Thursday, August 24, 2006

Row frustrates Albanian equality efforts

Ruling Albanian party is accused of using drive for fairer ethnic minority representation to reward favorites.

By Frosina Cvetkovska in Skopje for IWPR (23/08/06)

Five years after the signing of the Ohrid Agreement, the ethnic power-sharing deal that helped retrieve Macedonia from the brink of civil war, a key pillar of the accord has become submerged in political feuding and accusations of corruption.

The Ohrid deal ended six months of fighting by securing greater rights for ethnic Albanians. It offered an amnesty to the rebels and political concessions to a minority that makes up a quarter of the country's 2 million people. It also paved the way for a series of peaceful elections.

But one key concession is proving to be a sticking point: the effort to ensure “equitable representation” of Albanians in public institutions.

At the time the Ohrid Agreement was signed, public offices were overwhelmingly in the hands of the ethnic Macedonian majority and fewer than four percent of civil servants were ethnic Albanians.

The balance has since changed dramatically under pressure from an aggressive affirmative-action program written into the deal and watched closely by international observers.

The percentage of ethnic Albanian civil servants has since risen in the police from only two to 16 percent, in the defense ministry from two to 14 percent and in the economics ministry from less than five to 24 percent. Other public institutions show lower but steady increases.

As the guarantor of the peace deal, the international community through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Agency for Reconstruction (EAR) has monitored and supported this process.

From 2002 to 2004, the OSCE provided courses for 2,000 police officers from minority, mainly Albanian.

Gonca Stojanovska, EAR information officer, told Balkan Insight that EAR had managed three large projects for equitable representation since November 2003 alone.

But both sides of the ethnic divide are increasingly unhappy, as ethnic Macedonians complain of excessive layoffs and as Albanians claim the process of increasing ethnic minority representation is tainted by corruption.

A key issue is whether the Democratic Party of Integration (DUI) the Albanian partner in the ruling coalition, led by the former rebel chief Ali Ahmeti, has misused the ethnic recruitment process to cement its position.

“Numerous members of the ruling Albanian party have been employed under the mask of equitable representation at the expense of professionalism,” said Nazmi Maliqi, chair of the Association of Albanian Intellectuals, a prominent group in the minority community.

Daut Dauti, an analyst and publisher, said party membership was increasingly seen as a door to state employment, whenever that party won power in Macedonia.

“The ruling Albanian party has contributed to maintaining this old practice,” he said.

Dauti said the practice put at risk the positive effects of equitable representation, which should be felt by ordinary Albanian citizens.

Albert Musliu, director of the Association of Democratic Initiatives, a non-profit organization, agreed.

He said party political influence had prevented the main benefit of equitable representation, which was that ordinary citizens should perceive the state as their own.

“A partisan administration can't be accepted as one's own by citizens that aren't members of that party,” he said.

UN findings confirm that there is a groundswell of distrust and disenchantment with the state.

A UNDP report published in June noted that 50 to 70 percent of Macedonians feel “distrust” of political leaders.

The most vehement critics of recent political processes are those ethnic Albanians who are not members of the DUI but of the rival Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA.

Members of this party, without exception, claim a key requirement for Albanians applying for state jobs is membership of the DUI.

Ilijaz Halimi, a long-time DPA member, said, “All persons that were hired [for the civil service] were selected through a strict filter to establish whether they were members of the ruling party.”

The DUI and its senior coalition partners, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) deny the charge.

Musa Xhaferi, a DUI official and former deputy prime minister in charge of implementation of the Ohrid Agreement, said the main point was that overall representation of ethnic Albanians in the civil service had risen to 17 percent.

Rafiz Aliti, DUI vice-president, also denied accusations of political favoritism. “During our participation in the ruling coalition, a priority was always given to the persons who were most capable of doing the job,” he said.

Aliti said that the process of achieving equitable representation for Macedonians was time consuming and would far exceed the mandate of any one party.

“For 30 years Albanians were almost completely out of the state services,” he said. “It is not possible [overnight] to increase the number to the required 25 percent. It takes time.”

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