elaborated that ethnic Albanians, “were concerned about the slow progress in reaching what they considered to be equitable representation in government ministries, while ethnic Macedonians often claimed that employers targeted them for reverse discrimination.”

A true leader would help the workforce understand the long-term benefits of affirmative action and ensure that tolerance is taught in schools. Macedonia’s existence is the culmination of the efforts of all inhabitants of its territory; the independent state was not formed in a vacuum of exclusively ethnic Macedonian efforts. Acknowledging the contributions of minorities to the success of the state is important for nation-building.

Ali Ahmeti, head coalition partner in parliament, is taking a leadership role in Macedonia’s foreign policy. Having transitioned from rebel commander to politician, he is on the diplomatic offensive with Greece and Bulgaria in a way that the effective leadership is not attempting. Unfortunately, he has not managed to develop leadership capacities within his party and will likely be succeeded by someone of more limited skill. Potential leaders should tap into foreign support and empirical evidence as they push to reform Macedonia. Instead, the current leadership is turning inward and writing off Macedonia’s relationships with its neighbours. The government prioritizes initiatives such as the capital city’s urban renewal plan over treating long-term, nation-wide, problems of isolation, financial ills and a severe political crisis. The government should initiate reforms according to the EU’s acquis communautaire instead of making positive change contingent on when they become an EU member.

As poverty and poor leadership afflict all Macedonians, minorities are turned into scapegoats. In another US State Department report, discrimination in Macedonia was described as “hidden,” but it has since resurfaced as overt. Minorities are attacked on the street for speaking their home language (in multiple attacks this year with negligible recourse to justice), and are begrudgingly employed under the terms of the OFA. The mainstream media does not report on injustices done to minorities, only on injustices done to ethnic Macedonians. This victimhood persona is then adopted by ethnic Macedonians to legitimize their privileges and retaliation-fuelling the cycle of violence.

Macedonia's leadership problem is also a global leadership problem. Diaspora communities, Macedonia’s included, export conflicts from their home countries. Members of the US Congress then adopt the perceived positions of their constituents, empowering nationalists in the countries of origin and reversing progress made in the said countries. But diasporas should avoid hindering political maturation in their country of origin and ethnic barriers must be discarded to work on substantive issues. The Macedonian diaspora should welcome all Macedonian citizens and individuals who identify as Macedonian, whether by ethnicity or nationality, and set a positive example for their country of origin.

Generally, transatlantic exchanges should consist of sharing best practices on leadership accountability, decentralization, and implementation of rule of law. Such exchanges can start with how the US hosts a census— one receives the form by mail and responds freely. However, the Macedonian census is conducted door-to-door, with observers “verifying” information. Macedonia's census last year was postponed as the outcome would have been used as fodder for political games. The government finds it controversial to establish facts about its population, so it offers the status quo as the only solution.

Many have resigned themselves to: the impunity in the leadership, a weak educational system, high unemployment, a dilapidated healthcare system, trampled freedom of the media (arresting a political cartoonist for espionage), the placement of opposition leaders in jail, and the celebration of a convicted war criminal. Worst practices of the region are routinely imitated in Macedonia, but the patience of Macedonia’s citizens is not eternal. This generation must collectively use positive examples from the region and the transatlantic relationship to embody the change they want to see in their country. Without the efforts of diverse, accountable, professional, and creative community leaders, the country is headed down a self-destructive path.

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