Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Experts look back at Ohrid Accord

The Ohrid Framework Agreement, which came into force in 2001, brought peace, better co-operation among ethnic communities and more minority rights to Macedonia. Many experts believe that it is one of the most successful agreements in the region for forging a functional, multinational state.

Representatives of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party never attended previous observances of the pact's anniversary organised by the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), an Albanian-minority party emerging from the National Liberation Army (NLA).

This year, though, the VMRO-DPMNE-led government held a ceremony on August 13th honouring the anniversary. Observers viewed this as progress resulting from the coalition between the VMRO-DPMNE and the DUI, something that was impossible until recently.

Statistics show great change since 2001. The percentage of civil servants belonging to ethnic minorities soared from 4% to almost 17%, though minority representation in government still lags compared to that in the general population. Ethnic Albanians alone account for 23% of the population, according to the 2002 census.

Change is visible everywhere. The Albanian flag flies legally outside multiethnic municipalities. In towns where minorities comprise 20% or more of the population, signs guiding traffic and identifying buildings are bilingual or trilingual.

However, experts consider the agreement's most important feat to be the prevention of a civil war. Even today, there are different names for what happened in Macedonia in 2001 -- a rebellion, a conflict or a limited-scale internal conflict.

Hailing the pact for bringing peace, James Pardew, a US mediator in Macedonia during the summer of 2001, told Skopje's Kanal 5 TV channel, "Had [the fighting] broken out into a full-scale war, it would have destroyed Macedonia as a country."

Others point to lingering political problems. One of the participants in the 2001 peace talks, law professor Ljubomir Frckovski at Skopje's University of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, says Skopje has yet to resolve the issue of the use of Albanian. Policymakers have decided to enact a law on use of the language, although the accord does not explicitly endorse that route.

Vlado Popovski, another law professor, said the agreement, while achieving many things, has yet to help internally displaced people. Those provisions remain unimplemented because of the potential for continued unrest in the Skopje-area village of Aracinovo and the Lipkovo region.

According to the government, there are 771 displaced ethnic Macedonians from villages in western Macedonia. They appealed to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski because they did not feel safe in returning to their former homes even after seven years.

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