310. Principle, Pragmatism and Political Capital: Assessing Macedonia's Leadership, 1992-2004

Keith Brown

Keith Brown is Assistant Professor International Studies at the Watson Institute, Brown University. He spoke at an EES noon discussion on January 19, 2005. The following is a summary of his presentation. Meeting Report 310.

In November 2004, the US government recognized the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher described this as underscoring US commitment to "a permanent, multiethnic and democratic Macedonia within its existing borders." The recognition, on the eve of a potentially divisive referendum in the country, can be seen as belated acknowledgment of the achievement of Macedonia's political leadership since the country's declaration of independence in 1991. Despite economic and political pressure from its southern neighbor Greece, persistent military threat from Milosevic's Serbia to the north and high-profile tensions over the collective rights of Albanians within the country, which precipitated an armed insurgency in 2001, Macedonia has emerged as a candidate for EU membership, with all major political forces committed to interethnic accommodation and market democracy.

Credit for this trajectory, for the most part, has been shared between presidents Kiro Gligorov (1991-1999), Boris Trajkovski (1999-2004) and an increasingly engaged international community. Without diminishing the achievements of these two principled leaders and a range of organizations, including the OSCE, the UN and the EU, I seek in this paper to cast a quick eye over broad shifts in the party political landscape of Macedonia, and then examine more closely the careers of two politician-scholars whose works and lives illuminate the underside of rosy assessments of Macedonia's progress. I should stress that I am not seeking to play the role of "doomsayer" to which commentators on Macedonia so frequently resort, especially when writing on interethnic relations between Macedonians and Albanians. In the work of the two figures I highlight here, Arben Xhaferi and Ljubomir Frchkoski, I find instead the basis for understanding core tensions within Macedonia in a non-ethnic frame. I conclude by suggesting that these alternative framings, and their implications for our understanding of political capital, need to be taken seriously by international actors invested in the country's future stability.

Macedonia's first multi-party election in 1990 saw three main political forces emerge, which continue to define the political landscape of the country. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (IMRO-DPMNU), styled as a nationalist party, won the single largest bloc of seats in the Assembly. Second were the reform communists, who in 1992 changed their name to the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDUM). Both parties drew their votes from the Macedonian majority. The third largest bloc was comprised of two parties that shared the bulk of the votes cast by ethnic Albanians, the People's Democratic Party (NDP) and the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP). After IMRO-DPMNU proved unwilling and unable to work with other parties, SDUM partnered with smaller Macedonian parties and the PDP in autumn 1992 to form a coalition government.

Among Macedonian voters, SDUM and IMRO-DPMNU have remained the principal contenders for power in every subsequent election. Although both have flirted with ethnic chauvinism—IMRO-DPMNU in its early years, and again during the 2001 crisis, SDUM in Tito Petkovski's failed presidential bid in 1999—pragmatists in both camps have clearly concluded that the Macedonian electorate responds poorly to "ethnic outbidding" and that such tactics alienate the international community. Both parties have over time gravitated from their ideologically clear-cut origins—SDUM on the left, IMRO-DPMNU on the right—toward the political center. This has had the effect of squeezing out of contention smaller, centrist parties. One casualty of this movement has been Vasil Tupurkovski, a charismatic veteran of reformist politics in the former Yugoslavia, who contested the 1998 elections at the head of a new Democratic Alternative Party (DAP), in coalition with IMRO-DPMNU, and emerged a winner. His personal success was short-lived, as the party imploded: it could be argued, though, that the larger parties' moves to the center were partly triggered by his initiative.

Albanian political parties have proved less resilient than the SDUM and IMRO blocs. After 1992, PDP found itself under attack from within the Albanian community for its perceived "collusion" with Macedonian interests, and a more radical splinter party, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), emerged under the leadership of Arben Xhaferi in 1994. DPA won ground in elections that year and continued to sponsor confrontations with the state, especially with regard to issues of Albanian-language education and greater autonomy for municipalities. DPA significantly outpolled PDP in the 1998 elections, after which it entered a coalition government with IMRO-DPMNU and its junior partner, DAP. Once in power, DPA found itself under attack, similar to those it had launched against PDP for "selling out" on Albanian interests. The backlash, in 2001, was an armed Albanian insurgency led by Ali Ahmeti. In the 2002 elections, a new party with roots in the insurgency, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), decisively outpolled both DPA and PDP and entered a coalition government with SDUM, which avenged its 1998 loss by defeating IMRO-DPMNU.

The strong trend toward pragmatic compromise in Macedonian politics can be seen in the resolution of the 2001 crisis. Although some powerful figures—most notably IMRO-DPMNU's then Interior Minister, Ljubce Boskovski—advocated a military response to the insurgency, others campaigned successfully for diplomatic methods, and their efforts culminated in the Ohrid Agreement in August that year. The Agreement laid out a framework for constitutional changes to meet most of the insurgents' demands, without resorting to partition or explicit ethnic cantonization, which many inside and outside the country had seen as a likely outcome. The Agreement was drafted with international involvement, especially from the United States and the European Union, and was signed by the leaders of the IMRO-DPMNU, SDUM, DPA and PDP, as well as President Trajkovski.

The four party leaders who signed the Ohrid Agreement and their parties have followed very different paths since then. As noted above, SDUM is now the party of government, in coalition with DUI, the party formed by the insurgency's leader. SDUM and DUI are committed to the full implementation of the terms of the Ohrid Agreement. SDUM's leader since 1992, Branko Crvenkovski, is now Macedonia's President, elected after the tragic death of Boris Trajkovski in February 2004. By contrast, IMRO-DPMNU has been weakened by internal factionalism, which has led to the formation of multiple splinter parties, all bearing the name IMRO. Former leader Ljubco Georgievski resigned and was succeeded by the former finance minister, Nikola Gruevski. Since DPA's poor showing in the 2002 elections, its leader Arben Xhaferi has urged party members to boycott the political process. In contrast to Crvenkovski and Ahmeti, both Georgievski and Xhaferi have now disowned the Ohrid Agreement they had signed.

At first sight, Georgievski and Xhaferi look to be reacting to their 2002 electoral loss by playing marginal "spoiler" roles. Yet extra-parliamentary opposition to the current direction of the country extends beyond these defeated politicans. In the summer of 2004, the government's plan to redraw the country's municipal boundaries triggered widespread negative reactions. The plan, drawn up in consultation between SDUM and DUI, was seen by critics as ethno-political gerrymandering, which would grant DUI effective control over large swathes of Western Macedonia. The government, backed by the international community, contended that it was an essential step in the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement. With no effective parliamentary debate on the plan, a non-governmental organization, the World Macedonian Congress, led a group of civil society actors in a petition drive for a national referendum on the redistricting, and secured the necessary 150,000 signatures.

In this referendum and other arenas, SDUM and DUI now find themselves facing the same kinds of criticism—for forming an "unprincipled coalition" and for backroom dealing—that fatally undermined the legitimacy of the IMRO-DPMNU/DAP/DPA alliance. The government responded by labeling the referendum and its supporters as "anti-Albanian" and "anti-reform." Yet criticism comes from both Macedonians and Albanians, as well as Macedonia's other ethnic groups (including Turks, Roma, Bosniaks, Serbs and Vlahs), and so they cannot easily be dismissed as expressions of Macedonian extremism. In particular, their broad reach can be seen in the fact that they are shared by two intellectuals, Ljubomir Frchkoski and Arben Xhaferi, whose views I want to examine more closely. These two politician-scholars have disagreed on every issue with which they have come into contact since the early 1990s. Their past clashes have been triggered by their very different visions of Macedonia's future. Their criticism of the government position, therefore, deserves close attention since they exemplify not opposition to reform per se, but rather resistance to what they and many citizens see as the work of a government out of touch with the electorate.

As noted above, Xhaferi was a signatory of the Ohrid Agreement. Frchkoski, by his own account, was involved as an advisor to President Trajkovski during the negotiations. Their presence in the room at this critical juncture in Macedonian politics reflected their careers as key players in the Republic's short history. Frchkoski, a professor at the Law Faculty in Skopje, was one of the authors of the first Macedonian Constitution, approved in Parliament in November 1991. He served as minister without portfolio in the cabinet from March 1991 to January 1992 (the so-called "government of experts"), and was appointed minister of internal affairs on January 10, 1992, at the age of 35—a post he retained in the SDUM-led government, under then Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski. He continued in this post until 1995 and then served as foreign minister from 1996 to 1997. Subsequently, he has worked as a political analyst and commentator, publishing scholarly work (both in Macedonian and in English) as well as an influential weekly column in the Macedonian daily Dnevnik. He has consistently advocated for Macedonia to be built as a strong civic state: intermediary institutions, he argues, especially those constituted along ethnic lines, are tools of clientelism, bossism and organized crime, even if not secessionist.

Arben Xhaferi played a role in Albanian student protests in 1968, and after concessions were granted to Kosovo in the 1974 Constitution, enjoyed a successful career in Pristina as an arts critic. After 1990, he first worked with PDP to try to re-establish higher educational opportunities for Albanians, but he grew frustrated with the party's passive stance in negotiations with Macedonian partners and advocated more confrontational methods. Expelled from the party in February 1994, he formed a splinter party that was finally formally constituted as the DPA in 1997, and which launched "street politics" in the form of anti-government demonstrations in Albanian-dominated areas of Western Macedonia. As DPA leader, he accepted an invitation to participate in the coalition government with IMRO-DPMNU and DAP in 1998, and DPA was part of the government when the Albanian insurgency began in 2001.

Between 1998 and 2001, Xhaferi authored several texts outlining the DPA platform. The core agenda was to transform the centralized, unitary Macedonia state, which he presents (along with any commitment to the civic principle "one citizen, one vote") as an instrument of ethnic Macedonian oppression. Xhaferi has advocated instead for "multiethnic democracy," which relies on consensus rather than majority voting, in terms reminiscent of Albanian struggles within federal Yugoslavia and which also evoke Arend Lijphart's model of consociational democracy. At a DPA party convention prior to the 2004 presidential election, Xhaferi called for "equality at every level of the society" and demanded separate and distinct authority structures, in place of an integrated system.

From very different positions, Arben Xhaferi and Ljubomir Frchkoski take issue with the way in which the current Macedonian government is implementing the Ohrid Agreement. Their criticisms reflect the Janus-faced quality of that document, which stated a clear commitment to the maintenance of a unitary and civic Macedonian state while simultaneously installing a set of measures by which, in the words of Gordana Siljanovski-Davkova, "distinction and heterogeneity are stimulated." What both Xhaferi and Frchkoski point to is the political reality that the Agreement alone accomplishes nothing: it is the manner in which it is implemented that will determine the shape of the Macedonian polity. The Ohrid Agreement—perhaps inevitably—itself contains elements of the stubbornly irreconcilable positions that have structured Macedonia's first decade of political existence. With a strong parliamentary majority and the endorsement of the international community, the current government is pushing through its own interpretation without wider domestic consultation.

Much of the reporting from Macedonia over the past decade has emphasized the ethnic fault line between Slavic, Orthodox Christian Macedonians and Muslim Albanians as the main obstacle to peace and stability. The 1998 coalition between IMRO-DPMNU and DPA, both formerly seen as radically nationalist, was correspondingly seen as a great leap forward. Since 2002, the same promise is seen in the cooperation between SDUM and DUI, which offers high-level cooperation between Macedonian and Albanian elites, instead of subjecting the country's forward progress to the whims of a divided, chauvinistic public. But this position overlooks the two deeper challenges that the state faces. First, the electoral history of the past decade shows a fundamental difference between Albanian and Macedonian political party organization and development. "Ethnic outbidding" has consistently failed when adopted by Macedonian parties, in part because of the need to include Albanian parties in governing coalitions. By contrast, Albanian political elites have been consistently successful when employing ethnic outbidding and more confrontational methods. It is not yet clear whether the Ohrid Agreement has changed that fundamental logic: the decision by Arben Xhaferi to resort to a more radical position since 2002 indicates that, in the reckoning of this shrewd politician, the old rules still apply.

Second, Macedonian politics reveal a deeper confrontation between centralist and decentralist visions of the state, made clearest in the trenchant publications and statements of Ljubomir Frchkoski on one side, and Arben Xhaferi on the other. Although, in general, more Macedonians favor a centralist vision, and more Albanians favor decentralization, the two positions carry no intrinsic ethnic quality. Greater decentralization, in particular, affords greater space for clientelism and corruption, and permits a day-to-day degradation of the state and the lives of its citizens by "spoils-seeking" parties and factions working only to remain in power. The story of the dismantling of Soviet centralism told by Stephen Handelman makes this clear. Thus, when designed by elites in secret consultation and implemented without wide consultation, decentralization can trigger public unease and sharp criticism from intellectuals committed to the democratic procedure, such as Ljubomir Frchkoski.

By throwing its weight behind the government to defeat last November's referendum—the EU's call for Macedonian citizens to act "responsibly" by abstaining and in the tactical timing of the United States' recognition of the Republic's constitutional name two days before polling—the international community has gambled that pragmatism trumps principle, that the ends (constitutional reform) justify the means (a discounting of a wide, deliberative process on mechanics). In so doing, though, the internationals misunderstand the nature of political capital in the country. Principles matter to Macedonia's electorate, the older members of which spent much of their lives in a political system dominated by specious rhetoric and back-room dealings. Backgrounds matter: Xhaferi's record of activism going back to the 1960s wins him legitimacy from Albanian audiences, just as Frchkoski's professional expertise, eloquence and intellectual rigor win him a hearing among Macedonians. And non-party politics matter too: as noted above, it was a coalition of NGOs that mobilized to demand the referendum, indicating the growing autonomy and impact of the civil society sector in the country. In the short term, perhaps, these facets of Macedonian society can be dismissed as irrelevant. But unless the government and the international community are content to ride roughshod over the democratic principles increasingly embraced by Macedonia's citizens over the past decade, current popular resistance and intellectual dissidence need to be taken seriously.


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