Decentralisation in Macedonia: Designing Municipal Maps and Funds


Thischapterlooksatthepoliticaldevelopmentsin Macedoniaafterthe 2001 conflict, focusing in particular on decentralisation reforms – one of the most sensitive policy areas for ethnic relations after 2001. In the area of decentralisation, despite early contestation, the political elites managed to adopt a mutually acceptable policy solution. More than years after the end of the conflict, decentralisation is gradually becoming a technical policy issue. Looking at the reforms implemented in this area since 2001, the main purpose of this chapter is to examine how politicians from the two ethnic groups interacted at the policy level and to outline what led to their accommodation across ethnic lines.

The findings suggest that post-2001 power-sharing institutions in Macedonia were successful in increasing the political power of ethnic minority groups, through veto mechanisms and executive coalitions. What led to success in the case of decentralisation reforms was the creation of a cross-cutting 'local vs. central' political cleavage and shared identity by local elites that allowed successful accommodation among Macedonian politicians. External actors also contributed to greater accommodation either by using conditionality to elicit the desired behaviour by domestic politicians, or by supporting informal accommodating practices such as independent advocacy bodies or closed leaders' meetings.

Decentralisation Policy in Macedonia

Historical Legacies in Decentralisation

Decentralisation was one of the main features of Yugoslav communism during the last decades of the Yugoslav federation. As discussed in previous chapters, the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution provided for extensive transfer of authority from federal to republican level, continuing an earlier decentralisation trend that started in the 1960s. By the end of the 1980s, federal institutions held little political and economic power and most issues in domestic politics were resolved by each republic. Although decentralisation was not as advanced inside the constituent republics, municipalities had substantial powers in several important areas, such as: urban planning, education, health and even some police and
judiciary competencies.1 In the current political discourse in Macedonia, this period of extensive decentralisation has become the standard against which later decentralisation efforts in Macedonia are often measured. Among highranking politicians some compare municipalities in SFRY to little states, with sufficient capacity to run local economic, political and judicial affairs. For other commentators involved in local government issues, decentralisation in SFRY was comparable to that in Scandinavian countries. However, none of the successor states appear to have followed that trend in decentralisation after independence.2

Instead, with the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation and the subsequent independence of Macedonia, there was a radical break with this Yugoslav tradition. Soon after declaring independence in 1991, the government centralised all political and economic authority. Without public debate or political discussion in parliament, the government simply issued an executive decision that took away all but the basic powers from municipalities. There was little protest over this decision of the government and few tried to contest it in parliament. After all, few were used to regarding parliament as a real locus of power, since assemblies during communism have served to simply rubber-stamp the decisions agreed on Communist Party sessions and congresses.

Some politicians explain this turn towards centralisation as a result of the fear among political elites about governing an independent state.3 Few of those who took the leading political positions in newly independent Macedonia had had much experience with running a fully sovereign state and that fear translated into an urge to centralise all political power in the hands of few at the top. Moreover, the dissolution of Yugoslavia was seen as a strong argument against federalism or any other form of territorial devolution of political power. One of the ministers in the first Macedonian post-independence government confirmed that it was common for Macedonian politicians at the time to view Yugoslavia's demise as a result of too powerful republics and too weak central institutions incapable of brokering an agreement between republics.4 Any demands for decentralisation, regionalisation or federalisation were immediately rejected as threats to the statehood and sovereignty of the Macedonian state.

However, over the next decade the adverse effects of political and economic centralisation became evident for most among the political elites in Macedonia. The overly centralised administration was inefficient at providing services to the

1 Part Two, Chapter 2, Municipalities, Constitution of SFRY (Belgrade: Službeni List, 1974).

2 High-ranking member of SDSM and former government minister: personal interview, Skopje, 6 September 2010. Director of ZELS: personal interview with the author, Skopje, 23 July 2010.

3 High-ranking member of SDSM and former government minister: personal interview, Skopje, 6 September 2010.

4 Former government minister 1991–1993: personal interview with the author, 15 July 2010. citizens, who needed to travel to Skopje for all major services from the public sector, from transport and construction, to judiciary. This created frustration with the state, which often acquired an ethnic overtone, as the state was seen as especially discriminatory towards the minorities in providing the necessary services to them. The fact that minorities were underrepresented in the public administration did not help in making ethnic minorities feel equally well served and treated by state institutions.5

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