Macedonia is being shaken by twin political and security crises, both of which could escalate into violent confrontation or worse. While another civil war in the Western Balkans is not imminent, there is a serious threat to regional stability that the country’s leaders and international partners need to contain.
Ten years after the Ohrid Agreement ended fighting between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, Macedonia is more stable and inclusive, but political party and ethnic tensions are growing, and the new government needs to reverse the negative trends.
Macedonia is a relative success story in a region scarred by unresolved statehood and territory issues. International engagement has, since the 2001 conflict with an ethnic Albanian insurgency, brought progress in integrating Albanians into political life. This has been underpinned by the promise of European Union (EU) and NATO integration, goals that unite ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. But the main NATO/EU strategy for stabilising Macedonia and the region via enlargement was derailed in 2008 by the dispute with Greece over the country’s name.
The European Union summit’s December 2005 decision to grant EU candidacy status is a significant milestone on Macedonia’s path to European integration. However, its open-ended nature, with no start date for accession talks, indicates the practical and policy challenges the country still faces to become a stable post-conflict democracy.
The EU’s present visa regime with the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro including Kosovo) is fostering resentment, inhibiting progress on trade, business, education and more open civil societies, and as a result contributing negatively to regional stability.
While Macedonia has had a reasonably good year, the survival of the state in its present form -- a key element of stability in the fragile Western Balkans -- is still not completely assured.
Recent events require that policymakers revise substantially the conventional assessment that Macedonia is the foremost political “success story” of the Balkans. In fact, it is an underperforming post-conflict country still very much at risk, unable to tackle – operationally or politically -- its security challenges without upsetting an uncertain ethnic balance.
Macedonia’s 15 September 2002 election suggests the country may have turned a corner on the road to stability. Widely anticipated fraud and violence mostly did not materialise.
Corruption in Macedonia, especially at high levels of government, is endemic. It has evolved from passive exploitation to active coercion and acquired the capacity not only to retard economic progress but also to feed organised crime and, in turn, political and communal instability.