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Macedonia - Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA)

The Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) remains the key instrument for maintaining interethnic harmony in Macedonia. The Ohrid lake, the deepest in Europe, is a home of many enedemic species, of which the Ohrid trout is most famous. Thanks to the courage and vision of this country’s political leaders, and the careful negotiations of skillful American and European diplomats, the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) was signed on 13 August 2001, and war was averted. That historic agreement paved the way for this country to progress towards becoming a stable, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and inter-religious society, and towards its stated goal of full integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. The 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement pulled Macedonia back from the brink of conflict between majority Macedonians and a sizable Albanian minority. Since then, the country has stabilized its political institutions, passed reform legislation and created more equitable ethnic representation in public institutions. The Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) remains the key instrument for maintaining interethnic harmony in Macedonia. Even though it has been imperfectly implemented, it is still an effective tool to reduce the risk of another civil conflict.

During the Yugoslav period, most of Macedonia's Slavic population identified themselves as Macedonians, while several minority groups, in particular ethnic Albanians, retained their own distinct political culture and language. Although interethnic tensions simmered under Yugoslav authority and during the first decade of its independence, the country avoided ethnically motivated conflict until several years after independence.

Stability in Macedonia was seriously affected by the Kosovo crisis in 1999, during which the country received around 300,000 refugees. Albanians form the principal minority, comprising 25% of the population according to the 2002 census.. They live mainly, but not exclusively in the west of the country, neighboring Albania and Kosovo. Ethnic minority grievances, which had erupted on occasion (1995 and 1997), rapidly began to gain political currency in late 2000, leading many in the ethnic Albanian community in Macedonia to question their minority protection under, and participation in, the government.

In the final months of 2000, tensions between the ethnic-Albanian community and ethnic Macedonian community began to rise in the primarily ethnic-Albanian villages along Macedonia's north-western border. The ethnic-Albanians (comprising approximately 25% of Macedonia's population) were angered by an environment of discrimination and a perceived general deterioration of their rights in Macedonia since the country's independence in 1991. They specifically cited a downgraded status under Macedonia's post-independence constitution, which declared Macedonia to be a "national state of the (ethnic-) Macedonian people. Conversely, Macedonia's previous, Yugoslavia-era constitution defined the ethnic-Macedonians, ethnic-Albanians, and ethnic-Turks as three equal nationalities comprising the Socialist Republic of Macedonia.

In January 2001 the situation rapidly deteriorated when the newly-formed ethnic-Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA), (led by party leader Ali Ahmeti) attacked a police station in the village of Tearce, killing one police officer. The fallout from that event led to a clash between the NLA and Macedonian security forces in February in the town of Tanusevci, near the Kosovo border, that resulted in the deaths of three police and one ethnic-Albanian. Violence between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces continued, with a number of isolated incidents between the ‘National Liberation Army’ (NLA) and the Macedonian police in the area of Tanusevci. Macedonian forces were able to establish tentative control of the area towards the end of March 2001. After a lull, violence resumed in late April with an attack that left eight members of the Government forces dead; in early May the NLA seized villages near the northern town of Kumanovo.

The clash in Tanusevci launched the country into a wider armed conflict that lasted into the summer of 2001 and resulted in an estimated 100 to 200 deaths and more than 170,000 displaced people. Following the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU on 9 April 2001 (see below), a parliamentary 'Europe Committee' was established as a means of enhancing political and particularly inter-ethnic dialogue. As the situation deteriorated political dialogue made little progress. The humanitarian situation worsened, particularly in the NLA-held villages. Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians managed to flee the fighting to southern Kosovo and Serbia, whilst ethnic Macedonians tended to flee to other parts of the country. According to UNHCR monitoring, most refugees and internally displaced persons were accommodated by local families. In June 2001, the two sides agreed to a NATO-negotiated cease fire and began peace negotiations. The ethnic-Albanian and ethnic-Macedonian sides were each represented by the leaders of their two largest political parties at the time: DPA and PDP on the ethnic-Albanian side, and VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM on the ethnic-Macedonian side. The NLA did not participate in the talks directly. The negotiations took place in the city of Ohrid, situated on the shore of Lake Ohrid in southwest Macedonia, and focused on establishing a legal framework and implementation plan for improving ethnic equity in Macedonia. Representatives from the United States and the European Union mediated the negotiations.

The OFA is the result of those negotiations and was signed on August 13, 2001 by: then-president of Macedonia Boris Trajkovski (VMRO), then-Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski (VMRO), then SDSM leader and future president of Macedonia Branko Crvenkovski, DPA leader Arben Xhaferi, PDP leader Imer Imeri, U.S. mediator James W. Pardew and EU mediator Francois Leotard. NATO played a key part in the resolution of the conflict through Operation Essential Harvest, which disarmed the NLA, and the OSCE Spillover mission in Macedonia assumed a central role in the implementation of the Agreement. The U.S., EU, NATO and OSCE are widely considered to be informal guarantors of the OFA based on their aforementioned roles in resolving the conflict and implementing the OFA.

The OFA consists of nine main sections and three annexes which outline the terms of the cease fire, new laws to be adopted, required changes to existing laws, benchmarks to be reached for a successful implementation of the Agreement, and a timetable for reaching those benchmarks. The specific areas addressed by each section of the Agreement are: decentralization of the Government, non-discrimination, equitable ethnic representation in public institutions, restructuring of Parliamentary procedures, the use of languages, education, and permissible expressions of identity.

  1. Decentralization - One of the first tasks mandated by the OFA is a new national census in order to accurately assess the ethnic composition of the population. Using the results of the census the OFA then calls for Macedonia's municipal boundaries to be redefined to rectify ethnic inequities within the municipalities. The Agreement also calls for a legislative framework that delegates more power and financial authority to local governments to ensure individual municipalities have adequate levels of influence over local policy and resources.
  2. Equitable Representation - To address ethnic inequities in the government and public administrations, the Agreement mandates hiring policies that ensure all of Macedonia's public institutions generally reflect the ethnic composition of the population of Macedonia.
  3. Parliamentary Procedures - Under the agreement, laws pertaining to local-self government, culture, use of language, education, personal documentation and the use of symbols are all subject to a Badinter double-majority voting system, which requires a majority of the ethnic minority members of parliament in addition to an overall majority of parliament to vote in favor of a law for the law to be adopted.
  4. Use of Language - The OFA states that in addition to Macedonian, any language spoken by at least 20% of the population is also considered an official language according to terms specified by the agreement. Languages not spoken by 20% of the population at the national level but spoken by at least 20% of the population in any individual municipality are also considered official languages within that municipality.
  5. Education - The Agreement mandates equitable school and university funding, the availability of education in languages spoken by more than 20% of the population, and the application of positive discrimination in state university enrollment.
  6. Expressions of Identity - Under the agreement, majority ethnic groups in any municipality are permitted to place emblems representing their cultural identity alongside the emblem of the State. This was specifically included to allow ethnic Albanian municipalities to fly the Albanian flag in front of municipal buildings, an issue that resulted in violent inter-ethnic clashes four years before the 2001 conflict.

The agreement was formally signed in Ohrid on 13 August 2001 following which NATO deployed a Task Force 'Essential Harvest', comprising over 3,000 troops, to collect weapons volunteered by the NLA. During September and early October 2011, the level of violence in the country greatly reduced whilst the political process concentrated efforts on implementing the Ohrid Framework Agreement. The Macedonian Parliament formally ratified the constitutional changes agreed at Ohrid on 16 November 2001. President Trajkovski promulgated an amnesty for former NLA fighters and an enhanced mission of international monitors was deployed to facilitate both the return of displaced people to their homes and of the Macedonian police to the areas of conflict. Successive NATO task forces provided necessary security until 31 March 2003 when this duty passed over to the first EU military mission, Operation Concordia, which terminated on 15 December 2003.

Successive governments have successfully pushed through virtually all the legislation and constitutional amendments called for by the Agreement. On 8 March 2002, the Macedonian Parliament passed an Amnesty Law, providing amnesty to those involved in the conflict. In the summer of 2004, a package of laws on decentralisation was passed. A referendum to revert to the 1996 law was held on 7 November 2004. The referendum failed due to low voter turnout (26% turnout against a required 50% plus one quorum). On 15 July 2005, the Macedonian Parliament passed legislation covering the display of national flags and symbols. This completed the legislative agenda of the Ohrid Framework Agreement.

However, in the case of the law on the use of languages, the Government of Macedonia hastily adopted legislation in Parliament in a form that international observers and some within the Government of Macedonia believe was poorly formulated and more detrimental than positive. In other cases, working closely with the international community, the Government of Macedonia has drawn up relevant pieces of legislation more meticulously and made efforts to obtain broad political consensus for their approval.

In the year following the signing of the Agreement, the Government of Macedonia also set up the Secretariat for the Implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, headed by the Deputy Prime Minister for Framework Agreement Implementation. However, since its inception, the Secretariat has been granted little power, left exclusively in the hands of ethnic-Albanian leadership, and the ethnic-Macedonian leadership has shown little sense of responsibility for the Secretariat's success or failure. Some ethnic-Macedonian politicians (especially in the ruling VMRO party) have even suggested that implementation of the Agreement is an exercise solely for the ethnic-Albanians and that by providing them with the Secretariat and a Deputy Prime Minister the Macedonian leadership has fulfilled its end of the bargain, and they are aggravated by calls for their continued involvement in the process.

The weakness of the Secretariat combined with spotty political will has made the successful real-world implementation of the OFA challenging. Some parts of the OFA have been well implemented. Performing a census in 2002 and re-drawing municipal boundaries was done competently and within the timelines set forth in the Agreement. The government has largely respected the use of the Badinter voting system in parliament. In the years since the conflict, the display of cultural emblems (primarily Albanian and Turkish flags) in non-ethnic-majority municipalities has been widespread and sparks almost no controversy.

However, the implementation of other laws has been sluggish. While appropriate legislation has been passed on government decentralization, municipal governments still have considerable financial constraints imposed on them by the central government, limited power over state-owned land resources, and receive a small percentage of their citizenry's tax revenue compared with the central government. Additionally, wide disparities along ethnic lines still exist in tax revenue distribution to municipalities.

Achieving the Agreement's benchmarks for equitable ethnic minority representation in public administration has also proved challenging. No reliable system for assessing equitable representation statistics currently exists, and where numbers do exist they show positive increases in ethnic minority representation but continue to reflect overall shortfalls compared with the ethnic composition of Macedonia's population. The tendency of the ethnic-Albanian party in power to create artificial jobs within the government under the guise of improving equitable representation and use those jobs to buy party support is an unfortunate byproduct of equitable representation efforts as well.

Evaluators of the OFA often refer to its "letter" versus its "spirit" when accessing the success of its implementation. This is another oft-criticized area of implementation. While the government has adopted much of the legislation required under the agreement and taken some strides to implement it, the implementation efforts are often half-hearted and scoffed at by the ethnic-Macedonian leadership as unwelcome chores imposed by the international community and by ethnic-Albanian threats of renewed conflict. One example is the Agreement's guidelines on the use of languages. Language legislation has been adopted but it is not widely respected. In many ethnically mixed municipalities the local governments, without flagrantly violating the law, make it bureaucratically impossible for ethnic minority groups comprising more than 20% of the population to carry out business with the local government in their native language, a provision required by the law.

However, an OSCE survey found that only 4 percent of respondents had language problems in dealing with their municipal governments. Additionally, small gestures that would illustrate a commitment to the &spirit8 of the legislation, such as dual-language signage in government buildings, is almost non-existent. In fact, much of the public signage displayed in Skopje,s government buildings carry Macedonian with an English translation, neglecting the Albanian language altogether.

On 13 August 2010, the 8th Anniversary of the signing of the OFA, the principal officers of the four "guarantors" the OFA (the U.S., EU, NATO and OSCE) presented an assessment of its implementation to date to Prime Minister Gruevski. The objective of the presentation was to jump start new implementation efforts in areas that have stalled. The Principals cited education, decentralization, equitable ethnic representation, non-discrimination, and use of minority languages as areas for further implementation. In early 2010, the Principals planned a follow-up meeting with the PM to assess what steps the government has undertaken to remedy these implementation shortfalls since the August assessment.

In general, senior ethnic-Macedonian government officials understand the International Community's expectations pertaining to OFA implementation, and their public statements reflect that understanding. However, their actions and private assertions about the Agreement often betray those statements. While International Republican Institute polling shows that 52% of Macedonia's population support the OFA and believe its implementation will make Macedonia more stable, many ethnic-Macedonians also believe the OFA represents huge concessions to the ethnic-Albanian community and feel the Agreement is a symbol of the Macedonian security forces, humiliating defeat at the hands of ethnic-Albanian "terrorists." Even though much of Macedonia's ethnic-Albanian population has resided within Macedonia's modern borders for centuries or more, many ethnic-Macedonians still view them as outsiders.

On the other hand, the ethnic-Albanian leadership tends to over-invoke the OFA in their grievances, citing virtually every perceived slight against the ethnic-Albanians as a violation of the Agreement. Ethnic-Albanian leaders also have a tendency to view the OFA as a means of furthering only their constituency's interests, overlooking other minority groups in Macedonia. One formally powerful but now struggling ethnic-Albanian political party, DPA, (one of the signatories of the OFA) has declared the OFA a complete failure and called for a new agreement (which they have already prepared). This campaign has gained almost no traction outside of DPA,s inner circle. The international community has publicly reiterated its support of the OFA and its continued implementation as the only logical way forward. The Embassy endeavors to highlight the OFA as exactly what it is: a framework, to guide citizens of this multi-ethnic state to find strength and stability through diversity, tolerance, and mutual respect.

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Page last modified: 11-12-2016 18:40:11 ZULU