Skopje/Brussels, 23 October 2003: Macedonia is not yet the "success story" of the Balkans as it is often portrayed. In fact, it is an underperforming post-conflict country still very much at risk from ethnic tensions, rampant criminality, pervasive corruption, and economic feebleness that needs to retain an international security force.
The International Crisis Group’s new report, Macedonia: No Time for Complacency,* insists a more realistic assessment is necessary for a country that narrowly avoided war in 2001 to secure long-term stability. After a string of violent events, security concerns are paramount. The Macedonian government needs to ask the European Union to keep its "Concordia" military mission in country beyond the 15 December end date – at least until the EU’s "Proxima" police mission is fully established.
"The EU has done a good job over the past half year in picking up where NATO left off – its first military mission ever. But the need is still there. Macedonia’s leaders and Brussels must realise that the country continues to require outside troops", says Nicholas Whyte, Director of the Europe Program at ICG, "and that force must be active in on-the-ground situations, not merely have a monitoring role”.
The moderate government led by Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti has had some successes. Both leaders are committed to the Ohrid peace agreement and national unity, and they have acted responsibly and, at times, even courageously on sensitive matters.
However, progress on symbolic issues has not been matched by progress on substance. Security sector reform has lagged as has decentralisation and efforts to boost Albanian public sector employment – all key components of the Ohrid agreement. A high profile crackdown on corruption has stumbled, unemployment remains high, and the prospect of further instability keeps foreign investors wary.
Macedonia’s leaders and international mediators too often approach challenges with complacency. They fail to confront the radicalism of high-profile politicians who openly undermine Ohrid and even urge Macedonia’s ethnic partition. Ohrid deadlines often slip without comment. A number of issues left over from the 2001 fighting remains unaddressed.
Most seriously, criminals and extremists continue to present a direct threat. The police increasingly reflect the multiethnic population’s make-up but still struggle to impose law and order in the face of rising violent crime and growing lawlessness. Poor communication on security matters often stokes ethnic tensions within the government and between communities; this, rather than any organised "pan-Albanian" violence, is the greatest current risk to stability.
Without a more concerted effort to implement Ohrid, establish law and order, fight corruption, and stimulate the economy, the relative calm could soon unravel. "The steps Macedonia and the international community must take are clear, but they require a more sober, less self-congratulatory assessment of the track record", said Edward Joseph, former director of ICG’s Macedonia Project.
Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 485 555 946
Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601
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*Read the report in full on our website: http://www.crisisweb.org/