This is a short version of the briefing paper prepared in August 2004 for the International Commission on the Balkans.
In the last decade and a half foretellers frequently oversimplified about viability of the Republic of Macedonia (RM). Among them two distinctive schools of thought prevailed: first, uncritically praised country’s leadership and institutions for allegedly maintaining productive multiethnic co-existence unseen in the bloody region while the others routinely predicted partition along the ethnic lines. Due to the unique historical legacy, country’s specific ethnic structure and interdependence of diverse geopolitical interests both camps proved largely wrong.
Since 2001 and signing of the Framework Agreement (FA) the history is repeating itself. The overwhelming majority of foreign politicians and analysts, enthusiastically followed by the domestic elite reiterate on a daily basis that the peace accord from Ohrid is not only the shortest, but the sole way to stable, prosperous and formally integrated state into the euro Atlantic community of nations. On the other side, the minority is waiting for the dissolution, again.
Transitional paradigm is not enough to explain the RM. Basic point of departure of this paper is that beyond doubt the Agreement is without sustainable alternative and its fulfillment should be deemed by political elites as being an absolute priority of strategic importance. Nevertheless, even the full implementation of the FA in the short to medium term can not serve as omnipotent guarantor for the future of the state. The RM has inherent structural shortages and unless addressed immediately they threaten to disrupt the very fabric of society. In this regard, simply, the Agreement is not enough.
In regards to the past the RM is not an average transitional country. Sidelining most favorite subject of all Balkan people which ”can produce history more then they can consume it” the RM experienced twofold legacy related to its post-communist and post -Yugoslav heritage.
The formal inauguration of the state was done in 1944 by the then communist elite and it endures 35 years in the federal Yugoslavia. Despite the notorious truth that former state was a totalitarian entity, ruled by a dictator the very fact that the Macedonian nation was finally recognized and nominally has a say in the federal organs has a significant emotional meaning both to the new raising national elite and to all the members of the dominant ethnic majority. Most of Macedonian citizens will agree that communism was better due to the social serenity, safe and stable security ambient. A component plus for ethnic Macedonians was - they got the state. All of the mentioned contributed to the sense among the people that communism was never on the wrong side of history. This can be sustained by the fact that in the RM one will have serious difficulties to name a single political dissident who was purged from the office or sentenced for advocating alternative ideology.
Apart from regularly preaching stiff political and economic commandments the new elite consisted mainly of ethnic Macedonians invented and executed a few other basically non-ideological undertakings with far-reaching social consequences, felt until today. In an attempt to develop an urban middle class and to follow imperative of the regime to industrialize the country they maintained to overstretch the cities, especially the capital and to depopulate entire areas. The net result was creation of a big gap between the towns without appropriate infrastructure to serve enormous number of urban dwellers and underdeveloped rural areas living in the 19 century - like environment. Deeply rooted structural misbalances and ongoing de-industrialization are biggest challenges to contemporary Macedonia.
However, the fundamental mistake was not only that - intentionally or not the afore mentioned developmental tendencies went sharply along the ethnic lines.
Three years after the tragic events initial successes in reconciliation and confidence are achieved among political and party elites, but barely on the grass and roots levels. The main obstacle is tacit belief on both sides that political gains can be piled up more easily using violence instead of dialogue. The future task of the politicians is tremendous - to persuade the people that they are wrong, although, at the moment, Macedonians and Albanians are right in their perceptions - in principle.
Without waiting for the time to suppress emotions which are always close to the events of historical relevance one can credibly say that the FA was the best possible answer by the leadership and institutions to the given political, security, regional and historical context of 2001. Compelling proof is that ever since, even its harshest critics were not able to offer a rational and viable alternative to its mainstream logic. Its plausibility was additionally underlined by the favorable vote of the two-thirds Albanian representative’s in the Parliament. Such a support to the fundamental documents of the state was being given for the first time since independence.
Unfortunately, as is always the case with the documents aimed at stopping the conflicts, the FA has one inborn error which has to be dealt with. The very process of making provoked bitter sentiments among ethnic Macedonians and feelings of despair and rejection within dominant community.
Therefore, the challenge ahead of the politicians is to persuade their ethnic kins there were no losers and winners in the process. Having triumphant community in one corner and dispirited one in the other is formulae for undermining critical internal cohesion Macedonian society is surviving upon. Strategic relevance of the FA is dependent upon an equal acceptance by both communities; otherwise its durability as a peace accord expired.
State of the nation
Rather unique inner “substance” of the RM will dictate specific answer to this topic. In an era of still vibrant nation states, political nation has not existed in the RM and there is a high probability that it never will. The real problem for scholars is how to describe state of the nation whose members do not have common myths, same historical heroes and where tribute to the constitutional emblems- hymn or flag is paid by the people dependant on their ethnicity. International community is confused on the same scale – nation building is not possible, while two-tier state building is hardly feasible. Although it is obvious that items just mentioned can not be defined as of purely methodological nature there are few common denominators to the majority of all citizens of the RM.
Extensive and expansive pessimism concerning personal destiny of the people is nation-wide phenomenon in post-communist countries. Living long years under pressure, witnessing fallen reforms and steep decline of standards of living, Macedonian citizens couldn’t be expected to be seen in the group of most optimistic Europeans, by definition.
Diminishing social capital
Analyzing some specifics in several areas can help in shedding light on very negative level of social capital in the RM.
The RM has never experienced credible, independent and powerful syndicalism, a reliable worker’s movement on an equal footing with the governments. Surrogate was and still is communist era structure which managed to survive paid by inertia from the remaining workers in the semi-live socialist enterprises in permanent transition. This resulted with a corrupted and weak major union incapable of leading a rally of 1.000 supporters.
Very few attempts were made to establish an oppositional syndicate broadly based in a vibrant workers movement and lead by credible persons. They failed out of two reasons: lack of vibrant workers movement and lack of Macedonian version of Leh Valesa.
Membership in the biggest political parties according to their official statistics, in aggregate, is totaling 330.000 members, which is precisely twice the number of all the Communist party members at the peak of that regime. At first glance it seems that citizens waited eagerly to be engaged in democracy, but in reality there are other reasons for this “incredible” political activity. The predominant motifs are finding a job, advance in career or securing employment facing massive layoffs. Those people are active out of necessity once in four years. In the meantime they are waiting to be praised by theirs political party for loyalty, not for ideas and creativity.
During Presidential elections 2004 new phenomenon emerged on the surface – the lowest ever voters turnoutas a harbinger of disillusionment of the citizens with elections and representative democracy. Though 53.64% of the eligible voters who cast their ballots is not alarming knowing the European experience in the field it was roughly 20% less in comparison with previous Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 1999 and 2002. The state of shock after the tragic death of President Trajkovski could be one of the motives; however, no comprehensible explanation has been given for this new wave of social pessimism and political inactivity unprecedented in the recent history of the country.
After the fall of communism, the RM has experienced expected phenomenon “back to the religion”. Religious festivities were attended by large crowds of thousands young and elderly people alike. The size of spiritual gatherings within dominant religious communities was manifold bigger then celebrations organized for gaining the UN membership or independence of the state. Nevertheless, at the moment there is no single spiritual leader more popular then the average politicians whose rating is constantly poor. Children in the primary schools or students in campuses had never mentioned Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammad as the strongest moral voices in their lives. Although churches and mosques are built up constantly, there are no sound indicators that Christianity and Islam are gaining prominence in the people’s lives or getting influence over mainstream politics. Most probably key obstacle are people’s perceptions that top clerics are allured more by money and mundane temptations then by the invisible hand of God. Simply, the number of believers does not translate into political influence.
Without ambitions to compete with Europe the RM is at the bottom of the Balkans charts considering key prerequisite for independent, forward – looking and innovative thinking - network of public policy institutes. Poorly financed and equipped, a few think- thanks based in the capital are constantly preoccupied with their mere survival instead with ground –breaking research for the benefit of people and society.
In spite of formidable number of 5- 6.000 formally registered non- governmental organizations there is a lack of genuine, massive and inventive civic movement. Virtually all entities are addicted to foreign donors and overwhelming majority is re-emerging on the surface only in election times or as long as their grants can endure. Their credentials are additionally harmed since many are perceived as being simple extension of the political parties. Although communism suppressed individualism and forced people to hide behind the masses, the fact remains that people previously were more engaged in various forms of social activities. Nowadays, heavily pressed to endure the permanent economic hardships they are not interested in volunteering for the common good, but in survival.
Absence of well-build and energetic civic sector is very often filled by the media. They face financial instability, mismanagement and political interfering. Democratic values and high professionalism are not deeply ingrained and always presented in daily reporting. Regardless of typical transitional flaws media serve as a nation-wide round table irreplaceable for open debates about advancing democracy and sharpening political responsibility.
The elites are inherited from communism. Basically, transition did not produce political class not known in the past. Even large oppositional political parties formally inaugurated in post- communism are full of former communists. In spite of the honest intentions of sections of VMRO-DPMNE on the Macedonian side and DPA on the Albanian one to present itself as ideologically opposite from SDSM, DUI and PDP, concrete political behavior while in power, made their core commitments indistinct to the citizens. Although rhetorical confrontation between “communists” and “nationalists” persist for years, it is groundless in terms of political philosophy and practical policy choices.
Internal democratic transformation of political parties was time-consuming process lagging behind formal evolutionof the state. The end result is discouraging. Lack of visible social stratification deprives parties from positioning and re-orienting themselves in protecting structured social layers. It added to appearance of very strange political chart where traditional liberals are frequently confused with the political conservatives. In the RM there is no right, no left, and no third way in ideological sense, only the critics of the three of it.
Structural fault made by the parties while in power is identification with the state which is triggering excessive number of party activist's appointments in the administration. This undermines legitimacy and efficiency of the institutions which are routinely held hostages to the political changes in the country.
Four additional characteristics could be drawn on the subject- first, all parties are ethnically based. Party rhetoric during the election times refers strictly to the ethnic kins. Sometimes ethnic Macedonian parties are trying mildly to cross ethnic lines and offer broader economic or social platforms, while ethnic Albanian ones are strictly tied to the national cause. Presence of rare ethnic “otherness” in the organization is seen as atypical by the public and followed with suspicion by the party members of “right” ethnicity.
Second, they are not only leadership-dependent, but leaders-centered. Party fractions are neither nominally nor practically allowed to exist- dissenters are regularly avoided by conformists.
Third, leaderships are more reformed then grass and roots members. While in power party functionaries are formally obliged to lead integration and democratic reforms and consequently get better acquainted with required transformations. Unfortunately, it is barely transposed to the local party branches and political sympathizers. This makes portions of the population to be inclined to believe demagogic speeches about spectacular social transformations overnight.
Forth, voters considers them as being unsuccessful in promoting able and uncorrupted persons to senior party and political levels. This forged their image of being closed political monopolies full of individuals unable to be socially promoted in different ways.
In the last few years on the Macedonian and Albanian side of the political spectrum, respectively, phenomenon of general disillusionment with political elites can be traced easily. Beyond doubt some people have enough money and enthusiasm to raise new political initiatives, but the general perception is that the shortage of forward – looking and inventive cadres who can produce ground-breaking ideas will prevent big distortion of the current political landscape to happen and to persist longer then one election cycle.
The predictable outcome is - more disappointed citizens, immobile electorate and less legitimate political elites in the future.
Due to the ideological reasons in communism, the ruling elite forged the term “brotherhood and unity” trying to describe allegedly ideal interethnic relations. In post-communist period, the phrase was renamed in multiethnic co-existence though background motifs for its introduction remained the same. Relevant field studies have always confirmed basic feelings of people in both communities – most of the time they distrust the opposite side at large but are not willing to fight or kill for the cause. Some changes occurred briefly in 2001, but central patterns did not.
Although the core of the problem is deeply entrenched, three years ago people exposed extraordinary maturity when they accepted back in their neighborhoods individuals who only months ago were their enemies.
The strategic project was laid upon broadly based Amnesty Law and confidence building measures for all the people regardless of their ethnicity. The very idea then and now was to achieve reconciliation and internal cohesion via integration. It shall gain prominence time and again in the RM.
Considering the real integration of former militants the RM has managed to recycle and absorb entire leadership of the NLA in the state institutions - political precedent unknown in Europe in the last 50 years. Beyond doubt some politicians understood the whole enterprise as being directed only towards reconciling party elites or political leaderships, however the goal at stake was much larger. The actual target was best described a decade ago by the member of South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission –“each side to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis“.
Nowadays major ethnic communities are celebrating separate dates, paying tribute to different monuments, children learning contradicting history. At present there is absence of a common truth about the events from the recent past. Unless a few basic rationales are mutually recognized and respected this country will lack reasons to be.
Strategic Challenges Within
The most cited and by far the most criticized document in recent Macedonian history is in its terminal stage. Political elites and ordinary citizens in the initial phases spent the time getting familiar with its raison d’etre. Today they are facing concrete implementation of its essentials - power-sharing mechanisms between Macedonians and Albanians and devolution of competencesfrom central to the municipal level. Neither of them happened in this country previously.
People cannot be compelled to live together in the same state by the use of army or police, an external pressure or UN resolutions. Internal legitimacy of the RM in the future will depend upon real and productive implementation of the remaining projects.
A very few ethnic Macedonians, politicians or ordinary citizens alike will admit that the RM has a history of exclusion of ethnic Albanians from the state. It takes a lot to recognize the problem and the primary task is to resolve it faster then it has taken to create it. However, it is impossible to unravel this knot overnight for at least three elements on which modern and professional administration is based– effectiveness, competitiveness and last, but certainly not least - money.
The supreme EU tenet regarding the transformation of the administration is very close to NATO ideology concerning modern army structures – to be small, flexible and efficient. Nowadays, the target group for integration of the Albanians is nearing 130.000 employees which is more then twice of the number sufficient to produce better services. The issue is how to reduce this size as required for years by the IFM and World Bank and in the same time to raise current level of 13% ethnic Albanians to 25% to match their share of the population. The realistic answer disliked by the politicians for obvious reasons is only one- ethnic Macedonians to be laid off for ethnic Albanians to replace them.
Every coalition in power being serious about the implementation of the FA has to do this. Every Government doing this shall not increase its political standing.
Enforcing FA in this manner will overstretch Government capabilities and make it focused during the entire term in changing the ethnic structure of the administration. The administration has been oversized and incompetent for too long. Its dimensions and structure are suffocating tax payers and economy. But in a given context there is hardly visible window of opportunity to check the skills of all people considered for employment in the state administration whose notoriously poor services offered to the citizens are paid by nearly 40% of the total budget.
Since January 2002 and adoption of the generic Law on the Local Self Government politicians were largely engaged in a debate not reasonably related to the real substance of direct democracy. The net result was – citizens and political parties misunderstood that instead of better services for all citizens on the micro level the Law shall provide for establishing internal borders within the country.
The defocused course of discussions contributes for poisoning interethnic relations but more importantly for domination of political over the expert’s views when drawing municipal borders in some parts of the state. While equitable representation provides for more integration, if understood improperly decentralization should practically lead to isolation and separation of ethnic communities.
In the middle of the heated debate the key issue was missed - whether new local entities will have the means to manage new competencies and collect more money needed to respond to the needs of local communities. For the whole time majors of both ethnic communities were persistent in asking central authorities for devolution of more competencies which they do not have institutional capacities to cope with. Everyone familiar with the history of institution building on the local level is aware about the outcome - weak state will be recycled into weak municipalities.
Understandable fear of municipal communities in minority not to be dominated in a “Balkan way” by local majorities have to be addressed consequently and timely by as wider as possible application of voting mechanisms across the ethnic lines. What is provided for the minorities on the state level should be preserved for the local minorities in municipalities. At the end, apart from current or prospective legal umbrella political maturity and culture of tolerance will be of critical importance. Being slightly above a decade in democracy and barely three years after the conflict, the RM does not posses right amount of it and precisely at this point lay the trap of future political and interethnic collisions.
Crime and Corruption
A decade-long wars and conflicts in the region have created a fitting environment for expansion of the organized crime in all its forms. Criminals practically surpassed commitments of regional political leaderships in what was de facto the task of the latter – they had reached productive interoperability and created dynamic network highly adaptable to all changes and challenges.
Despite comparative crime rates from the 90-ties confirming that it stood better in comparison with large portion of the Balkans the RM is not an isolated island in criminalized region. Although the size of common criminality in the post- conflict period levied its pre- conflict dimensions, organized crime and corruption remained considerable challenge.
Today’s crime trends in comparison with those of the past decade retain one feature and lost the other. For decades ethnically motivated crime has not dominated the scene. On the other side, three years ago it was still possible some forms of organized crime to be blended with politics. These days such a composite cannot count on success. All “Grand ideologies” in the region are barely alive supported by meager funds and small groups of old-fashioned individuals with outdated projects in their heads. Yet, the illegal gains (unfortunately, the last relevant estimation dated back in 2002) of 200 million euros or approximately one fifth of the national budget earned annually by the organized crime are desperately high.
The naked statistics of crime concluding that its dimensions in the last decade are on the constant level is not enough. While respective institutions are engaged with national security doctrines and regional security designs nobody is looking into the perceptions of the ordinary people. The area of human security is virtually completely ignored by the politicians in power and rare experts in the field. People’s perceptions about job protection, prospects to find new one, social and health care, rights of the retired - do matter. In this regard, beyond doubt the RM is extremely unsafe.
Administrative corruption is less present than in 2002, but business- related corruption (tenders announced by the state institutions, for example) shows no signs of decline. The corruption perception index measured by Transparency International though lower then before, clearly expresses continual concern of entrepreneurs’ community about legal protection of their businesses and chances to operate unconstrained by the corrupted public servants.
Imbalances can be easily traced on the economic and social maps - sharp deindustrialization in the cities and severe underdevelopment in the rural areas. Due to the socialistic developmental concept and ignorance of ruling establishment only overpopulated capital is still alive while the rest of the country is emptying or dying.
Being disproportionately employed in the socialist economy ethnic Macedonians suffered the most by its total collapse. Ethnic Albanians' exclusion of the previous system forced them to stay in the villages and be engaged in the marginal sectors or gray zones of illegal economy which attached large portions of this population to the lowest incomes.
Both communities have their own reasons to distrust capability of the state to upgrade their social status. Therefore, the basic transformation of the society is not feasible unless policy of economic and social cohesion which once helped the EU to bridge internal developmental gaps is applied. Relying exclusively upon domestic resources is not the most effective way to address structural tensions properly. Therefore the EU support with the pre-accession funds in next 4-6 years is conditio sine qua non for success.
The impression is that in the last decade Balkan political elites never sincerely accepted tenet of meaningful regional collaboration. Partial explanation can be embedded in horrible cycle of disasters when ultimate priorities of the states were focused on their mere survival and partly in inertia of communism, which didn’t favor regional co-operation unless based upon the same ideological design.
In addition, Macedonian elites in 90-ties anticipated dangers coming by four sides, which never happened because real enemies from the past did not survive the communism.
When EU in the second half of the 90-ties imposed the so-called regional clause upon potential aspirants, the leaderships were caught by surprise. Since that time neighborhood policy was cold - war like, intended to deter and balance regional powers- not to build functional alliances.
Fundamental changes in the last three years were provoked by two sets of reasons-first, masterminds of 19-th century ideologues and their associates who inflamed Balkans where either in Den Haag or in opposition since people became extremely suspicious about their “big states” where ordinary citizens are small;
Second, several countries from the region received clear signals about their prospects to enter NATO and EU in the short run. It confirmed to the common people in the most concrete way that democratization is always stronger then militarization. Thus, policy of status quo had begun to be challenged successfully by the authentic regional cooperation within which the countries from the region started to emulate Europeans.
Regional influence experienced by the RM is twofold – first, by direct neighbors, with Kosovo having the most prominent position and second, from the wider area. The latter is completely different by its potentials from the former – insignificant to the present, with strategic relevance to the future.
Although the RM is not going to be a part of formal decision–making mechanisms, it is never irrelevant what should erect as a final shape of one of its direct neighbors with over a hundred kilometers of shared border. The ultimate interest beyond doubt is to preserve the RM in the current form and within its internationally recognized borders. It calls political leadership to shift the gears while waiting for the status negotiations in 2005 and to modify stated policy of neutrality and immobility officially considered more productive then energetically lobbying in time.
The following elements can help in building up sustainable position rooted in reality instead in history and emotions. Pragmatic view suggests to Macedonian side not to offer status solutions, but to insist on democracy-oriented entity radiating stability in the region.
The fear was never a good partner to the reasonable contemplation, but all Balkan nations doubtful of independent Kosovo, should be persuaded by international community requested to appear with comprehensive settlement aimed at resolving the main issue, but avoiding domino effects and collateral damages. Verbal promises are never enough on the Balkans. Therefore, a set of sound and written international guarantees should be issued to all the neighbors.
The external security of Kosovo should remain for some time internationally managed with borders sealed for criminals, but invisible for ordinary citizens. Internationally recognized border agreement between the RM and Serbia and Montenegro from 2001 shall be implemented and the northern border demarcated. Otherwise, the political radicals and armed extremists will be encouraged via disputing the border to negate the state. The leadership in Pristine has to be persuaded that border delineation which is professionally drawn by experts and UN recognized shouldn’t be used as a shortcut to international legitimacy.
Many in the region are not aware that holding hibernated for too long the Kosovo issue will result with creating of de facto “second Cyprus” in the heart of the peninsula with potential to slow down the movement of all to Brussels. Consequently, strategic interest of the region is to see the solution as soon as possible. Uncertainty averts investors and gives rise to extremists who prefer instability.
The only settlement which should be reasonably feared in the RM is the partition of Kosovo. It will set up precedent in decade-long dissolution of former Yugoslavia challenging the borders for the first time. In such a case neither FA nor the Conculj Agreement will halt Albanians in the RM or in south Serbia to stay where they are.
All peoples in the region, including Kosovars, a concrete time- frame in the next 10- 12 years for their institutional integration in the EU and NATO shall be given. It will stabilize reformers and persuade old-fashioned nationalists that the process of democratization and Europeanization of the Balkans is irreversible. In the meantime the would-be regional security threats-like shadowy Albanian National Army, have to be addressed by internationally coordinated and concerted action in order all nation to be persuaded that violence can not be considered a more effective alternative to dialogue, again.
Establishing permanent office in Pristine in order to coordinate trade relations and facilitate practical political cooperation as soon as possible would be an important step forward. Just an old saying is advising "if trade crosses borders, soldiers won't”. So far, in this regard, RM behaved as if there was no one living on the other side of the border.
In the last two years prosperous and democratic quadrangle was formed in the region. Four countries on the Balkan’s outer rim are experienced with the region and too close to its core to support indigenous reform efforts. Being the members of EU and NATO Slovenia on the west, Hungary on the north, Bulgaria on the east and Greece, central geo-economic player in the region on the south have the capacity to penetrate the area in between with business initiatives, confirmed practice of democracy and genuine euro- Atlantic legitimacy.
Euro- Atlantic Integrations - Roadmap to Survival
In the last ten years only one issue regularly maintained broad support across ethnic lines. Officially declared a decade - long twining strategy to join NATO and EU has permanent 70% - 90% support of the population with short break in 2001 when ethnic Macedonians overwhelmingly distrusted NATO believing in international conspiracies.
Taking a closer look behind citizen's rationales will expose wide array of motifs most of which differ significantly from the core philosophies of both alliances. Although an intriguing question is whether this type of support is fully productive for the efforts of reformers, the nucleus of euro-Atlantic endeavor is ever closer to the people's perceptions.
On the surface thesis is contradictio in adjecto but it is relevant: after 9/11 USA and NATO shifted security paradigms and also interests away from the region, but in the same period NATO ambassador arrived in Skopje and a special cell of NATO advisory team was installed to sustain ongoing reforms. Achieved in the military and security field in the last three years was predominantly NATO and USA driven. Their mere presence posed an obstacle to the politicians in power to substitute real reforms with the enlargement rhetoric.
The RM is currently in the last stage of accession to NATO. The initial efforts when leadership sited incessantly "important" geopolitical considerations, partnership during Kosovo crises, cohesion on the NATO south wing etc. as “achievements” for membership are miles behind us.
However, the ultimate lesson still not entirely grasped by the leaders is that in order to expand democracy new NATO prefers stable institutions and prosperous economies over robust military. The most precious contributions required by the Alliance are sustainable economic growth, independent judiciary and functional instead of formal democracy. We are today in a paradoxical situation - far advanced processes in restructuring the army and police, barely sustained by poor economy on the edge of abyss with bleak prospects to improve significantly in the near future.
For years being pressurized by profound security threats in the region and at home, the membership in NATO was discussed frequently by the people and regularly projected by elites. At the contrary, throughout the 90-ties EU entry was mentioned out of courtesy while speaking generally about euro-Atlantic integrations. In essence the Union was considered being remote club of wealthy nations far distant from the RM by definition.
The application for membership submitted just 30 months after the conflict, evidently, came as a surprise to the bureaucracy in Brussels, but actually it arrived in the strategically important interregnum. The RM and the region as a whole are at the crossroad and a positive treatment to the Macedonian bid will produce two types of paybacks.
The first group should have multilayered internal influence in strengthening inner cohesion, because the application is supported by ample majority of all ethnic communities; sending strong signal to the potential investors that the RM is not on the chart of weak or failed states, and assist our access to the structural funds of EU with serious potential to support domestic efforts to revive stagnant economy. Last, but, not the least important - earning the right to be a candidate will positively influence implementation process of the FA. It asks for money and political will. Since financial resources are notoriously limited being indefinitely forgotten in the waiting-room will make the enthusiasm of Government to depart, as well.
The second group of arguments with promising regional impact consisted of promoting the RM as a role model for the neighbors- consolidated multiethnic democracy which radiates “soft power” in the region. Also, the RM institutionally embedded in the European track will relax the whole atmosphere in the region on the eve of last geopolitical positioning announced for 2005.
Western Balkan is still living the history not nearing its end. A decade long series of wars and conflicts largely discharged Balkan’s keg of powder, but democratic tendencies in the region are still flat on the screen. Lingering tendencies of nations to find “natural borders” should be finally sealed and replaced by the search for European borders of culture and tolerance. "Bloody borders" in Huntington’s clash of civilizations theory which, if correct, divided internally and externally more then once this country shouldn’t be the only outcome as predicted by doomsayers.
The biggest temptation to the unitary state - conflict of 2001 is maybe politically and legally resolved, but in essence it is not. Amount of skepticism is still in place between ordinary people not completely convinced about final intentions of the “other side”. The RM shall be, in fact, unified in diversity when Macedonians will accept genuine power-sharing with Albanians, and the latter will pay tribute to the common symbols of the state as the former does.
The RM can not survive the Framework Agreement Plus, if reached by use of violence, again. Modifications of the text couldn’t be excluded if both sides voluntarily reach consent about joined priorities.
Fundamental fault will be to misinterpret FA in order to compose a bi-national state as a replacement to authentic multiculturalism. The challenges are certainly ahead- the formidable one is decentralization package where both ethnic leaderships need to balance power and principles subtly. Economic development instead of domination of majority over minority is the goal. It is of utmost importance for the credibility of the whole process to unleash local initiatives and creativity of the people, not allowing national agendas to be promoted using the label of power devolution as a pretext. The new municipal boundaries can very easily emerge as ethnic frontiers. With other words – to keep the RM technically within internationally recognized borders as unitary state de jure, but internally fragmented along the ethnic lines, de facto. Sustainable solution is not ethno-federalism, but unitary state more inclusive and more accountable.
Strategic debates in the RM are not over. Viability of the state will depend solely upon autonomous capacity and vision of its intellectual and political elites. To keep the country from being memorized only as a footnote in the future history books it is their responsibility to streamline nation’s creativity, identify and apply developmental concept and provide card for the Republic of Macedonia’s place in euro-Atlantic integrations not later then 2013. It is not a task a single Government or particular ethnic community can shoulder autonomously.