Philosophy and Political Spirit of the Ohrid Framework Agreement 2001

The essence of ethnic conflict and crisis in Macedonia

It seemed that Macedonia’s independence from the former Yugoslavia in a peaceful manner was a success story, unlike the other states of former Yugoslavia, which gained their independence through war. Even its former president Gligorov called it the “oasis of peace” in the Balkans. As was stressed in one of the reports of the International Crisis Group, Macedonia is a relative success story in a region scared of unresolved territorial issues and statehood[1].

That the leaders of Macedonia were planting the seeds for an ethnic conflict, from the beginning, this was obvious from the approval of the first political act – The Declaration of the Independence of Macedonia.[2]

The goal of creating a mononational state, which does not respect the composition of the population living in Macedonia, is clearly perceived in article 1 of this declaration.[3] This wording[4] very clearly defines the character of the new state as a national Macedonian state, excluding the possibility of establishing a multiethnic state, where the Albanians and other nations living in Macedonia would be included.[5]

Holding a referendum that would legitimate the creation of a mononational state in a multinational society, will also be another factor, which will increase the dissatisfaction of the Albanian people in Macedonia and will further deepen the inter-ethnic conflict.

The referendum was held even though the Albanians boycotted it.  In the same way, without the participation of the Albanians, the constitution was approved, in spite of all formulations, which treat the Albanians as citizens of the second rank, rather than a constituent people.[6]

The constitutional principles of independent Macedonia were inherited from the Yugoslav constitution of 1974, which established a three-leveled system for its republics: the nations, the nationalities and other nationalities and ethnic groups, who would call themselves Yugoslavs.[7]

The constitution of Macedonia of 1991 created thus a similar two-leveled system of identification, consisting of the main nation and minorities. The preamble of the constitution itself demonstrated the tendencies of creating a nation-state form, instead of the civil state, where all ethnicities would feel equal.[8] In this way the state relies on the main nation, which according to the typical principles will have a superior legitimacy toward the minorities.[9]

Always considering the fact that Albanians represent one third of the population in this country and that they are autochthonous inhabitants in these territories, the introduction of this leveled system, where Albanians were considered in the same level with other minorities, increased their anger. Meanwhile, Macedonia itself would be categorized as a country with constitutional nationalism, although de facto it shows attributes of a typical multi-ethnic society.

Different ethnic identities are not artificially created and therefore they should not be ignored. The language, the writing system, the religion, the culture, and the symbols are very important to people because they represent their identity.[10]

Albanians in Macedonia were for a long time divested of using their mother tongue within institutions, of their rights for higher education in their native language, and of the use of the national flag. Furthermore, the violence was used often to prevent claiming these vital rights. Another handicap of the Macedonian democracy during the decade after its independence, as Kerim[11] emphasized, is the radicalization of the situation, including the use of force to resolve some ethnic contradictories (use of the Albanian flag, the University of Tetovo, etc.).[12]

These issues, which were deepening and intensifying the inter-ethnic conflict, were not managed in a proper manner and time by the leaders of the institutions of Macedonia, generating a crisis, which erupted in the form of an armed conflict between Albanians organized in military force (NLA) and the Macedonian military and police forces.

The Ohrid Agreement: The Political Spirit and its Philosophy

The Ohrid Agreement is a document which established the basic principles of a civil state. Despite the claims of the Macedonian constitutionalists that the interventions in the preamble of the constitution are made in the spirit of the European constitutionalism and the radical separation from the traditional concept of a nation-state, “the changes in the Constitution were more in the terminology level, than in terms of principles.”[13]

In the preamble, instead of stating “Albanian nationality”, now one refers to the “part of the Albanian people”. Everywhere else one refers to the nationalities with a neutral term: “communities”[14] or “citizens within administrative units, where at least 20% of them speak other languages, rather than Macedonian”.[15]

The two-leveled system “Macedonian nation” and “parts of peoples”, as well as ranking the Albanians at the same level with other non-Macedonian communities, is still a relapse from the Yugoslav constitution of 1974.

This document consists of the basic principles which include: The use of violence in pursuit of political aims is rejected completely and unconditionally. Only peaceful political solutions can assure a stable and democratic future for Macedonia; Macedonia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the unitary character of the State, are inviolable and must be preserved.

There are no territorial solutions to ethnic issues; the multi-ethnic character of Macedonia’s society must be preserved and reflected in public life; a modern democratic state in its natural course of development and maturation must continually ensure that its Constitution fully meets the needs of all its citizens and comports with the highest international standards, which themselves continue to evolve; the development of local self-government is essential for encouraging the participation of citizens in democratic life, and for promoting respect for the identity of communities.

In addition to the basic principles this agreement includes: the representation of decentralized governance; the principle of non-discrimination and equitable representation; special parliamentary procedures, which include “Badinter majority”; the education and use of languages; the expression of the identity; the implementation part and the annexes of the constitutional amendments and the legal changes and confidence-building measures.

These principles, although ideal for a country like Macedonia, remain unimplemented even after a decade. In pluralistic societies, divided into severe ethnic, religious and cultural lines such as Macedonia, the consocional democracy, which is based on power sharing should be introduced. This kind of a democracy is the only alternative for the constitutions drafters.[16]

This democracy prevents exclusion and discrimination on any basis. The Ohrid Agreement and the constitutional changes officialized this, by introducing the above mentioned principles. But a decade after its signing, Macedonia still isn’t functioning as a multiethnic and multicultural society, where the associates of all ethnicities will feel equal and be equitably represented in the institutions.

The Ohrid Agreement: The end of the conflict but not the resolution of the ethnic conflict

The Ohrid Framework Agreement put paid to the armed conflict and de jure introduced some changes in the constitutional system of Macedonia. The power sharing, created a basis for changing the legal-political status of the Albanians, but didn’t resolve the ethnic conflict and one still can not conclude that it created a genuine civil society.

The ethnic tension remains present, the Albanians are not yet represented equally in the important state institutions (especially the Statistical Office, the Presidency, security structures, etc.), the discrimination continues in every are  and Albanians continue to be treated as second rank citizens. The integration of the Albanians into the political life remains inadequate.[17]

Ten years after the signing of this Agreement, the concept of a multiethnic society and the civil state remains almost only on paper. It is still not realized. While the Albanians still perceive the Ohrid Agreement as a guarantee for their vital rights, for the Macedonians it is nothing but a way to the Euro-Atlantic integration.

And the process itself of such integration, towards which the Albanians have a very affirmative approach, will be impossible without the complete and proper implementation of this document.

“The internal political stability in Macedonia, respectively the democratic functioning of its state institutions and the continuation of building Macedonia as a multiethnic state, conform the spirit of Ohrid Framework Agreement, remains as one of the factors that will determine the future of its integration into the EU”.[18]

A barrier to the integration process represents not only the internal political factors. Macedonia also faces an identity crisis and the unresolved disputes with its neighbors. The lack of a clear and concrete definition of political concepts of Macedonia also reflects an uncertainty in relations with other neighbors.

Macedonia’s dispute with Greece regarding the name has revealed a chain of other issues, which are related to identity and language. The eastern neighbor Bulgaria had recognized the name of the state as such, but it did never recognize the Macedonian language and the Macedonian nation. Besides, the north-eastern neighbor – Serbia – refuses to recognize the Macedonian autocephalous church, claiming that the only autocephalous church is the Serbian Orthodox Church[19].

The relations with Kosovo remain fragile, too. Because of these disputes with neighbors, Reka rightly notes that in recent years “there was stagnation in the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement in Macedonia and generally the interethnic relations were thrown on a second plan”.[20]

Failing to implement the Ohrid Agreement even after a decade has made many politicians and intellectuals consider it as a document which has already lost its meaning and significance.

This document signed under the pressure and the monitoring by international factors is one of the very important documents not only for Macedonia, but for the Balkans, as well. The full and fair implementation of this agreement means the existence of Macedonia as a unitary state, and ensures the stability and peace in the Balkans.

[1]     International Crisis Group Report, “Macedonia’s name: breaking the deadlock”,  Europe Briefing nr. 52, Prishtina/Brussels, 12 January 2009, p. 1

[2]     “Deklaratë për sovranitetin e Republikës së Maqedonisë”, Flaka e vëllazërimit, Shkup: 27 janar 1991.

[3]     According to the CIA, The World Factbook, and the data from the last census in Macedonia (2002) Macedonia’s ethnic composition is as follows: Macedonians 64.2%, Albanians 25.2%, Turkish 3.9%, Roma 2.7%, Serbs 1.8%, others 2.2%. Yet the number of the Albanian population represents 1/3 of the population living in Macedonia. Rahim Veliu: “Geographical span and the New Population Movement in Macedonia” Tetovo, 2002, p.40

[4]     Article 1 of the Declaration stating that the idea of creating an independent Macedonia expressed the right of the Macedonian people for self-determination. “Deklaratë për sovranitetin e Republikës së Maqedonisë”, op. cit.

[5]     Zeqirja Rexhepi, “Zhvillimet politiko-shoqërore te shqiptarët në Maqedoni 1990-2001”, Tetovo: 2005, p. 32

[6]     According to Srdjan Kerim among the five handicaps of the Macedonian democracy and the reasons why Macedonia fell  into crisis in 2001 first puts “the adoption of the Constitution without the participation of representatives of the  second largest ethnic group in the country.” Srdjan Kerim, “Urat e së ardhmes”, Tiranë: Ideart, 2006, p.164-165

[7]     Mr. Wm. Hamilton, “Commentary no. 16: Yugoslavia: Nations, Nationalities and Other Nationalities “, December 1991,

[8]     The preamble states that “… Macedonia is constituted as a national state of the Macedonian people which ensures equal rights for its citizens and permanent coexistence of the Macedonian people with the Albanians, Turks, Vlachs, Roma and other nationalities that live in the Republic of Macedonia, Official Gazette of RM, No.52, November 22, 1991, p. 13. In Joseph Marko, “The Referendum for Decentralization in Macedonia in 2004: A Litmus Test for Macedonia’s Interethnic Relations, European Yearbooks of Minority Issues Vol 4, 2004/2005, p. 9 it is stated that “Slavic-Macedonian politicians avoided complex negotiations, pacts and consensual agreement in this period.”

[9]     Natacha Andonovski, “Les Anglais de Macédoine: Perspectives et limites d’I double identity” in Christophe Chiclet et Bernard Lory (ed.) “La Republique de Macédoine, Paris, 1998, p.66

[10]   Mirjana Maleska, Lidija Hristova, “Spodeluvanje na vlasta vo multikulturnite opstini vo Republika Makedonija”, Godisnik na institutot za socioloski i politiko-pravni istrazuvanja, Univerzitet “Sv. Kiril i Metodij” – Skopje, Godina XXXI, nr. 1, Skopje, 2006, p. 100

[11]   Kerim, op. cit., pp. 164-165

[12]   In 1994, to the Albanian intellectuals efforts for establishing a university in Albanian, the government of Macedonia brutally opposed by ruining the buildings where the first lectures would be held and causing a casualty and injured citizens. In 1997, the armed units of the Macedonian police in Tetovo and Gostivar intervened in order to stop putting the Albanian national flag in front of the municipal buildings in these two cities. In these events, three Albanians were killed, 100 were injured, mayors and chairmen of municipal councils were imprisoned. For more see Rexhepi, op.cit., p.108-129

[13]   Biljana Belamaric, “Attempting to Resolve an Ethnic Conflict: The Language of the 2001 Macedonian Constitution”, Southeast European Politics, Vol. IV, No. 1, May 2003 p. 25-40

[14]   Article 48 of the Constitution of 2001. Ustav na Republika Makedonija, 2001

[15]   Article 7. Ustav na Republika Makedonija, 2001, op. cit.

[16]   Arend Lipjhart, ”Constitutional designs for divided societies”, Journal of Democracy,  15(2), 2004, p. 96- 114

[17]   For more details see International Crisis Group Report, op. cit., p.3-5

[18]   Blerim Reka, “Gjeopolitika dhe teknika e zgjerimit”, Bruksel: 2010, p. 333

[19]   Albulena Halili and Fatmir Arifi, “The Unresolved Issues That Cross the Way to Euro-Atlantic Integrations: The Case of the Western Balkans”, The Western Balkans Policy Review, Volume 1, Issue 1, Jan /Jun 2010, Kosovo Public Policy Center, pp.87-104

[20]   Reka, op. cit., p. 334

* The article can be found in  pp.88-92


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