Mirjana Maleska
Full Professor at the Doctoral School of Political Science, University “Ss. Cyril and Methodius”, Skopje.

What kind of a political system did Macedonia get after the Ohrid Peace Agreement?


The “power-sharing” model, which emerged from a war crisis and a peace agreement that put an end to the war conflict, actually admits the division of the society along the ethnic lines. At the same time, there is an attempt to bridge the ethnic gap with this model. The “power-sharing” model, therefore, contains solutions that can be abused if somebody misuses its power and wants to disintegrate the country. It all depends on the moderate attitude of the citizens, and before that, on the politicians and their commitment to the values of democracy and human rights and freedoms instead of their “national cause.”

The Ohrid Peace Agreement signed after the armed ethnic conflict in Macedonia in 2001 has largely changed the constitutional framework of the previous political system of the country. The so-called Westminster democratic political framework established with the 1991 Constitution, which favoured the majority-ethnic Macedonians, has been abandoned. Due to the shock of an armed ethnic conflict and the pressure of the “international community,” a new model has been set-up, known in political theory as power sharing. It was meant to produce inter-ethnic peace, greater stability and security in the country. Has the model met expectations in the past few years?

Let’s start from the beginning. In the last 10 years or so, the events in the region and in the country have been dramatic and have moved with incredible speed.

As a matter of fact, with the bloody dissolution of Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, the lives of the peoples and nations affected have turned up side down. Social theory in Macedonia did not manage to catch up to the pace of events. Somehow, we were able to condemn the nationalism of the others, but completely failed to condemn the appearance of our own nationalism and chauvinism. No wonder then, that the largest number of intellectuals in the country, belonging to Macedonian community as well as to the Albanian one, stood behind their own national “cause,” during the armed ethnic conflict in 2001. This time, NATO, and the EU were more experienced and more ready to intervene in time to stop full-scale civil war in Macedonia. Therefore, the Ohrid Peace Agreement is a compromise: Macedonia is unitary state (“there are no territorial solutions for the ethnic conflicts”) but ethnic Albanians are increasing their influence, especially on the local level, and have obtained a large right of veto in the Parliament.

How is the so-called system of “power-sharing” viewed in political theory and did the application of this system in the post-conflict period in the country show advantages over the majoritarian (Westminster) model of democracy?

The “power-sharing” system is defined as practice and institutions that produce largely positioned ruling coalitions. These coalitions are, most generally speaking, inclusive of all the larger ethnic groups in the society. This is a system that should probably put to terms principles that are usually opposed, such as the right to national self-determination on the one hand and democracy on the other. In brief, non-democratic states protect themselves from attempts at secession with all means available and usually with violence, while democracies have no such protection in case of legal demands for self-determination. Democracies therefore have a really big problem respecting democratic principles when secession is to be prevented. U.S. professor from Harvard and Senator Patrick Moynihan in “Pandemonium or Ethnicity in International Politics” wrote that the right to self-determination or secession has limits in international politics. It is actually restricted by another equally important principle, of not changing borders by force.

Practice in international relations confirms this view. In spite of the proliferation of new independent states founded just after the end of the Cold War, it is very probable that every ethnic group claiming the right to self-determination to secede will not accomplish it. As far as the Balkans are concerned, after a series of brutal civil wars and interventions, the United States and the European Union are cautious when the right to self-determination is at stake, and they stick to the principle of not changing borders by force. For the time being, as important external “players,” they respond to violent ethnic conflicts in the societies that are ethnically divided (Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia) with the model of “power-sharing.”

It is not at all easy to build democracy in ethnically divided societies, especially if these societies suffer, as Macedonia does, from a high rate of unemployment. How can the slim “cake” be distributed fairly? How can loyalty of the minority be secured at the same time the majority creates a nation-state following the fall of the previous federation (Yugoslavia)? How can all the ethnic communities provide legitimacy to the system, which is inefficient and corrupt?

Political freedom destroyed the Yugoslav federation, because instead of creating democracy and tolerance, destructive nationalisms were defrosted. This process did not stop at the borders of the newly created national states of Serbia and Croatia, but spilled over to Bosnia. At that time, Macedonia was conducting a moderate policy both in internal relations with its Albanian minority and with its neighbours and thus avoided a conflict. However, this policy proved to be insufficient. Domestic politicians were not far-sighted and did not move to meet the dissatisfaction of the Albanian minority in Macedonia, and instead they continued to act as if they had not learnt the lesson of the civil war in Bosnia. Additionally, they didn’t realise the new balance of power after the defeat of Serbia and Montenegro by NATO in the Kosovo campaign of 1999.

In 1999, the NATO intervention in Kosovo had an important side effect. Due to the poorly secured border between Macedonia and Kosovo, the conflict spilled over into Macedonia as well. The dissatisfied Albanian ethnic community in Macedonia supported the armed guerrillas of the “Liberation National Army” (ONA). The political representatives of the two largest Albanian parties, the PDP and the DPA, signed in Prizren a declaration with ONA’s leader A. Ahmeti, and thus gave legitimacy to their political requests. Later, with the signing of the Peace Agreement in Ohrid, the exclusive majoritarian democracy was replaced with a new constitutional and political arrangement called “power-sharing.” A new page in the policy and constitutional history of the country was thus opened.

Writing in the book “Democracies in Plural Societies” about 20 years before the breakout of blood-shedding ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, the American political scientist Arend Lijphart wrote that majority democracy in ethnically divided societies is not only unjust but also dangerous, because it permanently excludes some smaller ethnic groups from access to power. Lijphart, an American of Dutch origin, was inspired by the conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants in his native Holland, as well as by the history of wars and peace among various ethnic groups in Belgium and Switzerland. He studied the political systems in these countries and the way in which they dealt with the ethnic and religious conflicts and he built the model of consociational democracy. The “power-sharing” model that we have today largely relies on the model created by Lijphart. Normally, this model is not a panacea to every situation, especially because it has come from different political and historic experience. Nevertheless, the model’s basic idea that it is undemocratic, and even dangerous, to keep minority ethnic communities permanently excluded from access to the instruments of political power, has been accepted. Lijphart suggests several elements of consociational democracy that limit majority rule: 1. A large or multi-ethnic coalition that will presume all the more important political parties to share the power; 2. A proportional representation, i.e. a proportional election model; 3. A more balanced relationship between the executive and the legislative bodies than in the majority democracy dominated by the executive; 4. A minority veto on separate issues related to identity, culture, and education of the minority, and so on.

Other famous authorities in this area, such as D. Horowitz, share a similar opinion, which is that majority rule in multi-ethnic societies should be restricted in order to avoid ethnic conflicts. Horowitz proposes some policies and instruments for the reduction of ethnic conflict such a rotating presidency, the formation of a large coalition, a proportional election system which tends to make policy more moderate, creation of coalitions that are more moderate in their politics because of their need to address electoral bodies of different ethnic origins, links between the coalitions and the ballots of the electorate and their dedication to constructing a multi-ethnic society, introduction of preferential policies such as quotas, equitable representation of the ethnic communities in the state institutions(like public administration, police and the army), and so on.

The difference between Lijphart and Horowitz concerns the vertical fragmentation of the power in society as a means to reduce the inter-ethnic conflict. While Lijphart prefers a federal system and balanced bicameralism, Horowitz believes that this instrument can be the initiating powder charge for a further fragmentation of the society, and even for its disintegration. Although he consents that dispersion of power from national to local level will disable its concentration in the hands of one majority ethnic group, he believes that federalism and regional autonomy must have limits in order not to be abused for secessionist purposes. This implies that the central power will retain the final control over the regional authority, and that autonomy is given to all the regions, not only to those believed to desire secession from the state. Besides, he proposes reinforcement of all those specific interests of the groups in the undivided state such as welfare, economic prosperity, development of ethnic specific characteristics, additional care of the state for a faster development of those territories, and so on.

If we analyse the “power-sharing” system that was established in the Ohrid Peace Agreement and the constitutional amendments, we can conclude that the principles, institutions, and policies suggested by Lijphart and Horowitz have been largely adopted. For instance, there is a traditional, although not formalized agreement that the governments in Macedonia are ethnic coalitions (such a coalition is sharing the power at this moment as well). The party system is multi-party and multi-dimensional, because the ethnic communities of the Albanians, the Turks, the Romas, the Serbs, the Bosniaks, and so on have their political representatives in the Assembly. The electoral system has changed from majority and mixed (majority-proportional) to become a pure proportional representation (with the exception of the mayors of the municipalities who are elected by the majority electoral system) in order to prevent sub-representation of the smaller ethnic parties. There is a significant right to minority veto in the Macedonian Assembly, as well as in the councils of the municipalities. Authority is dispersed, i.e. its decentralization is in process and it will provide greater influence for the Albanian ethnic community on a local level. Preferential policies have been implemented to provide a just representation of the minority ethnic communities in the administration, the army, the police, the judiciary system, and so on. Faculties in the Albanian language have been formed, and quotas for easier access by minorities to higher education in Macedonian language at state universities have been introduced. There is, although it is probably not fully sufficient, a national policy for the development of underdeveloped municipalities in which there is a concentration of the minority ethnic communities in the population. Understandably, this is a difficult process. No matter how great the efforts not to make changes according to the zero-sum-game (in order for somebody to win – another one must lose), the majority is inevitably the one that will have to give up some privileges in a very difficult time. This fact could be potential danger for the implementation of the Agreement, and the leaders of Albanian community are aware that they must have patience. Nonetheless, they can’t wait to promise their voters quick changes!

Did the principles on which our new “power-sharing” political system is based produce greater security and stability in the country? Despite everything, the answer seems to be yes. In the last few years, there was not one large-scale inter-ethnic crisis, aside from the episode in Kondovo, a village near Skopje, which was for some time under the control of an illegal armed group of Albanians. Even the national referendum, led by the nationalistic Macedonian World Congress, ended with failure. The majority of the country has accepted the flammable issue of the new municipality borders, according to which an Albanian majority will manage the predominantly Macedonian towns of Struga and Kichevo.

Can we speak then, about some assumptions that make the “power-sharing” model successful on the basis of this short experience? Which are they?

1.       The key role, there is no doubt, was played by the presence, pressure, aid, and support of the international community. History shows that in the past the Balkan states have made many mutual peace agreements that have all to one been broken. Only a force greater than theirs could compel these small quarrelling nations to respect their mutual agreements. In a way, history is repeating itself, so the NATO interventions in the Balkans (Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia), as well as the initiatives and the financial support of the EU, created conditions for internal peace, stability, and development of good neighbourly relations. The long-term engagement of the international community will continue to be a condition for the success of projects on “power-sharing” such as the one in Macedonia.

2.       One of the basic criticisms of the consociational model is that it reduces democracy to consent among the ruling elites. What if the elites openly, or secretly, do not want a compromise or an agreement? What if they are secretly engaged in dividing the country instead of integrating it? How can this model, from a project of elites, become a project for all the citizens of the country? The political practice in Macedonia in the past 3 – 4 years demonstrates that democracy could not be reduced by an agreement among the ruling elites, because unfortunately there was not much democracy to be reduced to begin with, and thus the discussion that the consociational model reduces democracy is purely academic. It has no practical meaning. We are beginners in democracy. From the bottom of the society to the top, politics is more about usurpation of power than a “democratic game.” No one is willing to play fair and to give power and institutions because the juridical system or electoral bodies often are too weak (politically dependent or sometimes corrupt) to impose justice. For example, no national or local elections could pass without a smaller or greater fraud. [1]

3.       In spite of everything, the power-sharing system is a step forward. The present partners in the coalition government, the SDSM and DUI, showed that they are working on the integration of the country, because nearly all points defined with the Ohrid Agreement have been relatively successfully accomplished. A new territorial division in the country has been adopted, by which the Albanians obtain greater influence on a local level, in the municipalities. The Law on decentralization will further reinforce their role. The percentage of Albanians, Turks, and Romas has been increased in the army, the police, and the administration, which strengthens the loyalty of these communities in regard to the state.

4.       The “power-sharing” model, which emerged from a war crisis and a peace agreement that put an end to the war conflict, actually admits the division of the society along the ethnic lines. At the same time, there is an attempt to bridge the ethnic gap with this model. The “power-sharing” model, therefore, contains solutions that can be used for both purposes: integration of the country as well as the disintegration, if they are misused. Success depends on the moderate attitude of the citizens, and, before that, on the politicians and their commitment to the values of democracy and human rights and freedoms instead of their “national cause.” For instance, the right to veto, which is anticipated in the constitution not only regarding issues related to development of national cultures and identities of the ethnic communities, but also to territorial issues (for example, the issue of municipal borders and so on) is a right that can be abused and can cause blockades in the decision making process, thus producing crises on the national, as well as on the municipality level, where this right now pertains to the communities that are in minority. The danger is that the minority veto can be abused if it is too often used as an instrument for achieving some nationalistic policy. In this context, the Kosovo issue is extremely important. If Kosovo gets independence, it is clear that it will trigger Albanian nationalism in Macedonia. It could easily occur that Albanian politicians in the country go further, asking for a federative arrangement of the country without taking into consideration the fears of the ethnic Macedonian majority of the population. In unfavourable circumstances, this could produce tensions, even conflict. Therefore the “international community” must continue to guarantee Macedonia’s unitary character and keep Albanian nationalism and potential conflicts in Macedonia under control.

5.       On the other hand, the majority can openly or quietly ignore the needs of the minority and thus obstruct the process of their integration into society, particularly because the country has the difficult problems of a growing social gap (between a small wealthy elite and large number of poor citizens) and unemployment. It is easy to blame all problems on the minority, and thus transform a social conflict into an ethnic one. This is especially true because the confidence between ethnic groups after the 2001 conflict has eroded. Many people from both communities still feel misused, manipulated, and humiliated…

6.       The abuse of the veto on the side of the minority and the obstruction of the essence of the Ohrid Peace Agreement (that is, the integration of Albanians and other minorities into a more just society) on the side of the majority, can lead to blockades in the decision-making system and to continued, exhausting crises that will hold back the country. All options are open and that makes politics in post-conflict societies complex, difficult, and uncertain.

Unfortunately, democracy has incorporated into itself a weakness that can destroy it: if political parties and leaders that are not moderate or that are extreme in protecting the interests of only their ethnic group, disregarding the others, are elected. This is when the danger comes, especially in the regional context of the Kosovo issue, which is unresolved. Provided that policy is nothing more than obtaining power, the political parties and their leaders will not refrain from abusing the national feelings of the citizens in order to achieve this goal. Fortunately for us, the force of nationalism today is lessening and there is no international condition in its favour. Nevertheless, we can consider ourselves happy if the Macedonian framework of the “power-sharing” system in the future manages to make two steps forward and one step backwards, instead of one step forward and two steps backward...


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1.Arend Lijphart: 
Yale University Press

2.Arend Lijphart: 
DEMOCRACIES-Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries
Yale University Press

3. Donald Horowitz: 
University of California Press

4.Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Oxford University Press

Zora Bakalinova

Michael Mahoney, Clarity International


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[1] ODIHR in his Report of the local elections in Macedonia, in April 2005, wrote: ”Local elections in Macedonia showed that improvements in some respect, but they didn’t fulfil great number of international standards of democratic election formulated in several international agreements as.. and they didn’t fulfil OSCE requirements for elections that will respect secret ballot and that will be deliberate from violence and threatening