Macedonia | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2010

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Political Rights
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Trend Arrow: 

Macedonia received an upward trend arrow due to presidential and local elections that were deemed fair and competitive by outside observers and the implementation of reforms recommended after the 2008 parliamentary elections.

The governing center-right party won the 2009 presidential and municipal elections, which observers deemed a significant improvement on the unruly parliamentary elections of 2006 and 2008. Macedonia made some progress on reforms related to its European Union candidacy during the year, but the remaining obstacles included a long-running dispute with Greece over the country’s name, and unresolved questions about the level of autonomy granted to the ethnic Albanian minority.

Macedonia, a republic in the communist-era Yugoslav federation, gained independence in 1992 and was known internationally as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Since then, however, the country’s existence and legitimacy has been threatened on several levels. Greece objects to the name “Macedonia,” arguing that it implies a territorial and cultural claim to the Greek region of the same name. Bulgaria contends that the Macedonian language is a dialect of Bulgarian. And internally, poor relations between the Macedonian Slav majority and the ethnic Albanian minority have raised doubts about the country’s long-term viability.
Since independence, power has alternated between center-left and center-right governments, although an important constant has been the inclusion of an ethnic Albanian party in each ruling coalition. In 2000–01, Albanians mounted an armed insurgency, demanding greater use of the Albanian language in official institutions, an increase in the number of Albanians in the civil service, and a transfer of certain government powers to municipalities. Unofficially, however, the insurgency was motivated in part by a desire to control lucrative smuggling routes in northwestern Macedonia. An August 2001 agreement, known as the Ohrid Accords, temporarily satisfied most of the rebels’ stated demands, though violent incidents continued to erupt periodically.
Parliamentary elections in 2002 returned the Social Democratic Party of Macedonia (SDSM) to power after a period of rule by the center-right Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), and SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski became prime minister. The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), headed by the leader of the ethnic Albanian uprising, Ali Ahmeti, joined the SDSM government as a coalition partner. Crvenkovski rose to the presidency in a special 2004 election after the incumbent died in a plane crash.
The VMRO-DPMNE won parliamentary elections in 2006, but the polls were marred by preelection violence and significant irregularities on election day. DUI supporters then mounted weeks of demonstrations to protest the VMRO-DPMNE’s decision to form a coalition with a rival group, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA). DUI subsequently engaged in months of intermittent parliamentary boycotts, sometimes blocking key legislation related to the Ohrid Accords and Macedonia’s European Union (EU) candidacy.
Early parliamentary elections held in 2008 were widely seen as the worst since independence. Irregularities—mainly in Albanian areas—included attacks on party offices, failure to guarantee equal access to the media, and ballot-box stuffing. The final results gave the ruling VMRO-DPMNE and its smaller allies 63 out of 120 seats. The opposition SDSM and its junior partners took only 27 seats. DUI, which won 18 seats, confirmed its position as the leading Albanian party and entered the new government, while the rival DPA garnered 11 and went into opposition.
University professor Georgi Ivanov, running for the VMRO-DPMNE, won the 2009 presidential election. He led by a wide margin in the March first round, then took 63 percent of the vote in the April runoff against the SDSM’s Ljubomir Frckoski. After the Albanian candidates were eliminated in the first round, turnout for the runoff was negligible among Albanian voters, but the election was generally praised by international observers as an improvement on the 2008 polls. The VMRO-DPMNE also did well in the concurrent municipal elections, capturing 55 out of the country’s 84 municipalities outright.
The parliament made progress on the remaining reforms called for in the Ohrid Accords, enacting the Law on Inter-Municipality Cooperation in June 2009. Other laws that enhanced the role of local governments in economic development issues had been enacted the previous year. However, ethnic Albanian and Macedonian Slav politicians continued to disagree over matters like the use of the Albanian language throughout Macedonia, display of the flag of neighboring Albania, and increasing the number of ethnic Albanians in government. Such rifts threatened the country’s ongoing pursuit of EU membership. Macedonia was also seeking membership in NATO, but Greece had blocked an invitation for it to join in 2008.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Macedonia is an electoral democracy. Most elections held since independence have been deemed satisfactory according to international standards, though the 2008 parliamentary polls were marred by a number of irregularities. The political climate surrounding the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections was much calmer than in 2008, and the electoral boards reverted to a mixed professional-political composition designed to limit the possibility for fraud.
Members of the unicameral, 120-seat Sobranie (Assembly) are elected to four-year terms by proportional representation. The president is elected to a five-year term through a direct popular vote, but the prime minister holds most executive power. According to reforms put in place by the Ohrid Accords, certain types of legislation need to be passed by a “double majority,” meaning a majority of lawmakers from both of the main ethnic groups.
Corruption remains a serious problem, although Macedonia has made consistent progress in confronting it in recent years. In July 2009, the parliament adopted legislation designed to strengthen transparency in political party financing. The Law on Conflict of Interest was also amendedduring the year, increasing the scope of the law—especially with regard to civil servants—and requiring government officials to submit a conflict of interest declaration. Macedonia was ranked 71 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution provides for freedom of the press. Libel is punishable by fines, but not by imprisonment. Political appointees are frequently named to senior positions in state-owned media, a leading source of information for much of the population, and political parties either own or are closely linked to three of the five private television stations licensed to broadcast nationwide. The country’s media outlets are strongly divided along ethnic lines. Ownership of print outlets is fairly concentrated, with a German media group controlling the three leading dailies. There were no reports of restrictions on access to the internet during 2009.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but a law that took effect in 2008 favors established religious organizations over newer ones. Education officials in February 2009 upheld a school ban on the wearing of religious or ethnic markers after an Albanian student sought to wear a headscarf. In April, the Constitutional Court ruled that a 2008 law allowing religious classes in elementary schools was unconstitutional. A long-standing dispute between the breakaway Macedonian Orthodox Church and the canonically recognized Serbian Orthodox Church continues; the leader of a faction loyal to the Serbian Church has been repeatedly arrested and harassed for his religious activities. In October he was again sentenced to two and a half years in prison for what most observers believe to be trumped-up charges. There have been reports of radical Islamists taking control of some local mosques with financial support from Middle Eastern countries.
Academic freedom is generally not restricted, but the country’s ethnic divisions sometimes complicate education and research. In February 2009, school officials in the town of Struga decided to segregate classes after fights broke out between Albanian and Macedonian children. In November, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts was forced to withdraw a new encyclopedia and disband the editing team after Albanians argued that it presented a distorted and offensive version of the country’s history.
Constitutional guarantees of freedoms of assembly and association are generally respected, although in 2009 the police intervened when a student group protested the planned construction of a new church in Skopje’s main square. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) typically operate without government interference. The constitution recognizes the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. More than 50 percent of the legal workforce (mostly in the public sector) is unionized, and strikes, though subject to a number of restrictions, are common. However, the EU’s October 2009 progress report found few improvements in labor rights over the past year, and workers have little leverage due to the poor state of the economy. Some unions have reported obstacles in their efforts to register.
The EU’s 2009 progress report noted a number of improvements in the functioning of the Macedonian judiciary over the past year. A new training academy for judges and prosecutors has begun graduating its first students, and a new system is in place for appraising the performance of judges and court presidents. During the year, however, the government publicly questioned the Constitutional Court’s legitimacy after it ruled that the government-sponsored law allowing religious classes in state schools was unconstitutional. Prison conditions in the country have been improving, although they are still considered inadequate by international standards.

Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, but societal attitudes limit women’s participation in nontraditional roles. Women currently hold 2 out of 22 cabinet positions and 39 out of 120 parliament seats, more than at any time since independence. Every third candidate on a party’s electoral list must be female. In the 2009 municipal elections, however, none of the 84 available mayoral positions was filled by a woman. Domestic violence and trafficking of women remain serious problems. In Albanian Muslim areas, many women are subjected to proxy voting by male relatives and are frequently denied access to education.