La città di Ohrid

Macedonia marks four years of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA), the peace deal that brought an end to the armed conflict from 2001 that was threatening to throw the country into ethnic war. Still, only few celebrate it

09/09/2005 -  Risto Karajkov Skopje

Macedonia marks four years of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA), the peace deal that brought an end to the armed conflict from 2001 that was threatening to throw the country into ethnic war. Still, only few celebrate it.

"Today, as four years ago, I am equally convinced that by opting for political accord instead of a military solution, we have made the right choice", Macedonian president Branko Crvenkovski stated at the occasion of the anniversary.

According to Crvenkovski, "The fact that Macedonia is a stable country, without serious threat to its territorial integrity, sovereignty, and unitary character, and equally important - a country with clear and tangible Euro-Atlantic prospects, is the best confirmation that it chose the right path".

The conflict broke out early 2001 and lasted for eight months before the international factor, by exerting strong pressure and through intense diplomatic activity, brought the parties to a negotiating table. There were 60 lost lives on the Macedonian side; the number of victims on the Albanian side was never known. Though confined in terms of human casualty (compared to the rest of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia), it caused immense material damage and huge forced migration. Many villages were burnt. A couple of thousands of people, mainly Macedonian, who fled before the fighting, have still not returned to their homes.

The OFA changed the constitutional and political organization of the country, providing for elevated standards for the rights of the minority communities in Macedonia. The major instrument to this end was an intensive process of decentralization that devolves many previously central government competencies to local level. In this way the OFA provides better accommodation of diversity without altering the country's unitary character. The most famous provision from the OFA is that - there can be no territorial solutions to ethnic issues.

The normative part of the implementation of the OFA, pertaining to enactment of the necessary legislative provisions was officially declared completed several months ago with the passing of the law on the use of minority flags. Strenuous throughout, the normative process encountered its biggest hurdle last year when the opposition challenged to a referendum the controversial law on territorial boundaries.

"There were many hurdles" continues Crvenkovski in his address "but the price is incomparably lower to the one we would have paid had we allowed a bloody ethnic, the OFA is largely a completed is not longer a goal and a task but a social reality", concludes he.

"The OFA has definitely achieved its goals", said prime minister Vlado Buckovski to the state news agency MIA. "It would have been better if we could implement it faster, since it is becoming clear that the messages that we were getting from the international community - that Macedonia's road to Brussels leads via Ohrid - have shown to be a reality".

Not everybody joins the government's acclaim of the peace deal and its implementation though.

The spokesman of the main Macedonian opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, Aleksandar Bicikliski, stated that "In order to fully achieve the OFA's goals, what needs to be implemented as soon as possible is - the return of the displaced persons, the full decommissioning of weapons, and the loyalty to the country". VMRO wants the Albanians to show that they are loyal to the common state, rather than constantly posing new demands.

The right-wing VMRO-Narodna, a breakaway faction of VMRO-DPMNE, led by the former prime minister Ljubco Georgievski who was one of the signatories of the peace accord, conveyed in the words of its president, Vesna Janevska that, "The establishment of the Tetovo University, the legalization of the Albanian state flag (as a symbol of the Albanian community in Macedonia), and the latest request for creating the body of a country vice-president (who would by definition be Albanian) are outside the OFA".

The leaders of the Albanian block in the country say that the process of promoting their position in the country can not be a once and for all finalized event.

Assessing the last four years from the OFA the leader of the Albanian partner in the government, the Democratic League for Integration (DUI), and the former leader of the Albanian guerilla, Ali Ahmeti said:

"People who work can't ever be complacent with what they have done. We try to bring in new content."

DUI is the only political party in the country that regularly celebrates the OFA anniversary. The leaders of the Macedonian block regularly miss to show up at the celebration. The foreign representatives in the country have gradually increased presence over the years.

Also this fact is in itself an indicator of the different perceptions of the OFA. Macedonians largely perceive it as a defeat (whatever it is that they feel they lost with it), Albanians have mixed feelings about it - they appreciate it as a step ahead but complain over its slow pace of implementation. And then, feelings depend on the side of the political process you are on - position or opposition.

"In the last four years the frame of the agreement was crammed with elements that are not in concordance with its spirit", says Iljaz Halimi, vice-president of DPA, the Democratic Part of the Albanians, which was one of the signatories of the agreement in 2001, and is now in opposition.

"The request for the official use of the Albanian language, the decentralization, the new territorial division, the proportional representation of Albanians in the public administration, and the amnesty, are completely dysfunctional. The Macedonian side managed to bring the old relations back into the system and DUI displays incomprehensible cooperation", adds he.

The president of the other opposition party of the Albanians, PDP, Abduladi Vejseli joins the discourse for continuous upgrading of the position of the Albanians in the country:

"The constitution is not a holly scripture and we must continuously adapt to the reality and the specificities. There is the need for its further amendment and updating."

According to Ljubomir Frckovski, one of the country's leading political analysts and one of the experts who drafted the OFA, the constant widening of the of the agreement through the continuous new demands by the Albanians is a reason for the frustration on the part of the Macedonians.
At a lighter note, professor Denko Malevski, former Macedonian ambassador to the UN sees these processes as normal birth pains of genuine multiethnic societies. "The sooner we realize this, the sooner we escape the massive apathy that has engulfed the Macedonians" he commented for the online journal Transitions Online (TOL).
Late president Boris Trajkovski, who sponsored the peace process that led to the OFA described the accord at its two-year anniversary back in 2003 as "an essentially European contract that closes the possibilities for alternative territorial solutions over ethnic issues and keeps Macedonia's unitary and multicultural character that will eventually bring the country into Europe.
Until that day, and beyond, we hope for more anniversaries, even if grim and sulky.

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