Ethnic conflict poses a continuing challenge to Macedonia’s stability. Albanians living mostly in the northwestern part of the country make up 25% of the total population of the country. Violent clashes occurred between Albanians and security forces on several occasions: in Tetovo in 1995, when an Albanian-language university was opened, and in Gostivar two years later over the display of Turkish and Albanian flags at a local government office. The most significant clashes were in 2001, when Macedonian Albanians demanded greater rights for their community. About 80 people died in the conflict before it ended with the Ohrid Agreement, which met some of their demands.
Ethnic tensions between Albanians and Macedonians reignited in April 2012 when hundreds of angry Macedonians marched in Skopje to protest the killings of five Macedonian fishermen. They chanted nationalist slogans and blamed ethnic Albanians for the deaths. Riot police clashed with the stone-throwing demonstrators and prevented them from marching across a bridge to a mainly Albanian neighborhood in the capital. The police action won praise from the OSCE. Ethnic riots again broke out in Skopje in March 2013 and May 2014. Albanians rioted in Skopje in July 2014 after six ethnic Albanians were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of the five ethnic Macedonians in April 2012.
The challenge of organized crime
The period after 1994 saw the further development of an illegal economy in Macedonia. War profiteers benefited from smuggling during the years of international sanctions against Belgrade. Later, organized crime diversified their activities. President Gligorov was the target of a car bomb in 1995. He survived, though he lost an eye. Public discontent grew as stories of insider buy-outs of state assets became widely known, and other scandals broke, including the collapse of a pyramid savings bank in 1997.
1998 parliamentary elections
VMRO-DPMNE spent this period consolidating its support base at the local level, redefining itself from nationalist to center-right.
In the run-up to the 1998 parliamentary elections, VMRO-DPMNE allied itself to the Democratic Alternative (DA), a new party founded by Vasil Tupurkovski, who had spent most of the period since 1990 in the USA. Tupurkovski pledged economic recovery through foreign investment. VMRO-DPMNE, meanwhile, mobilized the strong power base it had built across the country. The VMRO/DA coalition took 59 seats: the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) took 29. Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) surprisingly announced that it would join the VMRO/DA governing coalition.
The Taiwan Flap
A United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP) peacekeeper is shown monitoring the border of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (UN/Igor Vasilev).
Soon after his victory, Tupurkovski announced that to fulfill his pre-election commitment, he had secured major support from Taiwan, and that Macedonia would extend diplomatic recognition to Taiwan.
The extension of UNPREDEP in the Republic was then blocked by China: with the escalation of tensions in Kosovo, NATO forces deployed under a UN mandate stayed in place, but as a NATO force. The Taiwan deal collapsed, and Tupurkovski was widely discredited. (Turpurkovski waslater tried and convicted of embezzlement and misuse of public funds, and sentenced to three years in jail in April 2009. The decision was reversed on appeal in December 2009.)
1998 presidential elections
The governing coalition split over making Tupurkovski their common candidate for president to succeed Gligorov, when his term ended in 1998. All three coalition partners put forward their own candidates, as did other parties. Tupurkovski was eliminated in the first round, and in the second round Boris Trajkovski, the VMRO candidate, defeated Tito Petkovski, from SDSM.
The elections were marked by virulent anti-Albanian rhetoric from SDSM candidate Petkovski, and afterwards by opposition accusations of vote fraud, especially in areas with majority Albanian populations, where Trajkovski outpolled Petkovski by a massive margin.
Deepening mistrust between Macedonians and Albanians
Meanwhile, at the government level, cooperation between Albanian and Macedonian parties continued, including agreement on a university in Tetovo and progress toward greater decentralization. Relations with Bulgaria, Albania and Greece improved, and the international community welcomed the new government's pragmatism.
The government coped with the 1999 Kosovo crisis, when over 250,000 Kosovo Albanians found refuge in the country, and NATO's presence in Macedonia expanded considerably.
Mistrust between Macedonians and Albanians nonetheless continued to rise. The war in Kosovo and post-war conditions there were widely taken as signs that NATO, and especially the USA, were now solidly pro-Albanian.
Facing widespread unemployment as a result of state sector reform, many Macedonians believed that the new government was selling off national industry for short-term personal profit, and permitting Albanian criminal networks to evade legal oversight and operate unchecked in Western Macedonia.
For their part, Macedonia's Albanians continued to press for constitutional change and greater regional autonomy. In the wake of numerous scandals, the DA left the government, as did a splinter group of MPs from the VMRO-DPMNE. The coalition of VMRO-DPMNE and DPA however survived, with DPA assuming an ever-greater prominence.
Albanian insurgency ended by Ohrid Agreement
Attacks on Macedonian security forces by Armed Albanians began in late 2000.Soon after, in January 2001, the border village of Tanusevci was occupied by armed Albanians of the National Liberation Army, (NLA), led by Ali Ahmeti. With some assistance from KFOR troops on the border, Macedonian security forces recaptured the village. The NLA regrouped and expanded its activities to villages around Tetovo and Kumanovo, in north and northwest Macedonia, and also moved into Aracinovo, a suburb of Skopje, in the late spring.
The Macedonian media criticized Macedonian Albanian political leaders after they met with NLA leaders and signed a common platform, known as the Prizren document. EU, NATO and OSCE representatives took part in mediation efforts between Albanians and Macedonians, while sporadic fighting continued, displacing thousands of ethnic Albanians and Macedonians, and leaving at least a hundred people dead.
NATO's Operation Essential Harvest. collected weapons voluntarily handed over by ethnic Albanian insurgents. (NATO)
Human rights violations were committed by both sides. Under heavy European and U.S. pressure, representatives from VMRO-DPMNE, SDSM, PDP and DPA signed peace accords called the Framework Agreement in Ohrid in August 2001. NATO troops oversaw disarmament of the insurgents, while parliament discussed proposed constitutional changes.
Since then, the primary goal of the international community in Macedonia has been to support implementation, by all Macedonian parties, of the Ohrid Agreement. In 2003, the EU took over peacekeeping duties in Macedonia from NATO. The primary mandate of the OSCE Mission to Skopje, present since 1992, is to monitor and implement decisions from the Agreement.
2002 parliamentary election and aftermath
A coalition of Social Democrats (SDSM) led by Branko Crvenkovski, the Liberal Democratic Party under Petar Gosev, and a number of other smaller parties defeated the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition. Crvenkovski had been Prime Minister for six years (1992-1998) following Macedonia's independence in 1991.
The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), led by former National Liberation Army (UCK) leader Ali Ahmeti emerged as the leading ethnic Albanian party, receiving 12% of the vote. The Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), a coalition partner of the VMRO-DPMNE, won just 4% of the vote. SDSM formed a governing coalition with DUI and a number of other smaller parties. Ali Ahmeti did not take a post in the new government.
Subsequently, the opposition VMRO-DPMNE and DPA leaders called for partition of Macedonia along ethnic lines, between Macedonian and Albanian regions. Ljupcho Georgievski resigned as VMRO-DPMNE leader, replaced by the more moderate Nikola Gruevski. Xhaferi offered his resignation as DPA leader, but party members persuaded him to remain. These two leaders then disowned the Ohrid Agreement they had signed. Nevertheless, the Macedonian government continued to work to implement its terms.
An OSCE election observation mission assessed the elections as largely in accordance with international standards. The election was peaceful, despite some incidents of violence prior to the vote.
A new President and continuation of policy
President Trajkovski was killed in an airplane crash in February 2004. The Speaker of Parliament, Ljupčo Jordanovski, became Acting President in accordance with the Constitution. Candidates from four parties (SDSM, VMRO-DPMNE, DUI and DPA) ran in the special presidential election. Branko Crvenkovski, the premier and leader of SDSM, won the first round, and then faced a run-off battle against VMRO-DPMNE candidate Saško Kedev in April 2004. DUI, the leading Albanian party and coalition partner to SDSM, supported Crvenkovski, who won with 63% of the vote. Former banker and Interior Minister Hari Kostov became Prime Minister.
At the time of his death, Trajkovski had been about to deliver Macedonia’s application for accession to the EU. The formal delivery took place in March 2004. (The EU Council of Ministers granted Macedonia candidate status for EU membership in December 2005.)
Opposition in disarray
Within VMRO-DPMNE, progressive and pro-European leader Nikola Gruevski faced challenges from former party leader Ljubčho Georgievski after the party’s defeat in the 2004 presidential elections. After Georgievski’s move to unseat Gruevski failed, Georgievski formed a rival party, VMRO-Narodna.
2004 referendum to overturn Ohrid Agreement fails
A November referendum championed by the opposition VMRO-DPMO and smaller nationalist groups failed to overturn the decentralization package of the Ohrid Agreement. The turnout for the referendum was 26.3%, far less than the 50%, required by law to be valid. Although many ethnic Macedonians were not enthusiastic about the terms of the Ohrid Agreement, they were concerned about rejecting a deal already approved by parliament. Prime Minister Kostov resigned after the referendum, accusing coalition partners of corruption and nepotism. Vlado Bučkovski replaced him.
U.S. recognition of the Republic of Macedonia as the name of the country, as well as the EU's strong support for the Ohrid Agreement, contributed to the defeat of the referendum. Macedonians assessed that the U.S. decision would eventually lead the EU and others to accept the country's preferred name, despite continuing Greek opposition.
2005 local elections
Local elections in the new (85) municipalities were held in March 2005. Competition was intense, with 379 candidates running for positions as mayors, which with the passage of the laws on decentralization, carried substantially greater power.
The International Election Observation Mission concluded that the municipal elections were in line with most OSCE and Council of Europe standards, but failed to meet key commitments guaranteeing universal and equal suffrage and the secrecy of the ballot.
VMRO-DPMNE wins majority in 2006 parliamentary elections
Reversing the 2004 election results, VMRO-DPMNE won an absolute majority in the July 2006 parliamentary elections, winning 65 out 120 seats. VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski became prime minister.
The SDSM setback led to the election of Radmilla Šekerinska as the new leader of the SDSM. Gruevski selected the DPA as his party’s ethnic Albanian partner, even though the DUI won the majority of the ethnic Albanian vote. Despite DUI complaints of its exclusion from the governing coalition, the threat of political turmoil had been reduced by EU demands for political stability as a precondition for EU membership.
The ethnic Albanian DUI and its PDP partner boycotted parliament in 2007, asserting that they did not want to take part in the institution’s activities because it was undermining the Ohrid Accords. More to the point, the DUI was angered that the SDSM had opted to form a coalition with the smaller DPA, calling this a betrayal of the Albanian vote.
Government resigns and early elections called
Prime Minister Gruevski called early parliamentary elections in April 2008. He said the early vote was necessary to implement reforms that had been stalled. He also related his step to NATO’s decision not to invite Macedonia to join the alliance, following Greece’s veto due to their name dispute. Gruevski’s government had also been challenged by threats made by its Albanian coalition partner DPA threatening to bolt if its demands were not met.
VMRO-DPMNE decisively wins 2008 parliamentary elections
Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE, won a decisive majority, validating his decision to call early elections. VMRO-DPMNE won 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament, with the Social-Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM) coming in second with 28 seats, and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) and Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) each winning 13 seats.
The elections were marred by violence that left one dead and several injured. There were also pre-election day clashes between the rival DUI and DPA parties, including attacks on DUI offices and members, a reported assassination attempt on its leader, and a fatal stabbing of a DPA member. The DUI accused the DPA of fraud and intimidation, influencing the outcome of the vote in Albanian areas. Meanwhile, SDSM leader Sekerinska announced she was stepping down as a result of her party’s disappointing showing in the election.
The International Election Observation Mission, (IEOM) a joint undertaking of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, reported that key OSCE and COE commitments were not met. Although the elections were well administered procedurally, violent acts in ethnic Albanian areas were not prevented, and enforcement of laws was selective and limited. Organized efforts to violently disrupt the process on Election day made it impossible for voters in many places to freely express themselves. Voting in most of the country was assessed by the IEOM as generally well conducted, aside from the ethnic Albanian areas. In addition, the assessment of vote counting was bad or very bad in fifteen per cent of the country.
VMRO-DPMNC and DUI for new government
Gruevski returned as prime minister in July 2008 as the head of a VMRO-DPMNC/DUI coalition government.
Opposition boycotts parliament
The opposition Social Democrats continued their boycott of parliament in response to the adoption of what it considered an unacceptable parliamentary rulebook by the majority VMRO-DPMNC in July 2008. The decision followed a boycott declared a week earlier when the party’s vice president, Zoran Zaev, was publicly arrested on charges of misuse of office as mayor of the town of Strumica.
Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) was also boycotting parliament, asserting that it would return when issues involving greater property rights for Albanians were properly addressed.
Both boycotts left parliament almost without any opposition representatives. President Crvenkovski pressed for an end to the boycotts. He pardoned Zaev to entice the Social Democrats, and refused to sign the new law on the use of languages until the DPA returned. He also refused sign the new laws on lobbying, employment relations, expropriation and energy, that had triggered controversy.
2009 presidential and municipal elections
In the second round of voting for the presidency, VMRO-DPMNE’s Gjorge Ivanov won 63.41%, compared to the Social Democrats’ Ljubomir Frckoski’s 35.06%. Turnout was 42.86%, just above the 40% threshold. The municipal elections showed similar results.
The OSCE/ODIHR-led International Election Observation Mission for the presidential and municipal elections reported that the elections met most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards. The elections were well administered and free of the violent incidents that clouded the 2008 parliamentary elections. Election Day was peaceful and the voting process generally well managed, although the counting process was less positive. Family voting remained a problem, but was significantly reduced in the second round. The lower voter turnout figures for the presidential election demonstrated the danger that the 40 percent turnout requirement could lead to failed elections, particularly when combined with problems with voters’ list.
Political differences leads to riot in parliament
Opposition Social Democrat (SDSM) deputies seeking to block debate and passage of what they considered an inflated state budget scuffled with pro-government deputies on December 24, 2012. Parliamentary security guards escorted Speaker Trajko Veljanovski from the plenary and moved opposition deputies out of the building, having earlier cleared it off journalists. The pro-government deputies thereupon adopted the government's budget proposal. Meanwhile, outside in the street pro- and anti-government groups were brawling with each other and with the police. Opposition SSDM leader Crvenkovski said his party would boycott parliament indefinitely and begin a campaign of civil disobedience to topple the VMRO-DPMNE/DPA government. Prime Minister Gruevski claimed that the opposition had planned the incidents to create political chaos. Daily protests continued in the streets.
The EU Mission, American Embassy and NATO Liaison Office in Skopje issued joint statements calling on the parties to resolve the political impasse through dialogue. Eventually, an EU team led by Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele --warning of the negative consequences for Macedonia's European future if the crisis was not resolved--eventually succeeded in mediating a March 1 agreement between Crvenkovski and Gruevski. The deal provided for the resumption of normal political activities, the return of the SDSM to parliament, participation in the upcoming march 24 local elections, a joint commission to establish the facts on what had happened in parliament and in the streets on December 24, and possible early parliamentary elections.
Rival protests over appointment of ethnic Albanian former rebel as defense minister
Meanwhile, ethnic tensions simmered. The SDSM organized protests in Skopje in early March 2013 against the government's appointment of Talat Xhaferi as defense minister. Xhaferi, from the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union of Integration, had been a member of the National Liberation Army during the 2001 Albanian insurgency. In response, ethnic Albanians rioted and battled with the police in Skopje.
2013 municipal elections
Gruevski coalition wins big
Supporters of Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's party wave party and national flags while celebrating the party's victory in local elections, in downtown Skopje, Macedonia, early Monday, March 25, 2013. Macedonians voted peacefully in local elections Sunday, boosting hopes the country is turning a page and won't repeat the political and ethnic violence that has marred past voting cycles. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
Prime Minister Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE-led "For a Better Macedonia" coalition won 57 of 78 municipalities, including Skopje, in two rounds of the April local elections. Oppsition SDSM leader Crvenkovski, whose party won only four municipalities, complained that the elections were neither free nor fair. Albanian parties DUI won 11 and DPA won two municipalities.
A Karpoš Municipality electoral board during the second round of the municipal elections in Skopje, 7 April 2013. (OSCE/Lauren Baranowska)
OSCE ODIHR's statement of preliminary findings reported that the two rounds of voting were highly competitive and well administered, but partisan media coverage and a blurring of state and party activities led to the lack of a level playing field. Candidates were generally able to campaign freely. At the same time, there were allegations of voter intimidation and misuse of state resources. The State Election Commission worked transparently and met electoral deadlines, but collegiality deteriorated during the review of complaints, with decisions largely based on party affiliation. The absence of clear procedures for handling complaints did not guarantee timely and effective remedies. Following the first round of voting, increasing concerns were raised regarding the accuracy of voter lists. Election days were calm overall, and procedures were largely followed, although instances of group voting persisted.
Presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014
The first round of presidential elections was held April 13. Incumbent President Ivanov of the governing VMRO-DPMNE led with 51.69% of the vote, followed by Stevo Pendarovski of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) with 37.51%, Ilijaz Halimi of the Democratic Party of Albanians with 4.48%, and Zoran Popovski from the Citizens Option for Macedonia with 3.61%.
In the second round of the presidential election on April 27, Ivanov was re-elected with 55.28% of the vote, followed by Pendarovski with 41.14%.
The IEOM preliminary report stated that the first round of the presidential election was efficiently administered and the campaign was active. The candidate registration process was inclusive and candidates were able to campaign freely. Although fundamental freedoms were respected, bias media coverage and a blurring of state and party activities did not provide a level playing field for candidates to contest the election. The IEOM confirmed its findings in a statement following the April 27 elections.
Voters in Skopje cast their ballots during the early parliamentary and second round presidential elections in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 27 April 2014. (OSCE/Thomas Rymer)
In the parliamentary elections also held on April 27, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE came in first with 61 seats (up 5) and 42.98% of the vote, followed by the SDSM with 34 seats (down 8) and 25.34% of the vote, the DUI with 19 seats (up 4) and 13.71% of the vote, the DPA with 7 seats (down 1) and 5.92% of the vote, the new Citizens Option for Macedonia won 1 seat and 2.82% of the vote, and the National Democratic revival won 1 seat (down 1) and 1.59% of the vote.
SDSM political leader Zoran Zaev accused Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE of abusing the state system, threatening and buying votes, and said his party would not recognize the results of the presidential or parliamentary elections.
May 2014 riots in Skopje underline ethnic tensions
Ethnic riots rocked Skopje in May 2014 following the murder of a youth by an alleged bicycle thief. The OSCE Mission to Skopje sought to play a calming role.
Gruevski forms government in June 2014
Incumbent Prime Minister Gruevski received parliamentary approval of his cabinet in June 2014, with his VMRO-DPMNE forming a coalition with the ethnic Albanian DUI (which received 9 of the 26 ministerial portfolios, including justice, economy and education). The opposition SDSM boycotted parliament and resigned their seats, claiming the April elections had been manipulated.