Macedonia: Ohrid Two Years On

Progress has been made but doubts remain over the future of the republic’s two ethnic groups.

Macedonia: Ohrid Two Years On

Progress has been made but doubts remain over the future of the republic’s two ethnic groups.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Macedonia is still facing numerous challenges to its fragile peace two years after the Ohrid peace agreement brought an end to ethnic conflict.

Splinter guerrilla groups, an impoverished economy, weak state institutions, crime, corruption and a wide social gap between ethnic communities are still threatening to destablise the region.

In 2001, ethnic Albanian guerrillas launched an insurgency in the name of greater civil rights. The fighting ended with the signing of the western-brokered peace accord, the Ohrid agreement, on August 13, 2001.

In the following year’s elections, voters ousted the ruling nationalists and brought a new coalition to power, featuring Social Democrats and the Democratic Party of Albanians, formed by many former National Liberation Army fighters.

Ex-NLA leader Ali Ahmeti laid down his weapons to become a parliamentary deputy, and his party now has four ministers and a vice-premier in government.

Since then, the Ohrid accord, designed to lay a foundation for a unitary, multiethnic state, has been seen as a basis for future stability and its implementation a pre-requisite for integration into the European Union and NATO.

The deal has been implemented gradually, with most of its elements - apart from decentralisation - being adopted.

Decentralisation is the only component of the agreement that has real benefits for Macedonians as well as Albanians, but the process of drawing up new municipal boundaries and the financing of local authorities has not even begun yet due to lack of compromise on both sides, and further talks have been delayed until next month.

However, progress has been made in other areas. Albanian deputies can now use their language in parliament. Personal documents are issued in Albanian, and a controversial illegal Albanian university in Tetovo is being legalised and will soon be state-funded. The process of equal representation of Albanians in state institutions is also underway.

Two years ago, most ethnic Macedonians viewed the agreement as a defeat, claiming that the majority had been “taken hostage” by the Albanian minority, but today the peace deal is viewed as being necessary, if unloved.

Marking the second anniversary of the deal, Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski said, “There is no need for any party to view the framework agreement as a defeat.

“Time has given proof to our expectations [of] a truly European agreement – one that would end possibilities for territorial solutions to ethnic questions. The agreement guarantees Macedonia’s authentic multi-cultural identity and offers no potential for federalisation or division along ethnic lines.”

However, Macedonian and Albanian opposition parties do not share his view and take every opportunity to undermine the deal, claiming that it has produced no results. Many have even suggested partition of the country into separate ethnic entities.

The biggest Macedonian opposition party VMRO-DPMNE and their former coalition partner the Democratic Party of Albanians have heavily criticised the deal, saying it has done nothing to improve security as numerous violent incidents still happen on daily basis.

But this view was refuted by Macedonia premier Branko Crvenkovski, who said, “Many criticise it from different positions, but nobody has offered any other serious alternative. As of itself, it does not impose limits, but the opportunities it offers depends upon our abilities to make use of it.

“The return to complete peace, security and restoration of multi-ethnic trust is a difficult process with many obstacles and obstructions. But it is worth investing in the fulfilment of the framework agreement’s goals.’’

But on the ground, both communities are still living in parallel societies, nurturing damaging prejudices, and few attempts to bridge this gap have been successful.

However, there has been an improvement in the general security situation over the past two years, and the EU military mission, Concordia, is expected to leave the country by the end of the year. Nonetheless, the persistence of ethnic violence shows that Macedonia is not out of the woods yet.

A shadowy guerrilla group called the Albanian National Army, ANA – which has taken responsibility for most incidents in Macedonia, southern Serbia and Kosovo - repeatedly threatens to start a war to unite all Albanian territories.

Diplomats in Skopje say the group is made up of criminals and does not pose a serious threat to peace, while the same group has been described as “terrorists” in Kosovo.

Edward Joseph, a former director of the International Crisis Group in the region, told IWPR that the jury was still out on whether the days of conflict were over, “We don’t know whether the calm that we see now in Macedonia is a momentary lull or in fact the first steps of establishing true stability.

“There are still too many open questions about the capacity of the state, police, courts, government and political leaders to say for sure that Macedonia is on a road of peace and can never turn to conflict.”

Anna Petruseva is IWPR project manager in Skopje.

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