Macedonia’s Road to the European Union
Author: Mirjana Maleska and Denko Maleski
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 02/28/2007
A decade and a half after declaring independence in 1991, the Republic of Macedonia is a candidate for membership to the European Union. Measured solely through financial, economical or cultural criteria, the EU could very well place Macedonia together with the other countries of the Western Balkans “on hold” for quite some time. That is why the decision of the European Union to grant Macedonia a candidate status is an act of vision on part of its political leadership. Namely, the admission of the countries of the Western Balkans will mean further implementation of the idea of an integrated Europe, a peace-plan contemplated, for a long time, by distinguished Europeans that became a way of controlling malignant European nationalisms causing two wars and the tragedy of the holocaust in the twentieth century. After the last Balkan wars, European integration became essential for the stability and the progress of the Balkan region and the European continent as a whole.
The contemporary Macedonian state was established at the end of the Second World War, as part of the federal project of six constitutive states of the Yugoslav federation. Thus, apart from Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Montenegrins and the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonians acquired their own nation-state. This nation-state was the result of the fight of the Macedonian partisan movement that was part of the Yugoslav and the global anti-fascist coalition. Established in 1944, the concept of the state was inspired by the Western European state model and its territorial logic: one nation, one culture, one history, one state. Thus, the synonym of a mixture of national entities from precedent centuries, macedoine des fruits, was proclaimed a national state of the Macedonian people. Other groups in the historic Macedonian ethnic mosaic, the Albanians, the Turks, the Romas, the Vlachs and the Serbs acquired the status of national minorities. In conditions of a one-party dictatorship dominated by ethnic Macedonians, but also of extreme poverty, the center of power prescribed the allowed dose of freedom and proclaimed public priorities. Among them were the codification of a Macedonian standard language and the creation of conditions for development of the young Macedonian culture. The political and cultural framework designed by ethnic Macedonians in 1944 persisted for forty-six years under conditions of democracy and federalism, yet was ultimately challenged by Albanian nationalism.
Macedonia’s road to the EU has been a difficult one. Never wavering from its initial strategic foreign policy aim formulated in 1991, membership in the EU, the Republic of Macedonia, however, had to surmount serious internal and external obstacles in order to survive and to move towards its goal. Internally, while most of the other countries of Eastern Europe had to make one transition – from communism and dictatorship to capitalism and democracy, Macedonia had two additional transitions – from war to peace and from a nation-state to a multinational state. Externally, Macedonia’s historically contested nationality and territory put the fledgling state to serious tests in the relations with its neighbors.
Through the political turmoil that engulfed the Yugoslav federation at the beginning of the 1990s, Macedonia was successfully guided by the principle of peaceful self-determination. This policy of non-violence was primarily the product of the moderate approach of resolving external and domestic issues of the government of President Kiro Gligorov, but also of the absence of basic military power of the new state. The policy, supported by the EU and the USA, proved its worth: Macedonia was the sole member of the federation that achieved its independence peacefully.
But, the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army in 1991, Macedonia was left defenseless. Since the EU and the USA had no intention of engaging militarily, the Macedonian government turned to the UN. The idea of the first preventive UN mission, born in Skopje, was taken to the UN where it received support. Soon, soldiers from Scandinavia, to be followed by those of other countries, planted outlook-posts on the borders of Macedonia. Even America, who takes seriously the advice of its realists not to get entangled in the affairs of small states, sent a small contingent of soldiers under the UN flag.
How did Macedonia’s neighbors behave? Towards the new state that proclaimed independence in 1991, Greece sent clear signals of animosity, similar to the ones of declaring war. The name, the flag, and articles of the Constitution were contested by Greece, a member of the EC and NATO. 1.5 million people marched in the streets of Athens and Thessalonika with the slogan “Macedonia is Greek”. Greek military aircraft intruded into the country’s airspace followed by blockades at the borders. Yet, there was no military intervention. Greece even refused Miloshevic’s idea to partition Macedonia, marginalized the extreme nationalists in its government and very slowly turned towards a more moderate foreign policy course. The irredentist aims of the Bulgarian foreign policy towards Macedonia that dominated in the past were surprisingly weak, while the Albanian state, expressing “care” for the position of the Albanian minority, nevertheless, sent a message to the Albanians in Macedonia to find common solutions for their problems with ethnic Macedonians.
Weiner’s model, the “Macedonian syndrome”,1 did not, in the case of Macedonia, produce a regional war. Namely, not a single neighbor invaded the defenseless country – the reason being that nationalistic projects did not have the support of the big powers, while membership in the EU and NATO was their top priority. In fact, both the US and the EU, with “carrots” and “sticks”, forced the Balkan states to accept the principle of the inviolability of borders, in a region where state borders do not follow ethnic ones but cut across them, giving it an advantage over the principle of self-determination.
After the declaration of independence in 1991, Macedonia’s new democratic pluralist political system had to be reinvented. It was essential for future stability that representatives of all the ethnic communities participate in laying the constitutional foundations of the democratic state. But in the chained chaos of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, fear and suspicion dominated the behavior of the representatives of the parties as representatives of their respective ethnic groups. The Constitutional system, written and voted by ethnic Macedonians in parliament, did not have protective mechanisms for minorities as collectives, so politics could not absorb their requests and translate them into state policy. In such conditions, nationalism, not democracy, became “the only game in town” with anger and mutual intolerance growing by the day. Macedonia was on the road to ethnic conflict. It was only a matter of time when Macedonian nationalism would be challenged by Albanian nationalism. The disapproval of the Albanians with their social status and the inability of the political structure to carry out economic and democratic reforms through a process of peaceful accommodation with the Albanian ethnic group, as well corruption of the political institutions and the judiciary became generators of conflict.
What are the lessons learned? The political literature from the last decade studies the experience of the twenty-two states that emerged after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, come to useful general conclusions. One of them is that an inadequate strategy of building a state and building a nation in conditions of democracy can position the whole society on wrong tracks. Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, long-time researchers of democracies in the world, created a useful scheme for the relations between the state, the nation (or nations) and democracy. The choice of strategy of building a state and building a nation in conditions of democracy, they conclude, depends on the specific situation of the state. The situation itself depends on the degree of presence of other nations besides the titular nation on the territory of the state. Thus, the first situation: if there is no other nation, it is easy to consolidate the democratic nation-state, with a decision-making system based on the majority principle. Second situation: if on the territory of the state, a second nation is present in addition to the titular nation, it is possible to create a democratic nation-state if the other nation is not nationally awakened. Third situation: if the other nation is nationally awakened to the point of creating conflict, it makes democracy difficult, although not impossible. Democratic consolidation is possible only if the political system is carefully planned, and the state moves towards a multinational state. Fourth situation: when besides the titular nation there is another nation which is militant culture, it generates so much conflict or repression, that democratic consolidation is highly improbable. Namely, this state will be under strong pressure for territorial division, especially if a territorial demarcation between the ethnic groups is possible.2
The Macedonian situation in 1991 is situation number three. Still, the constitution of 1991 chose situation number one, putting Macedonia on the wrong track of democratic transition. Of course, one can find many justifications and the list could be headed by fear for the state’s survival under attack from raging nationalisms that tore apart the Yugoslav Federation along ethnic lines. But, by choosing the wrong strategy, Macedonia, ten years later, ended up a step lower in the mentioned list of situations – with a militant Albanian nation, with military conflict and demands for division along ethnic lines.
Democracy, many were convinced, would resolve future conflicts between the two ethnic groups. But, in the decade after the proclamation of the Constitution yet another thesis in politics was confirmed – that in conditions of freedom, a just solution of the relation “polis-demos”, or “state-people”, should precede the shaping of the democratic institutions. Namely, a democratic state is possible only if there is loyalty from all the composing elements. In the case of Macedonia, in order to pass the Constitution with the support of the Albanians in Parliament, an exquisitely difficult task had to be fulfilled – the construction of a rightful relation between the state and its nations! In order to do that an agreement between the people was essential, which however, was not reached in 1991. This deficiency could not be surpassed with “democracy”, because, as Robert Dahl, another authority in democracy studies warns: “the criteria of the democratic process presupposes the rightfulness of the unit itself…since it cannot be made rightful simply by democratic procedures”.3
Under international pressure and with the help of NATO and the EU, the military conflict was brought to a halt, and Macedonia was forced to abandon the constitutional architecture of 1991. The Ohrid Agreement positioned the Macedonian state on the right track that leads towards a multiethnic state. Consensual democracy lay in the foundation of the new strategy, in the shape of a combination of political liberalism, based on the individual rights and the collective rights of the nations.
The Ohrid Peace Agreement is a compromise. Macedonia remains a unitary state but power is shared with ethnic Albanians through several mechanisms: a proportional electoral model that enhances Albanian representation in parliament (27 of 120 MP); a new decentralized local-self government and the creation of municipalities where they are in majority; a right of veto in Parliament over several important issues; Albanian language as a second official language; equitable representation of the minorities in public administration, the police, the army and the judiciary; and the creation of two Albanian universities.
The implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement is a difficult process, since the majority is inevitably the one that will have to give up some privileges in a very difficult time. With record unemployment, Macedonia became the European “leader” with almost 40% of its people jobless and a very low level of investments, growing poverty, a weak service in the public sphere (especially in health protection), an inefficient judiciary system, corruption, an underdeveloped system of protection of human rights, and a deficit in the democratic capacity of the state to deal with the problems. The intensity of these serious problems and their continuation makes for the inability of the institutions to establish conditions for the rule of law, which erodes the legitimacy of political authority. Under such circumstances, the problem of political confidence between ethnic groups has become sharper.
Post-Ohrid Macedonian society is on the right track. Constitutional foundations for inter-ethnic stability have created a positive climate for further economic and political development. Reforms in the military have brought the country closer to NATO membership, together with the other two members of the Adriatic group, Croatia and Albania. The expansion of the Western military alliance to the region will, in time, resolve the “security dilemma”, creating conditions for economic development and membership in the EU. Fifteen years after the breakdown of the Yugoslav federation, the process of creating new territorial entities is coming to a close. Kosovo will be the last piece of the new mosaic of states created by war and peaceful self-determination. But the end of the process of fragmentation of the region into seven states will have to be followed by the beginning of a process of integration through the creation of a customs union. With the assistance of the EU, the Balkan region that amounts to 2% of the economic power of the Union, could easily be absorbed by this pan-European plan. This will liberate the economic potentials that are confined to small and, for foreign investors, unattractive markets. It could undoubtedly have a positive influence on political stability as well.
Macedonia will be very sensitive to future developments in neighboring Kosovo. The creation of the new state with predominantly Albanian population, together with the state of Albania and post-Ohrid multiethnic Macedonia, will be a strong boost to the restoration of the dignity of that nation, but also to possible rise of radicalism. Of course, this might not be the end of multiethnic Macedonia, as Kissinger predicted a few years back, but it could have a serious effect on the country’s internal stability. Nationalism, although controlled, is still very much alive in the Balkans. The support that all nationalists give to the processes of integration originates from their very specific interpretation of the European idea: borders will disappear and a “spiritual unification ” among the divided nations will emerge, meaning that Balkan nations will achieve their nations’ goals with the help of an idea that is attempting to create a new European identity.
True, “spiritual union” in a cultural sense could be achieved in a “Balkan without borders”, but what will be the political implications of this process? The EU is not a substitution to the state, at least not for the near future. Thus, what are needed in the Balkans today are functioning democracies, capable of commanding the loyalty of all their citizens, regardless of ethnic origin. A multiethnic state such as Macedonia will have a hard time to maintain successfully its internal ethnic balance if caught by a wave of Albanian radicalism. Will moderate Albanians in Macedonia and in the Balkans as a whole, who fill in the gap created between a slow and arduous democratic process of economic and cultural emancipation, and the call of radicals for fast solutions of the “national question”, possibly combine with manifestations of ” Islamic radicalism”.
Macedonia’ s divided society is united around a single idea today – the idea of European integration. Of course, there is a lot of simplification and idealism, yet all the political segments see the country’s future in an integrated Europe. The gradual process of reshaping the Macedonian state that has begun with the Ohrid Agreement was the result of a European-led multilateral intervention. With the help of the European Union whose top officials and institutions committed their resources and credibility in containing the crisis of 2001, Macedonia’s recovery was a major achievement. Now that questions concerning emotional issues of national identity and their articulation through the institutions of the political system have been resolved, new problems arise. At the heart of the “revolution of great expectations” for members of all ethnic communities lies a yearning for better life. People, especially the young generations graduating from universities, including the two in Albanian language, expect a job and a better life for themselves and their families. If the state improves its performance in the economic field and creates opportunities there will be stability. There are many positive signs that things are also moving in the right direction in the economy. This trend should continue with the assistance of the Union, an organization that has experience in dealing with stagnant economies and poverty. Because, in the near future, economic issues might turn into dangerous interethnic quarrels that could cause further separation of the ethnic communities destabilizing the state and the region.
The huge costs of ending the wars in Yugoslavia, and reconstructing the devastated economies taught us that timely intervention is essential. In the case of Macedonia, the EU, together with the USA and NATO, demonstrated that lessons have been learned from the wars in Bosnia. Their timely intervention in Macedonia prevented what was to be a full-blown civil war. Now the country must move away from this abyss by developing its economy, yet again with the support of the European Union. So must the Balkans as a whole. That is why the idea of a Balkan integrated into the Union by the time of the hundredth anniversary of the other Balkan wars of 1912-1913 is a goal worth fighting for.
Footnote: 1In 1971 the American political scientist Myron Weiner, in an attempt to predict the behavior of the newly independent African states, created a model that he called “the Macedonian syndrome”. Built on the experience of Balkan tragedies which ended in wars, the model has several actors: a state which has terrirorial aspirations towards its neighbor on whose territory live their kin as an ethnic minirity (an irredentist state) ; a state that resists the changing of the borders (an anti-irredentist state) ; and a common ethnic group on both sides of the border. (“World Politics 1971) www.newbalkanpolitics.org.mk
2 Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation (Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe, Baltimore and London, 1996, p.36.
3Robert A. Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics, New Haven, 1989, p.207.
Bio: Mirjana Maleska, PhD, is a Professor at South European University, Tetovo
Denko Maleski, PhD, is a Professor of Law in Skopje, Macendonia