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Macedonia between Conflict and Stability: Overcoming Corruption, Violence and Nationalism

September 24, 2003 // 11:00am12:00pm

Macedonia Between Conflict and Stability: Overcoming Corruption, Violence and Nationalism
September 24, 2003

Staff-prepared summary of the East European Studies discussion with Ed Joseph, Former Director of the Macedonia Project, International Crisis Group and EES Research Scholar

With over ten years of experience in peacekeeping and peacemaking in the war torn states of the former Yugoslavia, Ed Joseph, former Director of the Macedonia Project at the International Crisis Group, described the current state of affairs in Macedonia today. He stressed that, while the international community has largely congratulated themselves and the Macedonian people on quickly resolving the country's 2001 violent conflict, on the whole Macedonia continues to be an "underachieving, underperforming country."

Although it is true that intervention by international actors has meant that the inter-communal violence that erupted in March 2001 between Slav Macedonians and Albanian rebels has not reappeared, large problems remain unresolved. Both Slav Macedonians and Albanians continue to support the Ohrid Agreement, which ended the conflict in August 2001, and both sides continue to agree on the ‘fundamentals' outlined in the agreement. But, while many Ohrid provisions have been implemented, those changes do not necessarily address the real problems in the country. For instance, promises of immunity and demands that Albanian leaders be included in the government means that people who had been directly involved in sectarian violence are now legitimate political leaders, such as Ali Ahmeti who has transformed his rebel group into a political party currently participating in the Slav-dominated Social Democratic government. In this case, the Ohrid Agreement has been followed to the letter, but this change gives a mixed message to the population and no legal recourse for those hurt by rebel groups.

In his talk, Joseph cited four pressing problems that persist in Macedonia despite the implemented Ohrid Agreement. First, Macedonia remains a highly centralized country. Local governments play very little role in making decisions or contributing to the formation of laws and ordinances. Nothing has been done to amend the constitution in order to improve the institutional structure of the state. Second, through recent "affirmative action" measures, the police and other government agencies have become multi-ethnic with the inclusion of ethnic Albanians into their ranks. Yet, this does nothing to increase policy effectiveness, thus the police in Macedonia remain unable to maintain adequate levels of law and order. Criminals and Albanian extremists contribute to the climate of unease that pervades the country, inciting fear among the public. Third, the courts in Macedonia are a disaster, where corrupt officials use tactics of intimidation and frequently criminals are never put on trial. Fourth, the economy is in a fragile state and the IMF is not anticipating any dramatic growth. With such a weak economy, Macedonia has a high rate of unemployment, particularly among young men, which further contributes to a culture of fear in the country.

On international issues, Joseph noted that Macedonia is caught between the conflicting demands of the EU and NATO, both of which it is seeking to join. He regretted the pressure put on Macedonia by the United States to send troops it cannot spare to serve in Iraq. He also emphasized that Macedonia, with its fragile peace, could not afford to be drawn into a dispute between the United States and the EU over the International Criminal Court. Finally, Joseph provided insights into Macedonia's delicate and sensitive relationship to the neighboring and predominantly Albanian Kosovo province, which has been actively seeking independence from Serbia. Contrary to conventional wisdom on this issue, Joseph quoted current Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski as saying that it would be better for Macedonia to have a stable, peaceful Kosovo, governed by the rule of law, even if independent, than to have an unstable, violent Kosovo remaining within Serbia.

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