Macedonia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Macedonia's political rights and civil liberties ratings both improved from 4 to 3 due to increased stability in the country and the gradual implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Agreement, which led to an end of hostilities between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian insurgents.


Macedonia managed to pull back from the brink of civil war in 2002. The Macedonian parliament enacted all of the provisions of the Ohrid Agreement of August 2001; the country succeeded in holding parliamentary elections in September; and enough of a sense of normalcy returned to hold a long-awaited census. Nevertheless, relations between the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority remained extremely tense.

Macedonia, a republic in the former Yugoslavian Communist federation, was recognized as an independent state in 1991. Internally, the country suffers from severe social and political polarization between its two primary ethnic groups--Macedonian Slavs and ethnic Albanians--and from a very weak economy. Externally, for much of the past decade Macedonia has suffered from disputes: over its name, with Greece; the status of the Macedonian language, with Bulgaria; and its northern border, with Yugoslavia. Most of these external disputes have been successfully resolved. The international community has tried in a number of ways to support Macedonia's fragile existence; the most notable example of this came in April, when the EU signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with Skopje. This agreement is considered to be the first step down the road toward EU accession.

Four sets of multiparty parliamentary elections have been held in the country since 1991, and postindependence governments have always been careful to include Albanian parties in the ruling coalition. Parliamentary elections in 1998 resulted in the first transfer of power from the left-of-center governmental coalition that had ruled Macedonia since independence to a grouping of right-of-center, nationalist-oriented opposition parties.

Macedonian-Albanian relations deteriorated precipitously after the 1999 Kosovo war. By 2000, Albanian guerrillas who had participated in the Kosovo conflict were operating in Macedonia (often using NATO-occupied Kosovo as their base). Early Albanian guerrilla activity concentrated in areas around the Albanian-populated towns of Kumanovo and Tetovo, and involved attacks against Macedonian-government police and military units. Among the guerrillas' political demands were changes to the Macedonian constitution, greater use of the Albanian language in official institutions, and an increase in the number of Albanians in the civil services. In August 2001, a meeting that many hoped would provide a political solution to the conflict was held in the town of Ohrid, and an agreement was reached. By this point, however, the conflict was already estimated to have cost the fragile Macedonian economy more than $800 million.

The conflict forced the postponement of parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2002, as well as an extension of the NATO presence in Macedonia, code-named Amber Fox, to October. Tensions remained high throughout the summer, due to a number of violent incidents, including the kidnapping of five Macedonians by Albanian gunmen in western Macedonia in August and the killings of Macedonian police officers in the same region of the country in August and September, raising doubts about whether elections could be held.

Nevertheless, in mid-September the situation had normalized sufficiently for the elections to be held. The elections resulted in a victory for the left-of-center Social Democratic Party of Macedonia (SDSM), led by Branko Crvenkovski, which succeeded in the ouster of the nationalist right-of-center coalition, led by former prime minister Ljubco Georgievski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). The elections, however, were not interpreted as a significant change in the ideological mood of the population, but rather as a vote against the corruption of the incumbents. Governmental corruption has become a recurring theme in post-1991 Macedonian politics. Voter turnout was approximately 70 percent of the electorate.

The wild card in Macedonian politics remains the eventual behavior of the former Albanian rebels, led by Ali Ahmeti, who in June formed a political party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI). Ironically, several former guerrilla leaders who are now members of Ahmeti's political organization, and are supposed to enter the Macedonian government, have been banned from entering the United States because of their former activities. The rise of Ahmeti's DUI has eclipsed the older, more established Albanian parties in Macedonia, most particularly Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA).

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

By and large, Macedonia's citizens can choose their political representatives in free and fair elections. Macedonia adopted a new parliamentary election law in July that created six election districts with roughly equal numbers of voters in each district. Elections are based on multi-district proportional representation. The new law is intended to simplify voting by eliminating the need for second-round runoff elections, to reduce intercommunal tensions by dividing election results across districts, and to increase minority and small-party representation. At year's end it remained too early to tell whether the law would succeed in these efforts.

Macedonia's September 2002 parliamentary elections were deemed by international organizations to be "largely in accordance with . . . international standards for democratic elections." Although there were numerous complaints about various aspects of the 2002 elections, the fact that Macedonia was able to hold them at all, even if with a small degree of violence, was considered an important success for the country after the violence of 2001.

Macedonia's most important constitutional problem remains satisfying the demands of the Albanian minority for a more privileged status within the country. According to the Ohrid Agreement (the final provisions of which were adopted by the Macedonian parliament in summer 2002), references in the Macedonian constitution to Macedonia as the "land of the Macedonian people" have been eliminated, and the Albanian language has been made an "official" language in municipalities where Albanians comprise at least 20 percent of the population. Additional constitutional reforms include granting more self-government to local municipalities; increasing the number of Albanians in the police force from their current level of about 5 percent of the total force to 25 percent by 2003 (which will be achieved by hiring some 1,000 Albanian police officers); devolving some of the powers of the central government from Skopje to local municipalities; and the granting of an amnesty for Albanian insurgents.

Macedonians are afraid these changes will only prove to be the prelude to either the possible secession of Albanian-populated areas in the country or their annexation by a "Greater Kosovo." These fears are exacerbated by current demographic trends within the country; if current trends continue, Albanians will probably be the majority population in Macedonia by 2015. Indicative of the ethnic divide between Macedonians and Albanians is the general unwillingness of Macedonians to travel into Albanian-populated western areas of the country.

Macedonia has also had difficulties in outlining clear lines of responsibility and authority between different governmental agencies in its postCommunist transition. In May, the EU issued a report criticizing the Macedonian government for failing to delineate the areas of responsibility between the Defense and Interior ministries. In the latter ministry, a specially formed unit known as the "Lions" has been accused of numerous human rights abuses. Even more of a problem in post-1991 Macedonia has been governmental corruption, which outside observers believe has reached proportions unusually high even among post-Communist countries.

The judicial system in Macedonia, apart from suffering from corruption, also has been criticized for not having a representative ethnic balance among its judges and prosecutors and for having a large backlog of cases. Judicial independence has been questioned, as judges are nominated by parliament in less than transparent procedures.

The Macedonian constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief and practice. Sixty-seven percent of the population are Orthodox Christian, and 30 percent are Muslim, while the remaining 3 percent belongs to a variety of different religious groups. A number of religious sites were destroyed or damaged in the fighting in 2001. Another blow to Macedonia's fragile unity occurred in June 2002, when at least one bishop of the unrecognized Macedonian Orthodox Church decided to recognize the canonical authority of the Serbian patriarch.

Although the government does not repress the media per se, many senior positions in state-owned media (from which the majority of the population gets its information) are filled by political appointees rather than by professional journalists. During the 2002 election campaign, state-owned media openly favored the government, and independent media did not uphold rules regulating political advertising and election coverage. Reporters are occasionally subjected to harassment and physical threat. On September 10, the same day that the journalist Ljubco Palevski published an article critical of the "Lions," his car was destroyed by an incendiary device. Also in September, members of the Ministry of the Interior threatened to file criminal charges against journalists who "diminish the reputation of the government." The media in Macedonia, however, are frequently criticized for their lack of professionalism and unwillingness to uphold recognized journalistic standards. Media on both sides of the ethnic divide in Macedonia have frequently been accused of fanning ethnic animosity with sensationalistic stories about atrocities committed by the opposing side.

Women in Macedonia enjoy the same legal rights as men, although lingering patriarchal social attitudes limit women's participation in nontraditional social roles in the economy and in government. Domestic violence and trafficking in women from former Soviet republics remain serious problems. In Muslim areas, many women are effectively disenfranchised because proxy voting by male relatives is common.