On Tuesday, March 31st, the Reiff Center had the pleasure of hosting Ermira Mehmeti, a member of Parliament from the Republic of Macedonia. Miss Mehmeti is one of the youngest members of the Macedonian Parliament, and was just recently reelected to her third consecutive term. She holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science, a doctoral degree in legal studies from the University in Tirana, and is currently working on her thesis and is a visiting scholar at Georgetown University. Miss Mehmeti is also a member of the Democratic Union for Integration, which is the third largest political party in Macedonia.
Macedonia is a small country in Southern Europe that shares its borders with Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, and Bulgaria. It is an ethnically diverse country, with 65% of citizens being ethnic Macedonian, 25% being ethnic Albanians, and the other 10% consisting of Turks, Romani, Serbs, and other smaller ethnic groups. Until 1991, Macedonia was a republic in the former Yugolsavia.
The process of independence for the country was marred by a complexity of issues, the largest of which, according to Miss Mehmeti, was the debate on which ethnic group was the main identifier in the state. Macedonians claimed that the state was to be theirs. The Albanians rejected this notion, along with the established Parliament and the state’s infrastructure. The people demanded the equal rights, equal access to institutions and jobs, and economic equality that the majority Macedonians enjoyed. They had been refused the right to higher education, access to jobs, and social inclusion by institutions. The Macedonians, however, argued that Albanians had a great degree of human rights, access to education in their own language, as well as newspapers in Albanian. Regardless, this conflict boiled over in 2001 in an insurgency movement that lasted 7 months, and was only ended by heavy international involvement.
Concluding the conflict was a peace agreement named the Ohris Framework Agreement. The main policy this agreement implemented was that if a language was spoken by at least 20% of the population in a municipality, then the language becomes an official language in that municipality. This agreement has brought some peace to the country, and has decentralized the government somewhat so that the ethnic Albanians can feel better represented. However, there are still disparities between Albanians and Macedonians. In Parliament, a member can speak either Albanian or Macedonian. However, the Prime Minister can only speak Macedonian, because it is not recognized as an official language in the country. Despite this, ethnic relations have been moving in the right direction in the country.
Macedonia’s ethnic diversity was seen as its strength when it approached the European Union for admission in 2005. The government believed that their different model could inspire other countries with ethnic conflict, such as Belgium, to bring about peace. However, Macedonia, despite meeting economic and governmental standards, failed to gain EU membership due to a name dispute with Greece. Because of the solidarity principle, if there is a political decision to be made and only one country disagrees, other countries are required to adhere to that one country. The Republic of Macedonia borders the Greek region of Macedonia, which is the country’s second most populous region. The two countries have flirted in the past with adding a geographical qualifier to the beginning of the country’s name, but Greece, according to Miss Mehmeti, ultimately desires a total name change. In the past years, the reform pace has gone in a concerning direction. Economic growth has decreased, and political corruption has greatly increased. Currently, the country has an unemployment rate of 28.4 percent.
Going forward, Macedonia still has a large amount of problems it needs to tackle. Miss Mehmeti mentioned that during the Greek elections, Macedonians were hopeful that because there was no discussion of a name change for the country, the new prime minister would reel back efforts to block the country’s integration into the EU. However, the new “superstar” Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has not shown that he is willing to change Greece’s attitude towards Macedonia. To fix this issue, Miss
Mehmeti’s opinion is that to be genuine involvement in international partners. Germany has been a partner in Macedonia’s EU integration, but more countries need to throw in their support.
If Macedonia, a country that experiences discrimination both at the local and national level, hopes to join the European Union, the country needs to start by becoming more politically stable. This would be crucial to economic development and foreign investment. With more foreign investment, the economy would grow and more EU countries might look favorably on the country. Macedonia also needs to legitimize its government by recognizing the rights of the ethnic Albanians that live in the country. But the country needs to accomplish these tasks quickly. In 2010, World Bank estimated that 447,000 and counting Macedonians were living outside the country. With a country that has a population of only 2.1 million, the rising number of citizens leaving the country is detrimental to Macedonia’s success. Macedonia has a large obstacle to overcome, but if their politicians are as passionate as Miss Mehmeti, the goal of a successful Macedonia in the EU may still be accomplished.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.