Lidija Petkovska - Hristova
Full Professor of Political science and Head of the Department of Political Science at the Institute for sociological, political and juridical research, “Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje”

Democratic Consolidation of Divided Societies - The Macedonian Case -


The consolidation of democracy in Macedonia is founded on at least two pillars: the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement and the improved efficiency of the institutions, two processes which must be closely connected. In other words, the effects of consensual democracy can only be acquired if the political engineering is implemented in an atmosphere of respect for the values and principles that are generally accepted in a modern political community.

Speaking of the countries from the so-called third wave of democracy, the attention of analysts is focused on the question of how far the formally established political structures of multi-party democracy produce efficient protection of human and citizens’ rights, the rule of Law, politically responsible elites, and so on. Regardless of the apparent differences and specifics, perhaps their common characteristic is that they are in the process of consolidation. This is the process through which the “formal,” “quasi-formal,” and “democracies in transition,” as they most frequently call them, will start operating on the basis of principles and values that are necessary precursors of liberal democracies, and through which they acquire great legitimacy. These democracies, which are taking care of the needs and interests of all their component segments, enjoy the support of their population and are politically stable.

The term democratic consolidation itself raises a few questions on which to focus the attention of the analyst: the question of procedure/institution versus substance; the question of the factors stimulating or de-stimulating (facilitating or obstructing) the bridging of that gap; and the question of time, because democracy is a process.

In this text, we would like to tackle the process of democratic consolidation in Macedonia, starting from the question of legitimacy and giving special attention to some of the factors that pre-condition this process: political elites and operability of the institutions.

Political transition in Macedonia and the problem of legitimacy

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One of the substantial characteristics of Macedonia which has strongly marked its development in the last 15 years or so is that it is listed among the so-called divided societies, in which political divisions strictly follow ethnic lines, thus contributing to the structuring of the other segments in the society on the same basis. Therefore, the mass media, the non-governmental organizations, the organizations in the area of education, culture, various citizens’ associations and so on, have acquired the prefix Macedonian or Albanian in conformity with the two most numerous ethnic communities in the state, an indication of the profound division, and also of the potential for conflict. Political mobilization, based on the perceptions by the respective ethnicities of danger, or of their own position in the state and society, has shown itself to be a very strong and irreplaceable impulse, shaping not only the views and opinions of the fundamental actors on the political scene, but also their actions. Many indicators point toward this. Let us just mention some of them: the results from the elections organized on all levels (parliamentarian, presidential, local), the insight obtained following public opinion polls, the numerous addresses of the political elites from both sides, and the commentaries in the mass media related to some addresses1. In many cases in Macedonia, two truths are promoted, one totally different from the other. Yet, both truthscontinue to live, each one in its own surrounding, adding a little stone to the mosaic called the plural or divided society.

Efforts to alleviate the situation by cutting across the divisions have not proven to be efficient, causing the complex array of identities possessed by individuals to disappear and to cede their places to one supreme form of identity – ethnicity, at least when speaking of public life. In particular, the negative consequences of the economic transition--the drastic impoverishment of large-scale classes and the fast enrichment of a small circle of people, which cut across ethnic lines--did not contribute to the disturbance of the monolithic character of the ethnic blocs or to opposition to them2.

This monolithic character was particularly evident with the Albanian ethnic group. Their perception about their exclusion from access to the authority and to the possibility to affect the distribution of significant material and immaterial goods only adds to this monolith state. The Albanian political elites greatly influenced this situation by emphasizing that the frustrations among the Albanians emerge from their self-perception as a permanent political minority. Thus, they accused the Macedonian side of not demonstrating sufficient understanding of their demands, which always bore the prefix of what could be called a general (national) Albanian interest.3

As a result of this situation, political tensions between the Macedonian and the Albanian political blocs were constantly present, changing their intensity depending on the concrete events in the country, as well as in its immediate neighbours (primarily in Kosovo). In spite of everything, inter-ethnic relations were relatively successfully managed, which led to the international community recognizing Macedonia as a positive example of a multicultural society in transition. However, 2001 came and there was an open armed conflict between the government forces and armed groups of Albanians arriving from Kosovo, who were joined in significant numbers by the Albanian population from the northwest part of the country. This unambiguously put at stake the legitimacy of the authorities and the system, and the political stability of the country was seriously shaken.4

In addition to these break-ups, Macedonia also faced other very serious problems in its democratic development, which as a whole emerged from the insufficient operation of its institutions. Many indicators speak of the modest “possibilities of the system to meet the demands presented to it” (Lijphard). There is the enormous number of unemployed: Macedonia became the European “leader” with an average of almost 40% unemployed out of the labor force and with impermissibly low levels of investments. There is the growing poverty, the low level of service in the public sphere (especially in health protection), the inefficient judiciary system, the corruption, and the low level of protection of human rights, indicating an indubitable deficit in the democratic capacity of the state to deal with the problems. The intensity of these events and their continuation indicated problems with the system: the inefficiency of the institutions and the inability to establish conditions for the rule of Law, which definitely affected the legitimacy of the authority and the credibility of its carriers.

So, in terms of the general political transition in Macedonia, the inoperability of democracy is apparent not only in the insufficient integration of an important segment of the social structure (the Albanian ethnic community), but also in the problems of decreased efficiency of the country’s institutions as a whole, which resulted in the system’s diminished capacity to respond to the basic demands presented to it.

Concerning the first problem connected to legitimacy, the exclusion of the Albanian ethnicity, there had been attempts to resolve it on three levels: (1) With institutional solutions (Constitutional and legal solutions have been practiced since the beginning of the transition in 1991, which definitely indicate a high level of protection of minority rights); (2) With non-institutional solutions, which could be reduced to practicing elements of consensual [MA2]  democracy while governing in a majority democracy (large ruling coalitions with the obligatory participation of one of the Albanian parties, efforts for greater representation of Albanians in the administration, agreements among the partners in making some political decisions, positive discrimination in enrollment to the state universities, and so on); (3) finally, with a rising line of improvement (institutional and non-institutional) of the position of the Albanian ethnic community in the society. All these solutions ultimately did not contribute sufficiently to the resolution of the problem of legitimacy, because the perception of the Macedonian side regarding the problem was on the lines of expanding minority rights in a system based on a civic concept and a majority democracy, while the demands of the Albanian side were moving (at least) on the lines of creating a bi-national state [1] .

The second source of problems, which sprouted from the insufficiently established institutions of democracy, also produced decreased legitimacy of the authorities, which was observed in at least a few points: (1) Elections with a doubtful legality, with evaluations like “the elections were largely regular and democratic, but…” whereas this BUT, depending on the election round, was hiding a whole range of irregularities, even open violence and murders. Regardless of the volume of irregularities, they always served the losing side to contest the function of the elected representatives during their mandate 5; (2) The constant low rating of the political institutions and of the holders of top political offices, because they are not capable of meeting the basic requests of the citizens and are suspected of being involved in corruption scandals, nepotism, voluntary behavior, and selective implementation of laws. Finally, the socio-economic problems, unemployment and poverty first among them, were only deepening. Under such circumstances, the problem of political (in) confidence was becoming sharper.

The solution to the first problem connected to legitimacy found its place in the Ohrid Agreement, whose ambitions were not only to bring peace in the country, but also to introduce political mechanisms in the system that would produce political stability for the long term. The acceptance of the model of consensual[MA3]  democracy, which in its essence means division of political power among the segments of a plural society, was intended to overcome the problem of inclusion of an important segment in the social structure, that is to say, to contribute to the reinforcement of the legitimacy of the political authority.

The second problem related to legitimacy remained more or less constant, because real political will was missing.

The challenges to the realization of the Ohrid Agreement

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We could say that today, three and a half years after the signing of the Ohrid Agreement, it has reached a progressive phase in its realization. Not only have the basic normative institutional assumptions for the functioning of the consensual[MA4]  model of democracy been created but also it is being accomplished, with different intensity in separate spheres, depending on the specific and compound concrete resolutions that it assumes. If we neglect the extreme positions that are present with the two sides: (1) that by implementing the Ohrid Agreement the ruling team is exaggerating just to prevent the coalition from breaking-up and to suit the international community, and (2) that the Ohrid Agreement is constantly being obstructed and that the Albanians have actually not received anything, there remain some real situations and facts: the adoption or the changes of a large number of laws (the figure of over 70 is mentioned) which were to put in operation the basic principles of the model. Particularly relevant are those related to de-centralization: the practical application of the principle of proportional representation of the ethnic communities in the state and public offices, the use of the languages, decision making in the Assembly on some questions by consensus and so on. On the basis of these notions, we could come to the conclusion that conditions have been created for a democratic consolidation in Macedonia.

As every constitutional engineering is accomplished in a concrete social atmosphere that stimulates or de-stimulates its functioning, the basic characteristics of the Macedonian atmosphere--the decreased operability of the institutions, high politicization, improper political culture, and economic crisis with expressed social consequences that make the atmosphere in the society intolerant, explosive, frustrating--do not represent positive assumptions for the realization of this political model.

Our further analysis will focus the attention to some of these: the role of the political elites and the efficiency of the institutions.

Political elites and efficiency of the institutions

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Analysts and promoters of consensual[MA5]  democracy pay special attention to “good quality leadership,” that is to say to cooperation among the elites in finding solutions in the direction of harmonizing the opposite stances (Lijphard), while they are less engaged in the credibility of the elites themselves or in the democratic relations established in the elite–demos relationship. It seems that this dimension is of importance in the Macedonian case. This deficit of legitimacy of the elites among one’s own ethnicity was one of the generators of the events in 2001 and for the great dissatisfaction among the Macedonian population after the adoption of the Law on territorial organization in 2004. The question is whether the agreement among the elites in itself legitimizes this process of government, or whether the political elites will be only focused on the ballot boxes as mechanisms through which they will extract their right to rule. Will they neglect their duty to ask and to receive support for their political actions; will they make efforts to justify their policies? In other words, will they be responsible to the public?

Judging by all, it seems that there are problems in this plan in Macedonia. As an illustration, we will indicate two examples. The first one is related to the December 2004 relocation of the minister of transport and telecommunications, a representative of the DUI (Democratic Union for Integration). The Prime Minister at that time asked for his relocation because of his obvious involvement in a huge corruption scandal, for which he offered evidence to the Public Prosecutor. The reaction of the minister was that he had been appointed by Ali Ahmeti (President of DUI), that he would only respond to him, and that Ali Ahmeti was the only one who can relocate him. The reaction of the Albanian political bloc was that it was actually a rigged move directed against the Albanians in Macedonia. This reaction indicates at least two basic matters: the power is concentrated in the leader of the political party (by which the Prime Minister and the Government are de-legitimized as institutions); second, with the replacement of these, the Macedonian side is accused of obstructing the coalition, while the basic question – is there or is there not corruption – is not answered. By doing so, the attention of one’s own electorate is de-focused from the problem of corruption of the elite and it is directed to a recognizable propaganda matrix that guarantees success. It is not at all important what the inter-ethnic relations will be, and it is even less important to struggle against corruption.6

The second example is associated with the passing of the Law on territorial division. After the Law was adopted in Parliament, there was a big revolt among the Macedonian population (this time the opposition was joined by non-governmental organizations, independent intellectuals, and citizens’ associations), which resulted in 150,000 signatures organizing a referendum on putting this Law out of force. The great dissatisfaction of the Macedonians was not only owed to the fact that the Macedonian side was expected to be the loser with these new municipality borders7, but also to the way in which the entire political process was conducted. We are in particular indicating the latter: The Macedonian ruling elite did not make the effort to relax the public, to offer arguments for its views in the negotiations, to explain the criteria on the basis of which the division would be made, and finally, to overcome the logic of mono-ethnic entities and dictatorship of the majority and the fears in this relation (UNDP, 2004). The extreme non-transparency in the negotiations among the peaks of the political elites8 finished with official statements like “we lost 3 to 0, but it could have been 5 to 0, and the Macedonian side had to yield because of the Albanians’ blackmail, that the coalition would have been broken-up and that they would have lost the power…” They used rhetoric, and the absence of real arguments was more at the expense of the Macedonian negotiating side, which definitely convinced the Macedonian part of the public that they were losers, which stimulated the negative mood and revolt of the citizens. If we add the fact that the present authority has in the past offered very little to meet at least a part of the demands of the citizens (in the socio-economic sphere, in the sphere of the rule of law, and so on) it becomes even clearer why the citizens are so politicized and why they have such negative reactions. This could be a typical example of the way a political action should not be managed, particularly not in such a sensitive sphere as that of inter-ethnic relations.

The self-confidence and the insufficient responsibility with which the political elites practice authority in Macedonia are not congruent with the Ohrid Agreement. It is more or less constant in the political transition of Macedonia, marking what some call party rule[MA6] . Actually, the largely expanded partisanization in all the institutions of the state, including the judiciary system, the public prosecutor’s office, and the police is one of the basic generators of corruption and decreased operability of the institutions.9 The implementation of the consensual[MA7]  model of democracy may only create more favorable conditions for a greater role of the elites.10

In any case, the reduction of political resources only with the political elites would result into a serious endangering of one of the basic characteristics of democracy – political equality. When quasi-autonomous bodies of mediation of the will of the people become dominating, not only the formal legal democratic participation of the citizens as individuals (Offe) [MA8]  is emptied, but the content of the institutions is also emptied. Illegitimate, de facto increases of the power of the political parties and their elites in an atmosphere of inefficient institutions, weak civil society, and inappropriate political culture, as in Macedonia, represent a great potential danger to the protection of the rights of the citizens. This process leads to the incapability of locating and activating the system of responsibility: responsibility is sought in the formal centers of power, that is to say, in the institutions of the system, which are practically emptied from their contents and are made instruments. There are several indicators that show the presence of such processes in Macedonia: the numerous corruption affairs which never see a courtroom, the scandalous sales of state property to private pockets which are legally covered up (usually by using the discretion right of top officials), voluntarism, and selectivity in the protection of the rights of the citizens. As a result, Macedonia is listed among the countries with weaker democratic performances.

Observing the threats to democracy that emerge from unsolved socio-economic problems in post-transitional democracies, analysts indicate the necessity to design appropriate social policies that will not be belated fruits of democracy but prerequisites to its consolidation and survival (Offe) [MA9] . This is connected with social progress and care for distributive justice, two terms that are so present in the Macedonian society. This is exactly why representatives of the international community insist on “creating a more appropriate atmosphere for business,” which actually means a request for efficient institutions, for the rule of law, for the protection of property rights, with the hope that foreign investors will be attracted and that the long-expected economic development may begin.

Our basic thesis is that the consolidation of democracy in Macedonia is laid on at least two pillars: the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement and the improved efficiency of the institutions, two processes which are closely connected. In other words, the effects of consensual democracy can only be acquired if political engineering is implemented in an atmosphere of respect for the values and principles that are generally accepted in a modern political community. If not, the balanced distribution of power projected with political mechanisms will only remain on the level of political elites who will continue to treat the state as their own property from which they will extract all material and immaterial resources for their own sake. There is no doubt that under such circumstances the operability of the system will be decreased and that it will be increasingly less capable of meeting the basic demands of the citizens. The question is: where are the elites going to look for the grounds for their (lost) legitimacy? Will there not be further deterioration of the inter-ethnic relations or vice versa: under such circumstances the citizens might realize that the minority problem is actually the problem of the majority, that is to say the problem of the large majority of citizens who are discriminated against because they are not part of the ruling elites and oligarchies.


1. Dahl Robert (1989): Democracy and its critics, Yale University Press

2. Offe Claus (1996): Modernity and the state, Polty Pres

3. Lijphard Arend (1999): Patterns of Democracy - Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries, Yale University Press

4. UNDP: National Human Development report 2001- social exclusion and human insecurity in FYR Macedonia

5. UNDP: National Report on Human Development 2004-Macedonia

6. Pearson Brenda (2002): Putting Peace into Practice, USIP Special Report,, 09.12.02

Zora Bakalinova

Heather Booth, Clarity International


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1 On this occasion, let us mention the census of the population, a typical statistical operation that serves each modern state as a basis for planning its development. In Macedonia, every census of the population has only one recognizable dimension for the public – the ethnical. In 1991, the Albanians in Macedonia boycotted it, then it was held in 1994 with the mediation of the international community. The foreign experts later stated that they had been very surprised by the strong politicisation of the census although they had been prepared to monitor only the technical aspects of this big statistical operation. Even the last census (2004) caused strong reactions and divisions among the public, because the published result according to which the percentage of the Albanians in the ethnic structure of the population was 26.7 (which is by whole 3 percent greater than in the previous census) was a manipulation for the Macedonians.

2 The results from some research projects made by the ISPPI only confirmed the mobilising force of the ethnos. For instance, while researching poverty in Macedonia, we came to the knowledge that the population of Macedonian ethnic origin, especially in the eastern part of the state, largely believes that “in this state the ethnic Macedonians are the poor and discriminated, at the expense of which the state gives privileges to the Albanians", while the Albanians from the western part of the state believe that "poverty is quite greater among them than among the other ethnic communities and that they are therefore discriminated". On the other hand, in several public opinion polls, the Albanians gave priority to the political problems over the economic ones, which could lead to the (wrong) conclusion that poverty is not so much expressed among them or that they believe that by resolving the political, the economic problems will be automatically resolved. In any case, the socio-economic problems that are drastically facing the citizens of Macedonia were often politicised and used for propaganda purposes.

3 Concentrating their energy nearly exclusively on ethnic demands (for greater use of the Albanian language in the state, proportional representation in the state and public administration, university education in the Albanian language and so on), the Albanian political parties, which are strongly confronted with each other, promoted themselves as a kind of a political movement with a common dominating ideological political matrix.

4 The events in 2001 remain controversial for many people in Macedonia. In the attempt for a deeper analysis in the reasons for the armed conflict, aside from the ethnic dimension, some analysts list a whole range of reasons that had great impact on its breaking out (inter-Albanian conflict, inefficient institutions, high rates of corruption, poverty, in which they particularly stress the development of the events and the situation in Kosovo: See: “Brenda Pearson: Special report: Putting Peace into Practice” on internet 09.12.2002

See also: “Security Challenges and Development of Southern Balkans, IRIS, Freedom House 2002

The statement of DUI’s vice president (the Albanian party that emerged from ONA, the so-called Liberation Army of the Albanians), in which he said in an interview for A1 Television that the Albanians in Macedonia were underway fulfilling a number of their demands, but without the war this process would have lasted longer. (The same was concluded by Brenda Pearson in her report, which concluded that instead in 6 months, the Albanians would have received the privileges in 2 years).

[1] Concerning the problem of legitimacy, it could be marked as controversial, because the Albanians participated in all elections so far. In the second round of the elections they voted for their Macedonian coalition partners, and on the basis of the results of the elections they were represented on all the levels of the authority, but they were also indicating their insufficient inclusion in the system.

5 In two election cycles a partial boycott of the elections was proclaimed in Macedonia: in 1994 the entire opposition boycotted the second election round, and during the last local elections (2005) the opposition Albanian party DPA also boycotted the second round of the elections. In both cases the accusations were addressed to the ruling parties, which had not managed to create conditions for regular elections. Speaking of the elections as a source of legitimacy of one authority it is important to point out that the voting against prevails over the voting for in Macedonia.

6 Following this event, the ruling DUI was faced with strong criticisms for corruption from the other opposition Albanian party, and a high party official (vice-president of the Assembly) left the party accusing its leadership of nepotism, corruption, and voluntarism.

7 The new Law on territorial organization projected three urban municipalities with Macedonian majority population to link with the surrounding rural municipalities with dominating Albanian population, by which the municipalities would be dominated by Albanian population.

8 The Parliament, the government, the ministries were totally excluded, and the atmosphere among the public was heating accompanied by information that “our people were brave, they will not let us lose, we will not give the Albanians the three critical municipalities,” and so on.

9 As a result, the UNDP report (2001) concluded that the lines of exclusion in the Macedonian society are complex and they are not primarily following ethnic lines (with the exception of the Roma), but party lines and lines of education of the population.

In Macedonia, awareness of this situation is not missing, but the political will for changing things is missing.

10 Some analysts believe that the ruling elites extract a part of their comfortable ruling from the international community that is more tolerant for their inconsistencies because of the need to rely on them in the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement.