On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the OFA
The stability of multiethnic societies depends on the quality of the resolution of the relations between the parties. The Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) is the greatest achievement for the Albanians in North Macedonia and also a key instrument that stabilizes the country.
After more than a decade of failing to harmonize the relations between the Macedonians and the Albanians in Macedonia, then just emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia, a conflict arose between the government and the rebel forces organized as the National Liberation Army (NLA) culminating in the Ohrid Framework Agreement signed by both sides on August 13, 2001, guaranteed by the key factors from the international community of the US, EU, NATO, and OSCE.
Although the document was a compromise solution between the parties, it represents the greatest achievement for the Albanians of North Macedonia towards the realization of their natural, historical, and democratic rights. I emphasize these three contexts of realization and development of rights because our rights can be fully qualified as such.
Natural they are, because in the conditions of the new world order and the context of the European standards, the collective rights of the constituent ethnic groups of the state, such as the right to education in the mother tongue, the right to express and nurture the identity and the right to equitable representation in the bodies, are rights protected by international agreements as a basic standard of the democratic society.
Historical, they are, too, because the Albanians are an indigenous people in the country and their rights have been developed and practiced, albeit with many vicissitudes at different stages of our social and cultural development. The 1991 constitution denied some of the rights that the Albanians had gained with many victims and had for some time in the socialist system. The ongoing denial of those rights, even in conditions of pluralism, will compromise the significance of the new political system in the democratization of the country.
They are also democratic rights because true democracy can only be built with the equality of the citizens, where discrimination and nationalism cannot be the principle of organizing new relations between individuals or groups of different ethnic, religious, or any other affiliation that distinguishes or stands out.
A country that aspired to become a state of the European family, that declared that the principles of its foundation would be the European values, needed a deep political and social transformation that meant a change in the generator of the unacceptable situation, and that was a change of the constitution so to become acceptable to all the citizens.
The refusal of the decisive political class of that time to make the change more than ten years after the proclamation of pluralism was the reason for the tense interethnic relations, and later, for the beginning of the conflict in the country. Consequently, the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which provided these constitutional changes, stopped the war.
Therefore, the document will rightly remain as the greatest achievement of the Albanians in North Macedonia, because it met the requirements and created a solid basis for harmonizing interethnic relations on democratic principles by eliminating the discriminatory legacy in the relations. Concurrently, the document and its implementation created a space for better regulation of the inter-individual relations with which the country entered the process of its stabilization as an important requirement for successfully facing the political and economic challenges ahead.
After the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, the Republic of North Macedonia changed significantly. In the first years after the signing, the political and legal barriers to education in the Albanian language at all levels were overcome, the use of the Albanian identity symbols, such as the language, and the use of the flag was confirmed and codified. A new territorial division was made and the government was decentralized, significantly strengthening the competencies of the new municipalities, the integration of Albanians in the state and public administration began and, as a result, the economic and financial position of Albanians in the economic life of the country increased.
So what is next?
Naturally, nowadays, twenty years later, it would not be appropriate to list only the achievements and the legal opportunities created by the OFA. It is time to get a deeper insight and to measure, within the framework of the possibilities, the practical effect of the agreement on the welfare of the population and, what is called the value and quality of the social capital, which is, actually, a network that makes up a cohesive, functional and democratic state.
As Gasset puts it in his book The Revolt of the Masses, it remains to be seen how sustainable these measures are and to what extent and how they lead the society to general progress.
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest achievements on the international scene is our membership in NATO, achieved thanks to the Prespa Agreement, which would not have been possible if the country’s political elite had not learned well the lesson on the need for “dialogue and compromise” as a European value and practice of overcoming differences. As a participant in the whole process of negotiations in Ohrid, it has been clear to me since then that this approach not only led us to a successful conclusion of the Ohrid Agreement, but it is also a model for resolving other differences between the peoples in the Balkans, which was different from the language known to the Balkan peoples until then. Understandably, the approach is not easy either. There will be many battles until the full “Europeanization of the Balkans”. There will be disappointments like the postponement of the EU integration process which, for the sake of the truth, also questioned the credibility of the process, yet, unfortunately, creates a favorable climate for regressive ideas by providing space for old ideologies and alternative concepts of the country’s perspective.
However, the solution is not to “whine” and go back. A wise solution would be to promote the spirit of the Ohrid Agreement and to promote the democracy of the well-known European principles. Strengthening the unity through a further affirmation of values that do not differentiate and the continuation of the efforts to find solutions that strengthen social cohesion, even regarding the state symbols waiting for a solution and the different interpretations of history would be our new common paradigm. Without a solution in the symbolic aspect, the country will remain multiethnic, multicultural, yet its fragile democracy risks being fragmented.
The functioning of the decentralization at the local level and the transformation of the municipalities into a key factor in the development of the state should be strengthened by policy changes that exclude the possibility of rewarding central budget funds for their illegal behavior in the field of construction (urban planning) and environmental protection.
Education and culture, which hold the responsibility to prepare our staff and future image, should not boast only of the fact that they function and employ a large number of our young people. The education system and cultural policies need to be reviewed and reconceptualized so that they precede technical and technological change and make us more recognizable in the diverse world.
Our modest institutional heritage in the field of culture and the lack of cooperation with the more advanced centers in the area and the region, exclude us from our right to be part of the wider Albanian cultural whole. The lack of cultural resources, as well as the lack of innovations to attract them, do not position us as promoters of the superficial quasi-values of the other cultures. Reforms in education and culture can not be left as part of individual efforts for improvement but should be the basis of institutional and state engagement as the two most important areas for the formation of the new generations and appropriate state affirmation on the world scene.
No less important is my concern for the state administration, which has reached a point where it is no longer able to conduct quality administrative processes according to the standards required by our partners. It can no longer be just a “growing number” without measuring its effect on the increase of what is called social capital. Only a serious and urgent review of employment policies, i.e. the departmentalization of the process and the establishment of the principle of meritocracy could significantly help prevent the displacement of our young people, also the quality staff that decides to leave their jobs due to Don Quixote-like struggle they have to face to change something.
The administration of a new state like ours must be as efficient as the context in which that state finds itself, because only in that way can it support the population it is supposed to serve. To change this, good governance, among others, is necessary to create a new political and social environment.
Recently, the development of the business by the Albanian entities is also a result of the spirit of the Ohrid Agreement and the neoliberal concept of the economy.
The sector is now moving on from service and commercial activities to production. The next growth rate in this aspect would be the strengthening of the financial sector, as well as the sectors of innovation and technology. The opening of a commercial bank will stimulate economic development and create more specific ties with the diaspora. This will provide new perspectives on our relations with the diaspora, which is now economically and financially more consolidated and eager for investment. This would create a new model of development based on foreign investment. Free economic zones are useful for a phase, but they can not be a permanent sustainable solution. The great benefits and subsidies given to them increase their appetite and are reminiscent of the “neocolonial” spirit of thinking. But to be more effective and with more realistic expectations, this will need to be accompanied by clearer and bolder policies towards peace and reconciliation in the region.
The region must find a way to heal itself to some degree, because “Today’s Europe” still looks like the relics of Zweig’s “Europe of Yesterday”. The region with small states in the Balkans can face the challenges of today only if it finds true peace among itself and supports the innovative and reformist spirit that young authorship should have.
The last test for OFA, also for the functionality of the state relies on our ability to create opportunities and the feeling that in this country the individual who works can achieve their progress, and a quality and innovative idea can find support.
Regardless of the achievements so far, they will not be sustainable and will not resist the new challenges if we do not inspire and open the way for our youth in search of new concepts. The current new decade of state development must strongly support the voice and place of the young in building their future.
Lecturer 𝐀𝐳𝐢𝐳 𝐏𝐨𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐳𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐢, Ph.D.