By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia is today marking the ten year anniversary of the Ohrid Peace Accord but some observers warn the country could yet stray from its path.
The historic deal, which was signed on 13 August 2001 by Macedonia’s top politicians of the time, ended almost a year of armed clashes between government forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents.
It resulted in greater rights for the country’s substantial Albanian community, profiled Macedonia as a multiethnic society and opened the way for Macedonia’s eventual EU and NATO accession.
However one international advocacy group has warned the country still faces ethnic challenges.
The International Crisis Group, issued a press release days ahead of the anniversary stating that “Macedonia is more stable and inclusive, but political party and ethnic tensions are growing”.
According to the ICG, changing political pressures are threatening the country’s hard-earned position as a multiethnic state.
“In the last five years, rising ethnic Macedonian nationalism, domination of all main state institutions by the Prime Minister [Nikola Gruevski] and his party, [a] decline in media and judicial independence, growing school segregation and too slow decentralisation have started to undermine the multiethnic civil state the country can still become.”
Urging ministers to help reverse these trends, the ICG added: “Macedonian leaders must forge a common policy based on the spirit of Ohrid whose full implementation is vital for social cohesion and ethnic harmony.”
In the first few years after the Accord was signed, Macedonia adopted more than 40 laws that were intended to support a multiethnic society and the inclusion of the country’s ethnic Albanians into the state.
The laws conferred greater independence to municipalities and allowed for the official use of the Albanian language and national symbols. They enabled Albanian language universities to be opened and paved the way for proportional representation of all ethnic communities in the army , police and state administration.
The head of the junior partner in the ruling Democratic Union for Integration coalition and former leader of the insurgents, Ali Ahmeti argues that the Accord has greatly improved the political and legal position of Albanians in Macedonia.
“In 2001, the country had only 170 [ethnic Albanian] police officers. Now there are almost 3,000. More than 20,000 Albanians have so far been employed in public office thanks to the Accord,” Ahmeti told local media.
The official statistics from the State Ombudsman’s Office, the institution in charge of following the employment of ethnic groups, confirm that there has been a significant rise in the participation of ethnic Albanians in state institutions.
In 2001, at the time of the conflict, only 4 per cent of public offices were held by Albanians. Now they represent 17.2 per cent of the public sector workforce.
Ljubomir Frckoski, a law professor at the Skopje-based St Cyril and Methodius University, and one of the experts involved in the preparation of the Ohrid agreement argues that the deal has accomplished its main goal, “to appease the legitimate demand for greater rights to the Albanians while at the same time preserving the Unitarian character of Macedonia”.
Honouring the anniversary today, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov is opening an international conference in Ohrid.
The forum brings together domestic and international officials, including Philip Reeker, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, as well as Ohrid Agreement facilitators James Pardew and Alain Le Roy who were active in the country during and immediately after the conflict.
The implementation of the Accord arguably put the country on its path toward EU and NATO accession. In 2005, Macedonia earned the status of an EU candidate country. In 2009, the European Commission recommended the start of Macedonia’s EU accession talks.