Analysis

ANALYSIS - The Ohrid Agreement at 20: Legacy and implications

Contrary to the concerns, the Ohrid Agreement has remained in effect for the past two decades, with Macedonia making significant strides towards joining NATO and the EU

Dr. Hamza Karcic   | 08.09.2021
ANALYSIS - The Ohrid Agreement at 20: Legacy and implications

*The author is an associate professor at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo

ISTANBUL 

Twenty years ago, in August, a significant agreement was reached between Macedonians and Albanians. The Ohrid Agreement put an end to several months of violence and set the stage for major changes in Macedonia.

Negotiated between the then-major parliamentary parties, the agreement was signed on Aug. 13, 2001. Months-long armed violence was ended and major reforms were introduced in this Balkan country.

Local governments were given more powers. Employment in the public administration was made available to all without discrimination. The agreement stipulated that action would be taken to “correct present imbalances in the composition of the public administration, in particular through the recruitment of members of under-represented communities.” This essentially meant that there would be a greater number of ethnic Albanians in positions of power and authority.

Equally important, the agreement stated that “any other language (apart from Macedonian) spoken by at least 20 percent of the population is also an official language...” This was a significant step toward reducing the discrimination that existed in Macedonia prior to the agreement.

Furthermore, the concept of affirmative action (or “positive discrimination” in the language of the agreement) was introduced at state universities for members of the under-represented communities.

In return for these changes, the Albanian National Liberation Army (UÇK) disarmed, and NATO was tasked with overseeing and implementing the process of disarmament. Known as Operation Essential Harvest, this mission lasted a little more than a month.

Not everyone was confident that the Ohrid Agreement would last. The Economist’s coverage of the negotiations and the agreement reached in the Macedonian town of Ohrid reflected concern over the possibility of renewed violence.

But The Economist was right in summing up the essence of the agreement in the following manner: “The agreement will assuage Slav fears of separatism by preserving the notion of a unitary state, while answering ethnic Albanians’ complaints of official neglect and exclusion.”

Contrary to the concerns, the Ohrid Agreement has remained in effect for the past two decades, with Macedonia making significant strides towards joining NATO and the EU.

In fact, two agreements came to shape Macedonia during that time period. While the Ohrid Agreement sought to put the Macedonian-Albanian relations on a more equal footing, the Prespa Agreement signed in 2018 between Macedonia and Greece aimed to resolve a 27-year-old dispute over Macedonia’s name. The country changed its name to North Macedonia, and Greece lifted its veto on Macedonia’s path to the EU and NATO.

Not long afterwards, North Macedonia became a member of NATO in March 2020. But the path towards the EU remains thorny. The country’s EU bid continues to be blocked. First, Greece blocked the country’s EU path. Then, in late 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron blocked the opening of accession talks. Now, Bulgaria is blocking North Macedonia’s talks with the EU.

In sum, the Ohrid Agreement put an end to the Macedonian-Albanian conflict and, for the most part, paved the way for a greater Albanian say in the running of the country. Despite concerns raised at the time, the Agreement held.

The Prespa Agreement, negotiated three years ago, was significant in resolving the Macedonia-Greece dispute. Instead of being rewarded for its reforms by the EU, North Macedonia now faces yet another hurdle. Three vetoes by EU member states have been exceptionally unfair towards Macedonia.

The notion put forth frequently by Eurocrats that Western Balkan states will move forward on their path to the EU if they implement much-needed reforms is now being called into question.

Now is the time for the EU to open accession talks with North Macedonia. For the EU to remain credible in the Western Balkans, it should push Bulgaria to lift the veto. The Biden administration should pursue a similar policy to ensure that North Macedonia’s reforms and progress are firmly anchored within both NATO and the EU.

**Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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