Does the Ohrid Framework Agreement advance Macedonia’s Nation-Building?

Does the Ohrid Framework Agreement advance Macedonia’s Nation-Building?

In this article, I aim to address the role of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) in the process of nation-building within Macedonia’s transition, understood as in the concept of quadruple transition presented by Kuzio. The liberal concept of nation-building provides the basic theoretical framework for the assessment of the impact of the OFA.

In his article titled “Transition in Post-Communist States: Triple or quadruple?” Taras Kuzio challenges the concept of ‘triple transition’ of post-communist societies by arguing for the existence of a ‘quadruple transition’, separating the questions of stateness and the nationhood as ‘conceptually and historically different processes’ (Linz and Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation 1996). The notion that processes of state-building[1] and nation-building[2] are not always conceptually and historically overlapping is clearly visible in the case of Macedonia. Still a work in progress, the country’s statehood and nation-building processes have been running taking particular paths and at a different pace throughout history. Following an intermittent path, the former traces its roots back to the establishment of the short-lived Krushevo Republic in 1903 and the Anti-fascist Assembly of the National Liberation of Macedonia in 1944 and has developed steadily throughout the Yugoslav state and the period of the country’s independence. The process of nation-building, on the other hand, has faced turmoil and numerous uncertainties, despite the fact that it arguably traces its roots even further back in history. This being said, rarely what other document has had a greater impact on the process of the Macedonian nation-building than the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA), from the 13th of August, 2001.

In this article, I aim to address the role of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) in the process of nation-building within Macedonia’s transition, understood as in the concept of quadruple transition presented by Kuzio. The liberal concept of nation-building provides the basic theoretical framework for the assessment of the impact of the OFA.

The argument I would like to present here is that the OFA has only a limited potential to support the nation-building process in Macedonia. Due to the lack of consensus among the architects of the agreement over the concept of citizenship and nation-building the OFA should pursue, the OFA failed to fully endorse the liberal notion of citizenship for which it was declaratively aiming. Instead, the OFA in fact emphasizes ‘the collective worth of individual citizens’ (Daskalovski 2002), featuring a set of rights and liberties based on their belonging to a certain ethnic group, rather than their citizenship as the individual’s legal linkage with the Republic of Macedonia.

Nation-building in the Macedonian context

Kuzio argues that the process of state and nation-building lies at the core of the transition process in post-communist countries and should naturally precede economic and political transition (Kuzio 2001). This notion is supported by many other authors, who argue that the success rate of democratic consolidation is influenced by the questions of stateness and nationhood (Linz and Stepan 1997),  even that the success of democratic transition is reliant on the completeness of ‘national revolutions’ (i.e. finished process of nation-building) (Roeder 1999, p. 856).

Nationhood in the case of Macedonia (and in fact any other nation) is important for the reasons that it “generates collective power, creates a ‘we’ (unity, legitimacy, permanence) (Kuzio 2001). In a country which finds itself in the midst of a region as turbulent as the Balkans, while also tries to follow its path towards Euro-Atlantic integration, this is even more important. However, nation-building has been a cumbersome process for Macedonia since its independence in 1991, and the country has been struggling to keep the loyalty of the numerous ethnic communities living there. After the dissolution of the Yugoslav state, the principle of ‘brotherhood and unity’ was no longer there to keep national minorities at arm’s length by providing them the prospects of equal rights and fair treatment under a state that declaratively did not know of ethnic and religious differences. Instead, ethnic differences became enhanced more than before, spurred by the newly established pluralist democracy, which was supposed to acknowledge and promote differences and variety of opinions and identity. This enhanced pluralism in cultural, linguistic and religious identities has made democratic transition even more complex (Kuzio 2001).

At the same time, the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia adopted in 1991 actually made an attempt to establish a prototype of a nation-state of the Macedonian people, in the similar fashion with the cases of Croatia and Slovenia. The preamble of the constitution and references it made to events from national history and the status of Macedonian language and the Macedonian Orthodox church were a clear signal that Macedonia chose to pursue a model of nation-state building. However, this development was never actually welcomed by national minorities, especially ethnic Albanian citizens, who never felt they belong to that community. Both the facts that the Albanians MPs boycotted the Parliament’s session when the Constitution was adopted, the popular riots that followed in cities where Albanians comprised a substantial share of the population and the armed conflict of 2001 (more than anything else) were clearly showing dissatisfaction. This has shown to be harmful both in terms of citizens’ mobilization, political consensus-building and unity-building in the country. In a democracy, citizens ‘must have no doubt or mental reservations as to which political community they belong’ (Karklins 1994). National unity, means that ‘there must be a prior sense of community, preferably a sense of community quietly taken for granted that is above mere opinion and mere agreement’ (Rustow 1970). Macedonia did not manage to achieve this before the OFA and it is arguable whether it is on the path towards achieving national unity today either – more than a decade after the OFA was signed.

If we further reflect on other aspects in the process of nation-building in Macedonia, we may encounter other problematic aspects. According to Dahl, nationhood entails territorial borders that are not to be disputed by the population constituting the political community of that country (Dahl 1989, 207). The OFA declaratively addressed this issue in the section on Basic Principles, by acknowledging that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country and abandoning splitting of territories as a solution for ethnic issues. However, these provisions are only of declaratory character and rely solely on the political will of the parties of the agreement. On the other hand, the myths of Greater Albania are still alive, even if only supported by some extremist elites. Such discussions however, were alive soon after the signing of the OFA, when members of both ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political elites were even proposing various territorial divisions and even exchange of territory and population.

Furthermore, the unfinished process of nation-building also causes problems in terms of the provision of services of welfare state, since nationhood is a ‘necessary condition of the democratic welfare state’ (Canovan 1996). In more general terms, social justice is actually reliant on the existence of a ‘community of obligation’ (Canovan 1996, 28) based on solidarity, mutual trust, an overarching national identity and common loyalties. By focusing on the ‘collective worth of individual citizens’ (Daskalovski 2002) conditioned upon their belonging of an ethnic community (which should in turn meet the minimum benchmark of 20% of the population), rather than an ethnically neutral, liberal approach based on individual rights (that in turn are entitled to the individual solely based on her/his citizenship as a legal link with the Republic of Macedonia), the OFA did little to inspire solidarity across ethnic groups and enhance common identity. In fact, ethnic groups that did not amount to the benchmark of comprising at least 20% of the population were deprived from being recognized as participants in the nation-building process within the framework of the OFA.

Nation-building in the OFA

The Ohrid Framework Agreement put an end to the armed conflict of 2001 that involved the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) and the armed forces of the Republic of Macedonia. The agreement had the purpose of “securing the future of Macedonia’s democracy and permitting the development of closer and more integrated relations between the Republic of Macedonia and the Euro-Atlantic community” and promoting “the peaceful and harmonious development of civil society” while “respecting the ethnic identity and the interests of all Macedonian citizens” (Framework Agreement 2001). Among the international political elite the OFA has been declared a ‘success’ (Mitevska 2011) and local political elites have credited the OFA for bringing peace in Macedonia and for ceasing the hostilities and for effectively stopping the 2001 armed conflict (Macedonian Center for International Cooperation 2011).

However, in reality the entire process around negotiating and drafting the document and its implementation, even more so, did not run particularly smoothly. While foreign parties involved in the process were claiming that ‘violence has not dictated the pace of progress’, it was clear that the force of arms played a role and not enough attention had been paid to constructing a sustainable modus vivendi that would consistently support the liberal concept of citizenship. Thus, circumstances under which the agreement was concluded contributed to its shortcomings and the difficulties it faced in its implementation afterwards. Also, it can be argued that these circumstances also contributed towards contesting the legitimacy of the agreement and its dubious legal nature of being an agreement redefining the constitution of the country, while international parties were also its signatories.

The Agreement called for an ethnically neutral and liberal Constitution and for eliminating all references to specific ethnic groups. By adopting this kind of approach, the architects of the OFA presumably took the road of classical liberals, thereby committed to individualism, liberty and equal rights. The liberal approach to nation-building presumes that the state would respect ‘each and every person’s conception of the good life’ including cultural preferences of ethnic minorities in terms of language and identity under the same terms as those of the majority (Daskalovski 2002). This assumes legal recognition of these rights, as well as providing necessary budgetary resources for their practical realization. In other words, if we assume the liberal approach of nation-building, then if the state “functions to protect and perpetuate one culture, then surely liberal justice demands that it protect and perpetuate others as well” (Poole 1998, 121).Furthermore, as one of the key concepts at the gist of the liberal approach is the ‘liberal neutrality’, which basically assumes that “public action should disregard all differences among citizens, including family loyalties, individual, national or religious affiliations, or economic position, so as to treat them all as equals” (Daskalovski 2002). Finally, the liberal approach to nation-building in a multicultural country would ensure its legitimacy by including elements of all the ethnic groups in its official symbols, holidays, educational curricula and history. Finally, all the citizens should be able to see the state not as their exclusive possession, but is held jointly with the other ethnic groups forming it (Kis 1996).

Macedonia’s 1991 Constitution obviously did not fit into the concept of liberal nation-building. Starting from the wording used in the preamble which referred to landmark events of Macedonian national history, the status of the Macedonian people (as in ethnic Macedonians) against the status of national minorities, the status of the Macedonian language and the Macedonian Orthodox church clearly indicated of the fact that the constitution had chosen to pursue the model of nation-state building, thereby constituting the Republic of Macedonia “as a national state of the Macedonian people, in which full equality as citizens and permanent co-existence with the Macedonian people is provided for Albanians, Turks, Vlachs, Romani, and other nationalities” (Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia 1991).

The OFA features a series of reforms: amending the Preamble of the Constitution, introduction of double-majority voting in the Parliament (so-called Badinter majority), improving proportionate representation of minorities in the police force, public institutions and public enterprises, stipulating the use of the languages of minorities in official proceedings and reforms to enhance decentralization of municipalities. In these terms, the OFA can be interpreted as an attempt to address the issue of equal status of all ethnicities living in the country and reconcile the constitutional framework with the multi-ethnic character of the state. This was visible in the preamble which was initially proposed to amend the 1991 Constitution, which rather than referring to particular ethnic groups, addressed ‘the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia’, who are ‘equal in rights and obligations towards the common good – the Republic of Macedonia’. However, this proposal never made its way to the constitutional amendments adopted later. On one side, ethnic Macedonian politicians were arguing in favor of the wording used in the existing preamble, which gave Macedonians the role of constituent people and made sure that they have a distinct role in the process of nation-building. On the other side, ethnic Albanians wanted to ensure an equal status in the nation-building process, but did not trust in the capacity of the liberal approach to ensure it and therefore pushed for an explicit recognition of this status. The final result in the constitutional amendment of the preamble was an ambiguous compromise between these two positions, which dropped the liberal concept that was initially agreed. Thus, the preamble which was agreed in the series of subsequent constitutional amendments referred to ‘the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia’ but also made further clarification on the ethnicities falling within that category: the Macedonian people and citizens who are part of the Albanian people, the Turkish people, the Vlach people, the Serbian people, the Roma people, the Bosniak people and other. This compromise gave Macedonians ‘pride of place’ (Daskalovski 2002), but changed the previous text of the Constitution in terms that it abandoned the terminology of referring to non-majority ethnic groups as ‘minorities’, by calling them ‘parts of other peoples who live in Macedonia’. Unfortunately, starting from the constitutional amendment of the preamble, the category a member of an ethnic group triumphed over the category a citizen of the Republic of Macedonia, clearly indicating an inconsistency with the liberal notion of citizenship and nation-building. If interpreted narrowly, the Constitution now recognizes the existence of multiple ‘peoples’ in Macedonia, but not as citizens making up the Macedonian nation in the light of the liberal concept (which features citizenship as the main ground for granting equal rights and freedoms regardless of ethnicity), but as fragments of peoples in Macedonia who live outside their native countries (being Albania, Turkey, Serbia, etc.). Finally, this approach can be said to fragment the concept of citizenship of the Republic and rather enhances particularistic, ethnic identity. Unfortunately, these amendments are actually only an introduction of the rest of the changes amending the constitutional framework as they enabled the domination of conservative political structure in politics related to the status of minorities (Daskalovski 2002).

In his analysis of the character of nation-building model provisions mentioned in the OHF, Daskalovski identifies two different types of provisions: a) those promoting liberal nation-building (as the original proposal of the preamble) and b) those promoting rights through promoting the worth of ethnic groups. These two kinds of provisions are not reconcilable with each other and promote different (even opposing) views on the approach to nation-building in Macedonia. Unfortunately, the latter prevailed both with their amount and their consistent implementation afterwards. One of this type of provisions is the one pertaining to the status of religious communities in the country. As it was stated earlier, the previous constitutional provision identified only the Macedonian Orthodox Church and ‘other’ religious communities. The amendment proposal however, in addition the Macedonian Orthodox Church also recognized the Islamic Religious Community in Macedonia and the Catholic Church, while again using the general clause of ‘other religious communities’ to refer to those that ‘did not make the [quantitative] cut’. The problem of privileging certain religious communities on the account of other was still not solved, but rather broadened, by putting two more on the pedestal. Needless to say, a safer option that would be in line with the liberal concept would be a ‘blank’ provision, such as “all/any religious communities”. Other problematic amendments include the Council for Inter-Ethnic Relations, whose composition is fixed in terms of ethnic composition, by not granting equal bargaining powers to all ethnic groups. Thus, this body which has the authority to supervise the implementation of the OFA and work on improving the inter-ethnic relations in the country was turned into a ‘Macedonian-Albanian ethnic forum’ by stipulating that out of the total 19 members, Macedonian and Albanian MPs would take by seven seats, while the Macedonian Turks, Vlachs, Romani, Serbs and Bosniaks would each occupy only one seat.

Furthermore, the provisions pertaining to the parliamentary voting majority, as well as proportionate representation can be seen as an attempt to build ‘consociational’ democracy. More specifically, the OFA stipulated the right of minority veto in issues connected to educational and linguistic interests of the minority ethnic groups, by making it impossible for any law to be passed without the consent of MPs representing ethnic groups other than ethnic Macedonians. Moreover, this type of majority requirement was expanded onto areas not essentially connected to education and languages, but were found important for improving further integration of different ethnic groups – local finances, local elections, territorial division of municipalities and issue of local self-government. This voting procedure also applies to the procedures for the appointment of the Public Attorney, three out of the seven members of the Judicial Council (the body responsible for the appointment of judges) and finally, three out of nine judges of the Constitutional Court. Furthermore, the section dedicated to the general principles of the OFA, as well as the proposal for the Laws on Civil Service and Public Administration and the Law on Local Self-Government also reflect ideas of consociational democracy. However, this approach is inconsistent with the liberal notion of nation-building, as is also the idea of consociational democracy. In this regard, even the principal architect of this concept of democracy, Arend Lijphart himself acknowledges that it is “more concerned with the equal or proportional treatment of groups than with individual equality” (1977). Consociational democracy cannot be in line with the liberal concept of nation-building since it dampers individual rights and liberties under the pressure of rights and liberties that were granted to individuals on the grounds of their affiliation to certain groups (that are in turn heterogeneous between each other, but homogeneous within). Finally, the conclusion that can be drawn here is that consociational democracies are ‘by nature stagnant, conservative, and oppressive’ (Daskalovski 2002).

Armend Reka talking about the nature of the OFA in his 2008 article titled The Ohrid Agreement: The travails of Inter-ethnic Relations in Macedonia, by stating that the document has addressed the discrimination of non-majority communities, especially the more numerous Albanians un-purposefully outlays the logic behind the concept of cultural and identity rights in the OFA: the more (numerous) you are, the more you are entitled to. And it is exactly this logic that proves to be detrimental to the OFA and has transformed the nation-building process into a process of counting and bartering, bargaining over who gets what and who owns what. If it is the fact that Albanians are ‘especially numerous’ that entitles them to more rights, then other ethnicities such as Roma, Turks, Vlachs and Serbs should be granted less rights, while Macedonians would enjoy the wide(st) scope of rights simply for the sake of their “numerousness”. This kind of logic should not have a place when dealing with the rights of minorities and is certainly not in adherence with the liberal concept of nation-building.

Finally, another problematic feature of the OFA can be found it its second section, titled ‘Cessation of Hostilities’, where the agreement stipulates a “complete voluntary disarmament of the ethnic Albanian armed groups and the complete voluntary disbandment”. Even though at first sight this seemed like a necessary pre-condition of any reasonable prospects to effectively stopping the armed conflict and a successful implementation of the OFA – it was never fully achieved. On the contrary, the brief, 30 day-long NATO mission was not enough to successfully facilitate this process, as it was set to collect approximately 2.000 pieces of weapon as opposed to the Ministry of Interior’s estimates of approx. 50.000 (Fisher 2001). As a result, today Macedonia is still ‘loaded with illegal weapons’ that are sold on the black market, but made its way to the country through illegal channels before the 2001 armed conflict (Stojanovska 2003). These weapons pose a significant security risk which is still pertinent and they threat to be detrimental not only to the successful implementation of the OFA, but also the wider security of the country, in general.


The Ohrid Framework Agreement came in the times of most urgent need for the sustainment of the territorial integrity of Macedonia, as it effectively saved the country from the brink of a civil war. However, the urgency of the situation and the lack of a clear political consensus among the parties involved over concept of nation-building the OFA would pursue effectively limited its capacity to accelerate the process of nation-building in Macedonia. Despite the ambitious goals set by the OFA, such as the cessation of hostilities; development of decentralized government; non-discrimination and equal representation and the provisions on languages and identity, it has the potential to effectively address only a few.

The OFA is inconsistent in its pledge to promote an ethnically neutral and liberal Constitution and avoid references to specific ethnic groups, and thereby put all citizens on equal footing in regards to their rights and liberties, regardless of their ethnic affiliation. This would have been achieved if the OFA purposefully and unambiguously opted for the liberal concept of citizenship and nation-building. Instead, the interplay between provisions both promoting the liberal concept of nation-building and the approach of promoting rights through the worth of ethnic groups, the OFA emphasized ‘the collective worth of individual citizens’, rather than individual rights that derive solely from the citizenship of the Republic of Macedonia, regardless of one’s ethic affiliation. Finally, unless the liberal concept of nation-building is to be effectively pursued, the nation-building process under the Ohrid Framework Agreement can result in simply fixing different ethnic groups in their ethnic identities and preventing the citizenship of the Republic of Macedonia from being an overarching, unifying identity of all citizens.


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[1] Understood as a process of building democratic institutions that are capable of practicing the functions of government over a certain territory and population.

[2] Understood as a process of creating a socio-political community of people based on the feeling of shared history, culture or identity and the feeling of mutual solidarity and allegiance to that community.

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