Macedonia : Council of Europe concerned about “society polarised along ethnic lines”





The Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe (i.e. the foreign ministers of the 47 member states) are concerned about the situation of the minorities in the multiethnic country of Macedonia (because the name dispute with Greece that still has not been solved yet, Macedonia is not called by its proper constitutional name of Republic of Macedonia (Република Македонија) in international contexts, but as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in short: FYROM).


The Balkan state holds the status of accession candidate for membership of the European Union since 2005, but sofar no official negotiations have started. In this context we point to the latest progress report of the European Commission from 2011, which also deals with minority issues.

The Ohrid Framework Agreement

11 Years have passed by since Macedonia was making headlines around the world. This was because of the civil-war-like situation between the two largest ethnic groups in the country – the Macedonians and the Albanians. After pressure from the United States and the EU and after negotiations the Ohrid Framework Agreement was adopted, which forms the basis for the peaceful development of the country since then.

Current situation

Looking at the dramatic situation back then, which claimed many lives, the situation has considerably eased in recent years.

Nevertheless the country remains divided. According to the latest census from 2002, Macedonia consists of several ethnic groups:

  • 64 percent are ethnic Macedonians ( 1,297,981 persons), especially in the east. in the centre and in the south of the country. In the west and in the north they are regularly a minority.
  • 25 percent are Albanians (509,083 persons), especially in the western half of the country and also in the north.
  • 3.85% are Turks (77,959 persons). They live in the towns of west and central Macedonia and form the majority in two municipalities.
  • 2.66% Roma (53,879 persons) They live predominantly in the cities. In Šuto Orizari (a neighbourhood of Skopje) they are the majority.
  • 1.78% Serbs (35,939 persons),
  • 0.84 Bosniaks (17,018 persons),
  • 0.48 Aromanians/Vlachs (9,695 persons).


In 2011 another census should have taken place, but it was put on hold by the authorities until further notice.

The Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe states in its assessment that the country is still ethnically divided and even speaks of “parallel societies”.

“Society remains polarised along ethnic lines, with the principal national groups living without significant interaction with each other. Such a parallel co-existence is particularly evident in the education system, the media, the political parties and as regards living areas. There have been instances of interethnic tension caused by lack of dialogue, stereotyping and prejudice.”

An example for the difficult situation is the publication of the first national encyclopaedia. In this standard work of reference about the country the Albanian part of the population was mentioned as a “mountain people”. This led to furious protests – and the publication was cancelled.

How far apart the different parts of the population are, became clear when the government tried to make Macedonian obligatory for all – also for those people belonging to the minorities – in the first years of school. This objective failed because of fierce resistance on the part of the (Albanian) parents, who reject such education for their children.

Roma

A big, unsolved problem is the situation of the Roma in the country, who still face discrimination in all areas of society. The living conditions of the minority are sometimes a catastrophe. The report of the Council of Europe mentions the situation in the village of Brest as an example. There were violent clashes in the majority Roma Šuto Orizari neighbourhood of Skopje in April 2010.

The small minority groups

The two large ethnic groups – Albanians and Macedonians – dominate the discussions and often the smaller minority groups are “caught between two stools”. As part of the Framework Agreement Macedonia defined those minorities who are recognised by the state: Albanians, Turks, Vlachs/Aromanians, Serbs, Roma and Bosniaks. The Advisory Committee suggests promoting the Egyptians, who wants to be recognised as a separate national minority, to the status of such a minority. Thus far Skopje rejected this request on the basis that the Egyptians are a group of Roma.

EU and the Copenhagen Criteria

An important uniting element is the wish of the political elites of Macedonia – despite the crisis and regardless whether they are Albanian or ethnic Macedonian – to be admitted to the European Union. That is why much more even than the documents of the Council of Europe, the progress report of the European Commission plays a role in the government’s decision-making in Skopje. This is also a very effective lever (as can be seen in the cases of many former accession candidates) to strengthen the rights of the minorities in Macedonia. The European Commission ought to focus not only on the reforms of the financial system, justice or the fight against corruption, but do much more on the issue of the minorities and the integration of the Roma and define these issues as criteria for exclusion of membership. Unfortunately the European Commission does not refer consistently enough to these minority criteria, which are an integral part of the Copenhagen Criteria for membership of the EU, in its assessment of the situation in Macedonia (and other candidate countries).

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