The Challenges Confronting Macedonia: The Negotiations on the Future of Kosovo and Impending Parliamentary Elections
2006 will likely be a pivotal year for Macedonia, as it will face parliamentary elections this summer and may see repercussions from the status negotiations on Kosovo, which are now underway. In recent years the Macedonian government has stopped short of reforming the electoral system and campaign financing laws, which have caused skewed electoral results in the past, leading some to question the legitimacy of the country's leaders. Vasil Tupurkovski warned that if nothing changes, Macedonia may not be able to adequately prepare for or react to the outcomes of this year's important events.
Macedonia has been praised for its ability to adopt and implement the Ohrid Agreement, which ended its short-lived civil war in 2001. While Tupurkovski agrees, he warns that we should not be overly optimistic about this success. After all, the underlying economic and political crises which led to the fighting between Slav-Macedonians and Albanians have only worsened. In economic terms, the best year that Macedonia has had in the last 15 years was in 1991: ever since, Macedonia's economic performance has worsened. The World Bank has recently reported that 40 percent of Macedonians live in poverty. With few resources and very little foreign investment, the future is gloomy. Tupurkovski stressed that even if there were no political problems, if ethnic tensions were resolved and if the status talks on Kosovo do not affect Macedonia, the country would still be in deep crisis.
In political terms, Macedonia's status as a candidate country for EU accession might give the impression that the country is doing well compared to its neighbors (Serbia, Bosnia and Albania are not yet candidates). However, the EU has given Macedonia additional conditions, which will likely take 5 to 6 years to implement and aid to the Western Balkans has been cut. Tupurkovski lamented that the Macedonian government—as the epicenter of corruption and organized crime—will likely fail to implement necessary reforms, since it cannot hold free and fair elections. Moreover, the division between ethnic groups in Macedonia has never been greater.
Tupurkovski explained that Macedonians have begun to view the outcome of the Kosovo status talks as a fait accompli and that, before long, Kosovo will be independent. Moreover, there is growing concern that an independent Kosovo is likely to join Albania—after all, Kosovo alone does not have the necessary resources to create a viable economy and if it does initiate moves toward joining Albania through peaceful means, who will stop them? Macedonia fears that if the EU and the US do not make guarantees to prevent another geopolitical crisis in the Balkans, Kosovo's independence could create problems in Macedonia, which today is essentially divided into Macedonian and ethnic Albanian enclaves as a result of the violence in 2001 and the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement.