Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Macedonia began 2013 with a political crisis that had erupted in late December 2012, when the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski unilaterally approved a 2013 budget after ejecting opposition lawmakers and journalists from the parliament chamber. In response, several opposition legislators quit the government, and the opposition began organizing antigovernment protests.
In January 2013, the crisis escalated when the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and its allies vowed to boycott local elections scheduled for March 24, saying Gruevski intended to rig the vote. The standoff continued until March 1, when, during European Union-brokered talks, Gruevski’s governing Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO–DPMNE) and the SDSM-led opposition agreed to form a parliamentary commission to investigate the December incident. The conservative VMRO–DPMNE and its allies won the March elections, but initially refused to sign an August report by the parliamentary commission, which found that the December 2012 ejection of opposition legislators and journalists had been illegal. But the VMRO–DPMNE ultimately agreed to sign the report amid concerns that Macedonia’s EU bid could be undermined if the crisis were to drag on.
On the first weekend of March, riots engulfed Skopje as ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians clashed with each other and with police. On March 1, hundreds of ethnic Macedonians gathered to protest the recent appointment of Talat Xhaferi, a former Albanian separatist military leader, as defense minister. A day later, ethnic Albanians protested in response. At least 22 people were injured and 18 were arrested during the unrest.
In June, VMRO–DPMNE, following a rushed legislative process that omitted some usual legal processes and allowed little time for public debate, passed a controversial abortion law in a parliamentary session boycotted by all opposition lawmakers except one, who appeared to vote against it. The new law, adopted just two weeks after its proposal by the health ministry, required women seeking an abortion to file a request for one—a process requiring them to affirm that they had seen a gynecologist, had attended counseling, and had informed the “spouse” of their decision to have the procedure. The law additionally barred women from receiving more than one abortion per year.
Political Rights: 26 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 8 / 12
Members of the unicameral, 123-seat Sobranie (Assembly) are elected to four-year terms by proportional representation. Parliament elects the prime minister. The president is elected to a five-year term through a direct popular vote, but the prime minister holds most executive power. Most postindependence elections have met international standards.
In 2009, university professor Gjorge Ivanov, running for the VMRO–DPMNE, won a presidential runoff against the SDSM’s Ljubomir Frčkoski. In June 2011, Macedonia held early parliamentary elections, leading to a third consecutive victory for the VMRO–DPMNE-led coalition, which took 56 seats. An SDSM-led coalition followed with 42 seats; the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) took 15 seats, the Democratic Party of Albanians captured 8, and the National Democratic Revival won 2. Gruevski secured a third term as prime minister. International observers called the polls competitive and transparent.
In the March 2013 local elections, 350 candidates competed for mayoral positions in 80 municipalities plus Skopje. The VMRO–DPMNE-led bloc won with 56 mayors, followed by the DUI with 14, and the SDSM with 4. In Skopje, incumbent Mayor Koce Trajanovski of the VMRO-DPMNE was reelected. The VMRO–DPMNE also won the most municipal council seats. Despite some irregularities, the polls were competitive and efficiently administered, according to an assessment by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose monitors observed the elections.
Under the constitution and other legislation, citizens have the right to change their government peacefully. Suffrage is universal.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 11 / 16
Since Macedonian independence in 1991, power has alternated between center-left and center-right governments. The center-right VMRO–DPMNE has won every parliamentary election since 2006, ruling in coalition with several parties representing ethnic minorities. The left-leaning SDSM held power through much of the 1990s and early 2000s, and is the leading opposition party today.
Ethnic Albanians comprise 25 percent of the population. A political party representing Albanians has sat in each ruling coalition. In 2000 and 2001, Albanians mounted an armed insurgency, demanding better political representation. Unofficially, the insurgents also wanted control of smuggling routes in northwestern Macedonia. The August 2001 negotiations known as the Ohrid Accords prevented civil war, but ethnic violence between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians continues to erupt periodically.
In 2011, the Assembly added three seats for representatives of Macedonians living abroad. Certain types of legislation must pass by a majority of legislators from both main ethnic groups.
C. Functioning of Government: 7 / 12
Corruption is a serious problem. While relevant anticorruption legislation is in place and existing measures to clarify party funding sources and prevent conflicts of interest have been strengthened in recent years, implementation is weak. Graft and misconduct are widespread in public procurement. In July 2013, former Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski and four others were convicted for illegal procurement of tank parts in 2001. The judiciary lacks a track record of handling high-level corruption cases, and greater interagency cooperation is needed to identify problem areas in anticorruption efforts, according to the European Commission (EC). In a positive development, the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and Corruption is now fully staffed, though its technical administrative capacity is subpar. Macedonia was ranked 67 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 38/60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 11 / 16
The constitution provides for freedom of the press. However, the country’s media face political pressure and harassment, resulting in self-censorship, and media outlets are divided along ethnic lines. In December 2010, Velija Ramkovski, the owner of the pro-opposition A1 Television channel, and more than a dozen associates were charged with crimes including tax evasion in a case widely regarded as politically motivated. During the investigation, A1 Television and three of Ramkovski’s newspapers closed due to unpaid taxes. In March 2012, Ramkovski was convicted on numerous charges and sentenced to 13 years in prison. In June 2012, the Broadcasting Council shut down A2 Television, Ramkovski’s last remaining media outlet, after it began broadcasting political content and hired journalists who had worked at A1 before its closure.
In November 2012, the government decriminalized libel under European standards, though steep new fines for libel were introduced, which journalists said would have a chilling effect. In 2013, the head of Macedonia’s security services, Saso Mijalkov, sued the opposition-oriented weekly Fokus for libel over a report concerning the former Macedonian ambassador to the Czech Republic, Igor Ilievski. In a quotation published in the report, Ilievski appeared to accuse Mijalkov of masterminding his ouster to protect dubious business interests in the Czech Republic. The case was ongoing at year’s end. In 2013, journalists also fought a new media law that would create a regulator empowered to revoke broadcasting licenses and impose sanctions to protect “citizens’ interests,” a vague term media watchdogs say could be abused to muzzle the press. In late December, parliament passed both the new media law and legislation on audio-visual services despite the objection of journalists and opposition legislators, who boycotted the vote. Throughout 2013, watchdogs including the OSCE criticized Macedonia for the incarceration of the journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, who was held in extended pretrial detention after being detained May 28 for allegedly revealing in print the identity of a protected witness in a murder case. In October, he was convicted and sentenced to four and a half years in prison. In early November, Kezarovski was released on house arrest awaiting appeal. Media coverage of the 2013 local elections was often partisan. Internet access is unrestricted.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. A long-standing dispute between the breakaway Macedonian Orthodox Church and the canonically recognized Serbian Orthodox Church remained unresolved in 2013. Hard-line Islamists reportedly control several mosques, with financing from Middle Eastern countries.
Though academic freedom is generally unrestricted, the education system is weak by European standards. Textbooks barely cover the postindependence period, primarily because ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians interpret the 2001 conflict differently. In 2012, the European Association of History Educators urged history-education reform. Increasingly, schools are becoming ethnically segregated.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 8 / 12
Constitutional guarantees of freedoms of assembly and association are generally respected. In addition to the March riots, 2013 also saw peaceful protests over the political crisis, reproductive rights, and other issues. Nongovernmental organizations generally operate freely but are often polarized along political lines. Workers may organize and bargain collectively, though trade unions lack stable financing and skilled managers, and journalists have reportedly been fired over their union activities.
F. Rule of Law: 8 / 16
Improving judicial independence, impartiality, and efficiency remains a priority for Macedonia, though 2013 saw some relevant progress. From January 2013, all new first-instance judges must be graduates of the Academy for Judges and Prosecutors, a development meant to strengthen professionalism and independence. Courts continue to reduce the case backlog, and new software for judicial statistics was installed in courts and the Judicial Council in 2013 to help evaluate their performance, according to the EC. Prison conditions are generally unsatisfactory, with overcrowding and poor health care.
In June 2012, the parliament passed a lustration law aimed at removing former Yugoslav secret police collaborators from public office. The law, which the opposition SDSM had voted against, allows the names of informants to be published online. Critics said the law raises concerns about privacy.
In May 2013, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights released a study finding that crimes motivated by ethnic hatred and other discrimination are underreported because authorities have intentionally mislabeled them.
Roma, ethnic Albanians, and other vulnerable groups face discrimination. Minority groups say that the ongoing Skopje 2014 urban development plan ignores their heritage. Anti-LGBT sentiment is widespread, and in 2013 Human Rights Watch admonished authorities to thoroughly investigate a series of attacks against members of the LGBT community in June and July, including during Macedonia's first gay pride week, at which assailants attacked an LGBT-themed film screening in Skopje. A 2010 antidiscrimination law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 11 / 16
Travel is generally unrestricted. Membership in a party within the ruling coalition is often a precondition for employment in the public sector. While the government has streamlined procedures to launch a business, licensing fees can be prohibitively expensive. Official unemployment is 30 percent, but the actual figure is smaller given Macedonia's sizeable gray economy. While women in Macedonia enjoy the same legal rights as men, societal attitudes limit their participation in nontraditional roles, and women rarely participate in local politics. In Albanian Muslim areas, many women are subject to proxy voting by male relatives. Thirty-four women were elected to the 123-seat legislature in 2011. Despite the ongoing implementation of a strategy against domestic violence, it remains a serious problem, as does the trafficking of women for forced labor and prostitution.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year