Prospects and challenges
Like other former republics, Macedonia continues to struggle with the Yugoslav legacy, which shapes current debates over human rights.
For Albanian and Macedonian political parties, the distinction between majority and minority remains more important than individual human rights. Issues such as lack of education or opportunities in rural regions are overshadowed by majority-minority polarization.
Judicial reform, commenced under the 2004-2006 SDSM government, and police reform, under the July 2006 VRMO-DPMNE government, have increased public confidence in state protection of minority rights.
Implementation of the Ohrid Agreement
Significant progress has been made in implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Agreement. The Constitution has been amended, the Albanian language recognized as an official language in communities where ethnic Albanians constitute at least 20% of the population, the principle of equitable representation introduced, electoral mechanisms put into place to safeguard the rights of minorities, decentralization, and inclusion of more ethnic Albanians in public administration. This is a continuing work in progress.
L-r: Minister of Local Self-Government Nevzat Bejta, OSCE Mission to Skopje National Public Administration Reform Officer Maja Subotic, the Head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje Ambassador Ralf Breth, and the President of the Association of Local Self-Government (ZELS) Koce Trajanovski, speaking to the media before a roundtable on Local Self-Government Capacity Building, Skopje, 18 July 2012. (OSCE/Mihajlo Lahtov)
Monitoring and supporting implementation of the Ohrid Agreement remains a key OSCE priority. The OSCE Mission to Skopje works in close co-operation with the EU Delegation, the U.S. Embassy and NATO, and with local counterparts on long-term reform processes in the judiciary, police, and public administration. The Mission also works on education, decentralization, equitable representation, language, and non-discrimination.
The changing face of Skopje
Since 2010, the center of Skopje has been transformed by a massive redevelopment project. The formerly empty Macedonia Square has been filled in with statues of Macedonian heroes, including a massive statue of Alexander the Great encircled by a water fountain. The project also involves the construction of government buildings, museums, a triumphal arch, a theater, new bridges over the Vardar River, and more. Estimates of the cost of the project range from 80 to 500 million Euros.
The project has been implemented by the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, which is underlining through the project its preferred narrative of a Macedonian identity rooted in antiquity. The project emphasizes neoclassical architecture (almost all such buildings that existed in Skopje were destroyed by the 1963 earthquake) and turns its back on the Ottoman period. Some critics of the project have suggested that it seeks to marginalize ethnic Albanians and exclude them from the Macedonian narrative.
Macedonia and Kosovo reached a border agreement in 2009 that paved the way for establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Problem of the grey economy
The economy remains a key source of tension. Beyond tax avoidance and smuggling are more overt corruption and criminality, which the state is unable to police effectively. The violence of 2001 was often interpreted as ethnic, but some argue that it was largely driven by disputes over the control of cross-border traffic in drugs, weapons and people, including women for prostitution.
Yet, the post-2004 period has been characterized by significant progress in the reform of the public administration system, especially in the judicial and police sectors, and both the SDSM and the VRMO-DPMNE governments have targeted corruption. Moreover, the 2006 VRMO-DPMNE government actively reformed property rights legislation in order to court foreign direct investment.
EU accession and NATO membership
Macedonia was granted EU candidate status in 2005. The European Commission’s 2008 Western Balkans initiative seemed likely to accelerate Macedonia’s prospects for EU membership. But Macedonia’s bilateral problems with Greece and Bulgaria, as well as its own issues with its Albanian minority, provide reasons why its entry into the EU will not be as fast as it had hoped.
The European Commission's recommendation to begin accession negotiations with Macedonia in 2009 have been blocked for five consecutive years by Greece. In its place, the EU launched a High-Level Accession Dialogue in 2012 to help move Macdonia closer to European standards and eventual membership in the EU.
Macedonia’s bid to join NATO at the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit was blocked by Greece over their name dispute. The Summit did, however, agree that an invitation to join the alliance once a mutually acceptable solution to the name dispute is reached.
U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Dan Silver, platoon leader from Dover, N.H., of 4th Platoon, D Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment smiles as his Macedonian counterpart Capt. Burche Turturov, the commander of the Macedonian Ranger Platoon from Skopje, Macedonia, shakes hands with an Afghan National Army soldier during a patrol, June 5. The Macedonians are embedded with the D Company Soldiers of the Vermont National Guard as part of their state Partnership for Peace Program. They are the first state partnership involved in the program to embed and run combat operations. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Hughes, Combined Joint Task Force - 82 PAO)
Macedonia continues to demonstrate that it identifies with the EU and NATO and is making practical contributions. Just before the fall of the government in April 2008, parliament approved the dispatch of Macedonian troops to join EUFOR in Bosnia, as well as to join coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq (2003-2008).