Macedonia 1991–2001: Towards Democracy and Sovereignty

The first multi-party elections in Macedonia took place in November and December 1990 and were won by VMRO-DPMNE,11 the nationalist contender to the reformed communists (see Table 4.1). However, while VMRO won the plurality of votes it did not win enough seats for a majority in parliament and could not on its own form a government. Refusing to enter into coalition with either the reformed communists from the Union of Communists in Macedonia – Party for Democratic Changes (SKM-PDP) or the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), VMRO was unable to form a government. Instead, a caretaker government was established and approved by parliament to govern the country in a politically neutral manner until the major issues of statehood and independence were resolved.

Table 4.1 November/December 1990 election results in Macedonia12

Political party Seats in parliament


Union of Communists in Macedonia – Party for Democratic 30

Changes (SKM-PDP)

Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) 17

Union of Reformist Forces (SRS) and Youth Progress Party 17


National Democratic Party (NDP) 6

Socialist Party of Macedonia (SPM) 4

Independents 3

Others (Party of Roma, Yugoslav Party, etc.) 6

Total 120

Macedonia declared independence on 8 September 1991, after a successful referendum with a rather ambiguous question.13 Soon afterwards, on 17 November 1991,

11 The full name of the party is a combination of VMRO, which refers to the historical organisation that fought against the Ottoman Turks on the territory of Macedonia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and DPMNE, an acronym for Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity.

12 Source: Državna Izborna Komisija, Rezultati od Izborite 1990. Available at: (accessed 20 November 2010).

13 The actual referendum question was: 'Are you in favour of sovereign and independent Macedonia, with the right to enter into future union of sovereign states of Yugoslavia?'[author's translation], suggesting both independence and eventual new union of Yugoslav states. The results from the voting for the referendum can be accessed at: Državna
the new Macedonian Constitution was adopted by the Parliament. Thus within a year from the elections, the main political institutions in Macedonia were established, along with the earlier election of Kiro Gligorov as President of Macedonia. Although Macedonia's secession from Yugoslavia was not disputed from outside or from Serbian and federal leadership in Belgrade, internally ethnic problems were growing. The independence referendum was boycotted by the majority of the ethnic Albanian population. Although that did not affect the outcome of the referendum, it posed some serious questions about the legitimacy of the newly founded state among different ethnic groups. Consensus among all groups in society on who the 'people' are and what the 'state' is, is one of the fundamental pre-conditions of establishing democracy according to scholars of democratisation,14 so failing to bring on-board all ethnic groups at the moment of establishing statehood was a missed opportunity for placing Macedonian statehood on a foundation of initial consensus. It also indicated a lack of normative unity among the political elites, which impeded the consolidation of democratic politics in the country.15

The new Constitution defined Macedonia as a democratic state, following liberal democratic principles, as was the case in most newly democratising states in East Europe. However, the Preamble also stated that 'Macedonia is the nation state of Macedonians, which provides complete civic equality and permanent cohabitation of the Macedonian nation with Albanians, Turks, Vlachs, Roma'16 a sentence that caused a lot of discord among the ethnic groups in Macedonia. Ethnic Albanian political leaders accused the Macedonian political leadership of promoting ethnic (as opposed to civic) nationalism and of distinguishing between first and second order citizens based on their ethnic origin.17 Before 1991, the titular nations in the Macedonian republic were Macedonians, Albanians and Turks, and at least nominally they enjoyed equal rights and treatment in the Yugoslav state. The move to define Macedonia as the nation state of only Macedonians was a break with Yugoslav practice and one which caused fear among the sizeable Albanian population, which felt stripped of its constituent nation status, demoted to a status

Izborna Komisija, Rezultati od izborite 1990–2000 [State Electoral Commission, Results from the elections 1990–2000]. Available at: (accessed 20 November 2010).

14 Dankwart A. Rustow, 'Transitions to Democracy: Towards a Dynamic Model', Comparative Politics, 2 (April 1970): 150–152; Robert Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971).

15 J. Higley, J. Pakulski and W. Wesolowski, Elite Change and Democratic Regimes in Eastern Europe (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998).

16 'Preambula' in Ustav na Republika Makedonija ['Preamble' in Constitution of Republic of Macedonia] (Skopje: Sluzben vesnik na RM, 1991).

17 Robert Hayden, 'Constitutional Nationalism in the Formerly Yugoslav Republics',

Slavic Review, 51 (1992): 654–73. of 'minority', and threatened by the nationalist intentions of the Macedonian

political elite.18

Nationalism was not new to Macedonia. Late Yugoslav politics was dominated by nationalism, within and across the republics. What was new after 1990 was the overt nature of nationalism and the freedom of political elites to go back and revise parts of history that were forbidden during communism, an activity in which Macedonian political elites avidly indulged. This produced a backlash against the common Slavic history narrative ofYugoslavia andaturntowardstheancient origins of the Macedonian nation.19 These developments aggravated Macedonian relations with the neighbouring states, but also adversely affected internal inter-ethnic relations, as other ethnic communities responded with intensified nationalisms of their own. After the 1992 self-administered referendum on territorial autonomy on western Macedonia, ethnic Albanians declared an autonomous republic of Ilirida.20 Both the referendum and the autonomous republic were declared illegal by the Macedonian state, but unlike the Serbs in Bosnia, Macedonian Albanians did not have any external support or material and institutional resources to proceed with it, so the autonomous republic idea was abandoned.

Despite these initial problems voiced by the Albanian population, no amendments were made to the 1991 Constitution to accommodate their needs. Whether because the political leadership was focused mostly on external threats to the state, such as the retreat of JNA troops from Macedonian territory, battles for international recognition of the new Macedonian state in the face of the Greek veto in the European Community in 1992, or because they truly felt that that Albanians in Macedonia had no legitimate grievances, the issue was definitely not at the top of the agenda of the Macedonian government in the initial years after independence.21 An often cited response to the complaints about the discriminatory language in the constitution referred to the opinions of the Arbitration Commission (known as the Badinter Commission), a body established by the ICFY to assess which of the former Yugoslav republics fulfilled new state recognition criteria. After a thorough analysis of the democracy, minority and human rights provisions of the new constitutions, the Badinter Commission stated that only Slovenia and

18 Dejan Jovic, 'Fear of Becoming a Minority as a Motivator in the Conflict in the

Former Yugoslavia', in Balkanologie, Vol.5, No.1–2 (2001), pp. 21–6.

19 In addition to promoting a view about the ancient origins of the Macedonian nation, instead of the communist time version about the Slavic origins of Macedonians, Macedonian politicians and historians engaged in rehabilitating efforts of historical figures such as Ivan Mihailov and Todor Aleksandrov who were associated with pro-Bulgarian ideas between the two world wars, as well as Metodija Andonov-Čento and others accused of anti-Yugoslav sentiments during and after the Second World War.

20 Zeqirija Rexhepi, Socio-political Events of Albanians in Macedonia 1991–2001

(Ars: Tetovo, 2007).

21 Anonymous, minister in the first cabinet: personal interview with the author,

Skopje, 15 July 2010. Macedonia fulfilled those criteria.22 Since Macedonian constitutional provisions seemed to have withstood the test of the European Community's commission, Macedonian political elites did not feel the need or obligation to further amend them to accommodate Albanian demands, instead discarding those demands as unreasonable. This also marked one of the first instances of relying on external actors to validate the decisions and policies adopted by domestic elites in terms of their compliance with democratic and European standards. This trend became more dominant in the following years, and especially after EU integration became the top foreign policy priority.

In many other ways, the Macedonian state and institutions continued to function following established Yugoslav practices. The first president, even though not directly elected, was the dominant executive figure, especially in foreign policy, while the prime-minister's and government's work were focused on economic and administrative issues. This can partly be attributed to the personal charisma of Kiro Gligorov, who was one of the most experienced politicians in Macedonia, but partly also to the habits inherited from Yugoslavia, where the President and Presidency were much stronger executive bodies than the government. It was only after the end of the first presidential term of Gligorov in 1994, and after he had survived an assassination attempt in October 1995, that he withdrew from the political forefront and allowed the prime-minister to gain a leading role in executive government. He was succeeded in 1999 by Boris Trajkovski, a much younger and far less experienced politician, who did not aspire to gain more executive power. Thus, Macedonia evolved into a combination of semipresidential and parliamentary political systems, with a directly elected president, constitutionally responsible for the armed forces and with shared authority over foreign policy and defence, but with a dominant prime-minister and government, which held the executive power in all governance areas.23 Theoretically, this system allowed overlap between the president's and government's authorities, especially in the fields of foreign and defence policy, but during the first decade after independence no difficulties were encountered. The split executive branch of government, however, is a mechanism for executive power-sharing, which could force political elites from different ideological and ethnic background to cooperate on the most important political issues, although thanks to the matching party and ethnic affiliation of presidents and prime-ministers until 2001, this was never practised.

No reforms of the electoral system were undertaken after 1990 even though the nature of political and party competition was drastically different after the fall

22 'Conference on Yugoslavia Arbitration Commission. Opinion No.6' (Paris, January 11, 1992). Available from: Balkan Odyssey Digital Archive. Special Collections and Archives. University of Liverpool. shtml (accessed 20 November 2010).

23 A. Spasenovski, Sefot na drzavata i nadvorsenata politika [The head of state and foreign policy] (Kocani: Evropa 92, 2008). of communism. Elections were conducted following majoritarian electoral rules throughout most of the 1990s, despite the ethnically diverse population and the deepening ideological gap between the two largest political parties (VMRO and the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) after SKM-PDP changed its name and ideology). Although some degree of proportional representation was introduced in 1998, when 35 out of 120 deputies were elected through PR, Macedonia largely functioned as a majoritarian electoral system until 2002.24 The resistance to electoral reforms, understandably, came from the largest parties in parliament, which had most to lose from introducing PR. And while Albanian parties (PDP, the National Democratic Party (NDP) and a PDP off-shoot, the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh)) were in principle supportive of changing the electoral model, the concentrated Albanian minority in the west and northwest parts of Macedonia meant that Albanian parties were also benefiting from the existing electoral laws. In the public sector, where ethnic Albanians were also under-represented, no reforms were undertaken to increase their access to public employment and services. This was particularly severe in the security and judiciary sectors, where there were almost no Albanians and which made these law enforcement institutions the least trusted by the ethnic minorities.

However, in one respect post-independence politics in Macedonia did change towards greater ethnic accommodation – government coalitions. While there was no such constitutional requirement, all Macedonian governments after 1991 were coalition governments consisting of a senior Macedonian and a junior Albanian coalition partner. Even the initial caretaker government that ran the country through independence and transition periods had three Albanian members, and subsequent government cabinets usually had between four and six, depending on the size of the cabinet. Coalition government was partly a response to the need for a majority in parliament when no political party had overall majority, but cannot be seen as only a pragmatic measure to maintain governments' support in parliament. Indeed, coalition governments before 2001 were also a tool for ethnic accommodation: Macedonian political parties could have chosen a Macedonian coalition partner instead of an Albanian political party, but on each occasion opted for the latter. Most importantly, even when one political party had won a clear majority in parliament, such as SDSM between 1994 and 1998, they still formed a coalition government with an Albanian party. Considering that the government was the main locus of power and policy-maker in Macedonian politics, this amounted to a significant concession allowing ethnic Albanians access to political power and accommodating their political demands, since it involved them in the creation and implementation of government policies. There were no external pressures or demands for coalition-building in Macedonia, and in general during this period, external actors were involved elsewhere in the region, so Macedonian elites had greater freedom in deciding how to run the state and regulate inter-ethnic relations.

24 Eben Friedman, 'Party System, Electoral System and Minority Representation in

Macedonia', in ECMI European Yearbook of Minority Issues 2002–2003, pp. 227–46. Rather, executive coalitions in Macedonia seem to have been an organic solution by the political elites, who found a way to include ethnic minorities in government and thus provide them with access to political power.

In the first decade after independence Macedonia did not embark upon a radical political transformation as was the case elsewhere in eastern Europe. A new feature of Macedonian politics was the intensified Macedonian nationalism, which was vented through various official and unofficial channels and threatened the other ethnic groups in Macedonia. Macedonian political elites failed to unify behind the new statehood project and divided on ethnic lines concerning the nature of the new Macedonian state. Albanians resented the ethno-national identity of the state, while Macedonians rejected Albanian concerns, and both failed to engage with each other and discuss these issues openly. Apart from including Albanian political parties in government, few other efforts were undertaken to accommodate the needs of other ethnic groups. Relying on the republican institutions and governing practices inherited from Yugoslavia, Macedonia was not equipped to deal with national minority questions, which soon after erupted in an armed conflict.

Macedonia's decade of political transition between 1991 and 2001 displays some important similarities to the developments in Bosnia. During the secession from Yugoslavia, there was no normative unity among the ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political elites on the basic principles underlying the statehood, political structure and people of the newly independent Macedonian state. Albanians disputed the fundamental principles of the new Macedonian constitution and the change of their status from constituent nation to minority. As a result, the ethnic Albanian community boycotted the independence referendum in September 1991. Moreover, like Serbs in Bosnia, Albanian elites in Macedonia resorted to seeking territorial answers to their problems, administering a secession referendum in 1992. This once again demonstrated the political elite's preference for territorial solutions to ethnic issues – given the territorial nature of Yugoslav ethno-federalism.

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