MINELRES: New publication: Ethnobarometer: What future for Macedonia?

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Sun Feb 21 19:51:01 2010

Original sender: Ethnobarometer <ethnobarometer@gmail.com>

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January 2010

What future for Macedonia?

Macedonia may be on the brink of it most serious political and
institutional crisis since its independence which potentially can
threaten also its territorial integrity. The crisis, should it occur,
would not be without consequences for the stability of the whole region.
Interviews and a meeting that Ethnobarometer held in the country in
December 2009 lead us to believe that such a possibility can hardly be

Under the present circumstances the strategy of the European Union to
make a solution of the name issue a pre-condition to the start of the
negotiation for accession represents a high risk approach. The economic
recession and the growing perception that accession to the EU will not
happen in any foreseeable future can accelerate the process of the
dissolution of Macedonia's present political and institutional system. 
While it is possible that in the next few months Papandreu may come up
with a reasonable compromise proposal on the name issue which Skopje may
find it impossible to turn down, it is a fact that both contenders do
not seem anxious to reach an agreement in the short term. The mainstream
opinion of Greek political establishment, today possibly even more so
than in the past, is "Why hurry? Macedonia will fall apart anyway,
whether they get the name they want or whether they don't".  Before the
European Council of December 11th, Papandreu had urged that the deadline
set by the EU be postponed arguing, according to reliable sources, that
he needed time to identify a possible solution, and that he would
otherwise have no choice but to confirm the Greek veto. As for Gruevski,
all his public speeches and statements reiterate his past uncompromising
position and some of is initiatives are being perceived as provocative
not only in Athens but also in Brussels and in Washington. The latest
case is emblematic. Reportedly Olli Rehn during a meeting with Gruevski
had recommended that the decision to erect a statue of Alexander the
Great in Skopje's main square be cancelled and Gruesvki appeared to
acquiesce, however recently the mayor of Skopje stated that the statue
would soon be erected. Some observers in Skopje believe that the prime
minister wants and seeks a showdown.

The Progress Report of the European Commission published in October 2009
was celebrated by the Macedonian government as a great success. In
reality the Report was politically motivated rather than (as a careful
reading of it shows) one reflecting true progress in reforms (see
Ethnobarometer's background Background Paper dated November 2009). Olli
Rehn voiced hope that it would represent "a very strong encouragement to
settle the name issue and remove it from the agenda". The ethnic
Albanian community, including the main party, DUI, which is part of the
government coalition, are unequivocally in favour of accession to the
EU, "at any price", they say, a clear reference to the name issue. Some
ethnic Albanian leaders in the opposition claim either explicitly or
implicitly that, should this not be the case, the Albanian community
should choose to "go their own way" -- a barely veiled threat of
secession. The fact that a DUI's spokesperson (and MP) participated in
an informal meeting that Ethnobarometer held in Skopje on December 12th
significantly reflects the interest with which Albanians look at Europe.
Its being a member of the governing coalition puts DUI in a difficult
position, that has already started costing them loss of popular support.
Apart from this, in recent years inter-Albanian conflict at the
political level has become more virulent and constitutes still another
threat to the stability of Macedonia. Finally, the turmoil that is
presently shaking Macedonia's politics represents an additional, more
general, threat. Some observers are concerned about what they perceive
as a trend towards an accentuated totalitarian society, worrying about
the government's aggressive intimidation campaign conducted in recent
months against members of the opposition; they claim that partisanship
has entered every layer of society and that VMRO's objective is to
control all its aspects. Gruevski is known to be in favour of an early
election. However following a public opinion poll commissioned in
December by USAID that has shown a disastrous melting of support for
VMRO-PDMNE, 17,9%, with SDUM up to 13,0% (these data have not been
acknowledged by the government for over a week) Gruevski apparently
seems to be backing away from the idea.

The Framework Agreement signed in Ohrid in August 2001 was and is still
regarded as the birth date of a new multi ethnic State based on the
recognition and promotion of the identities and rights of all its
citizens, including the minorities. Much has been done to grant ethnic
Albanians the rights they have been claiming since independence, however
today Slav Macedonians and ethnic Albanians are living, in practice, in
most cases, in separate enclaves. Collaboration exists only at the level
of political parties, not at the level of everyday life.  Some modest
progress, as far as the latter is concerned, has been made in the most
recent years (see our Background paper), that are positive but fall
short of producing an integrated society capable of developing political
strategies aimed at generating the progress needed to significantly
improve economic and social conditions and to sustain processes of
democratization and modernization. Furthermore, minorities living in the
country regard the Framework Agreement as a bilateral deal between Slav
Macedonians and ethnic Albanians that neglected the rights of other
communities. The 2008-2010 Action Plan for Roma, with the exception of a
training of trainers, is not being implemented, and the situation of the
Roma population in Macedonia keeps deteriorating. The ethnic Turkish
minority has seen their representation and participation in local
government and other sectors decline. Finally, another factor is the
growing estrangement of public opinion from the political establishment,
perceived as corrupted and whose members are believed by a large
majority of the population to be mainly interested in profit making at
the individual level rather than in working for the general wellbeing.

In short, in Macedonia the tensions, today either already manifest or
still latent, could at any moment rise to a level that would seriously
threaten its political system and possibly also its territorial
integrity. The territorial issue is not new in the history of modern
Macedonia. In 2001 the Macedonian Academy of Sciences produced a map
showing a division of the national territory between Albania and
Bulgaria. Also in 2001 a partition plan, very much resembling the one of
the Academy, was discussed by the elite, including members of the
government, of the main national political party. Apparently also some
members of the Bulgarian political elites were involved.  This episode
has received little or no attention except from few insiders of
Macedonia's politics There was even talk of action, but no follow-up
after a minister in the Macedonian government, one of the most prominent
ones, strongly opposed the idea. These precedents represent a warning.
Our analysis leads to the conclusion that to put the name issue as a
pre-condition at the very top of the agenda of Macedonia-EU agenda is a
strategy fraught with many (some unpredictable) risks. Accession
negotiations cannot start without Greek consensus. However the European
Commission could monitor developments and reforms in Macedonia with the
same vigour that it normally applies in negotiating the various chapters
with other candidates with whom it is already negotiating (e.g. Turkey),
and put much more pressure on the Macedonian government. Several
political analysts we interviewed in Skopje remarked that the Commission
has been too "soft" in dealing with Gruevski, with the only visible
result of strengthening his position and his ambitions. 

Finally, the name issue should not be hostage of a bilateral
negotiation. The European Union should take a stronger, public and
direct role, come forth with its own proposals (it did so in 2001,
successfully) and the two parties should examine and discuss them in
Brussels, with the European Commission sitting at the same table. It has
the means to exert adequate pressure on both capitals, especially today,
when the two ailing economies badly need its support. 

A background paper reviewing recent developments in Macedonia can be
found on

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