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The Framework Ohrid Agreement
as a cradle of federalization


Biljana Vankovska - TFF Associate


July 12, 2007

Among the experts of ex-Yugoslavia(s) there is a wide-spread opinion that it was made on the grounds of a basic constitutional misunderstanding among its constituent parts. Everybody had different expectations and perspectives on the common state, while the constitutional design was interpreted according to one’s own interests.

For our general public it is less known that Second Yugoslavia had involved consociational elements i.e. the elements of the model that is being generously recommended to so-called plural (or divided) societies. Except for the ideological substrate and the lack of multi-party system, the Yugoslav model included all other important elements of the pattern that has become an institutional solution for the Macedonian conflict.

As a reminder, let’s point out a few examples: there was “ethnic key” or quota system, which equals the requirement for equitable representation; the Federal government (Executive Council) was but a grand coalition of republican and provincial elites; there was wide autonomy of segments (i.e. federalism accompanied by wide decentralization within the federal units). Well, we all know how that story ended (which does not mean that the consociational arrangement is to be blamed for the turmoil; the point is rather that this constitutional arrangement did not prevent the collapse and added to other socio-economic and political factors).

Listening to the current Macedonian debate (as usual it is being carried out in a form of mutual media backlash for we do not have a proper public debate), one asks herself/himself: Why now? All at sudden one sees some ‘brave ancestors of the Alexandar the Great’ who are not afraid to propose change of the constitutional norms and propose election of the government according to so-called Badinter rule (i.e. double ethnic majority vote in the Parliament). They even claim no fear of federalization - on the contrary, they say: why not?

On the other hand, one listens to the passionate unionists who strongly oppose any discussion over this taboo. I have a feeling that our debate resembles the old Yugoslav misunderstanding about what we actually do have at place right now.
Let’s be frank: the Framework agreement was not written in a rather Byzantian style and in English language by mere accident. Its wording gave/gives the necessary maneuvering space to the local and even more to the international players to ‘successfully manage’ the conflict (which, let’s make that clear, neither started nor ended in 2001). But there is evolution ongoing (or to use the ‘infamous’ statement of a former minister - “things have ovulated”), so there is a need more than ever for an open, honest, expert and intellectual debate about the crucial question “where we are now and how should we proceed”.

This is not to say that I am concerned about the current “lack of political dialogue”, i.e. the favorite phrase of Brussels Eurocrats when they want to add a bit on the other Copenhagen criteria. The problems we face are systemic and far from being incidental. Therefore, one needs to learn how to live with them, to deal with them and/or find alternatives rather than to create new divisions on “framework agreement defenders” (ramkovisti in Macedonian), federalists and unionists. The society’s divisions are profound enough: We are not divided only along ethnic lines but, far worse, Macedonia has become a society in which anomie and anemia dominate.
Consociation, which has to be finally acknowledged no matter if we like it or not, is embedded in our constitutional system. Yet it is nothing but a transitional solution for post-conflict societies. Do not pretend to be shocked by the fact that our model is being studied along the case-studies from Cyprus, Libanon, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

Consociation is not the same as democratization; actually, it does not necessarily even lead towards stabilization. There are opinions and examples that prove that it may reinforce internal divisions and eventually lead towards violent dissolution. Therefore it is important to see consociation the way it truly is: it is just a starter in a post-conflict situation. Later on it may end up in three possible ways: a) as time passes it may create conditions that would make it superfluous through the revival of liberal democracy and creation of a society of equal citizens; b) it can also lead to dissolution or to c) federalization of a country.
But as long as we are still in this transitional period (probably because we failed to successfully complete the first transition), we should be aware of some possible setbacks. Consociational models put more emphasis on elites than on citizens; more efforts are invested in proportionality than in equality, and finally - system’s stability is more important than its responsiveness. And let’s put it bluntly one more time: these models are known as very slow and expensive (in economic, social and financial terms).
From friends (such as the European MP, Erik Meier) the least one can expect is sincerity. Advice ‘packed’ in a similar way as it was done with the Framework Agreement awakes distrust and skepticism. Actually, that is the main problem with such institutional management of ethnic conflicts: they usually come as prescription from outside - so no wonder, they are perceived as imposed!

Unfortunately, here in Macedonia we fail to see things as they truly are; we rather fall in love at first sight with whatever comes from Europe or a priori reject to even listen carefully to foreign advice (especially the messages said ‘between the lines’). Now when the probe balloon of so-called Badinter government (i.e. the request that the government is formed from the ‘winners’ of the two ethnic communities) and/or federalization has been released many are again puzzled and frustrated. It is probably a fault of the politicians and the expert community that have failed to put it bluntly a long time ago: the Framework agreement could have never been envisaged as an eternal solution!

Unfortunately, whenever a VIP from Europe starts telling us the experiences from his country (in this case, from the Netherlands) or other European countries, he usually ‘forgets’ to mention a few “small details”: first, the success of consociation in Western Europe  is due to - as Lijphart himself also stresses - the fact that it has made itself ‘superfluous” and unnecessary by creating conditions for come-back to liberal democracy; second, the federal models in some of these countries are accompanied with the development of a strong economy, change of a few generations and forms of direct democracy (in Switzerland, for instance, while in Macedonia referendum has been practically banned in the post-2004 new law); third, nowhere in Western Europe has consociation been constitutionalized i.e. cemented in the Constitution, which is the case with Macedonia; fourth, success has always and everywhere depended, among other things, on the elites’ maturity and their common position that national interest and co-existence are non-negotiable.
For a person who grew up in a federation (in its ‘golden years’ bought with foreign credits and loans from IMF), I can’t see why I should be scared of federalization - except for the still strong association with the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia. ‘Badinter’ is nothing that should bother either ethnic Macedonians or Albanians. But let’s finally invite the real Mr. Badinter to Macedonia and let’s ask for his opinion about perspectives of the country in which he is called on literally every day!

If I am not mistaken, the following words belong to him: “Thinking within ethnic borders cannot be a qualitative and an effective solution. It paralyzes administration and initiates other problems with a package of advantages and privileges, instead of creating common people and one joint nation. An over-ethnical approach risk worsening what is already bad in the country”.

According to some authors, consociation might be a cradle of federalism but federalism is less a ‘medicine’ and more a consequence of a prior social agreement among the constituents. The ones who are in a rush to ‘jump’ into a new Macedonian federation (due to the lack of success of the current power-sharing model) do not even think that there might be other options. Federation is equally slow and costly, and more importantly - there is no guarantee that the federation would cherish democracy and won’t fall apart as Yugoslavia did. Our local ‘federalists’ rush into something only because they anticipate the subtle messages from Brussels (as they ‘hear’ them).

However, in addition to federalization, Macedonia has a legitimate right to opt for another solution out of the obvious and deepening crisis. We won’t be allowed to disintegrate (which can be also a possible and legitimate consequence of consociation), because we are still a “proof” of the EU’s “successful conflict management” and because everybody is tired of the Balkanization of the Balkans.

So we shall talk about options, unless we want to be ‘framed’ again according to the outsiders’ perception what is good for us here. For some of us, the best example of successful consociation is precisely the country from which Mr. Meier comes, i.e. the country of strong Dutch patriotism as well as of strong respect for human rights. If for the time being we must be ‘framed’ within the power-sharing model, then why not try to develop at least some elements of an integrative power-sharing (building bridges, dialogue, co-existence)? Why at least not try to build civic nationalism that would win over ethnic nationalisms, a distinction eloquently pointed out by Ignatieff?

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Sadly, in this country it has become blasphemy of the highest order to even advocate integrative power-sharing. It is seen as a threat and a tool that would uncover and eventually disempower well-established ethno-elites, which do not care for laws even when they were previously agreed out of the parliament. This model is indeed a threat for partocracy, for their importance and privilege to interpret their constituencies’ interests.

Nowadays, for instance, the use of ethnic flags is now more important than decent school buildings; building monuments of Skenderbeg and Alexandar the Great is more important than health care. What fantastic achievements of Framework Agreement!

Civic nationalism – and, yes, the author of these lines is almost infected by the idea -  has to be, by definition, secular. This is one more reason why civic nationalism is not welcome in a country in which religious education has just been introduced in elementary schools not by demand of the parents but because the elites agreed that children should be raised in full awareness of the differences of their confessions.

I see no reason for being upset because of the messages that come from European MPs or because of the just proposed resolution in the EP, which suggests re-definition of the Badinter rules (i.e. its application on government formation).

It is strange that in contrast we are not distressed at all by the fact that we are stacked and there is no progress, while the societal divisions grow rapidly. Long ago I wrote: “Macedonia is a federation but there is nobody to tell her”. What I had in mind was the ongoing voluntary ‘ethnic cleansing’, segregation and even fewer cross-cutting cleavages in the Macedonian society.

Our children no longer live together, they do not go to same school buildings (even in the mixed communities) and don’t learn the same things - they know each other less an less and show no wish to get to know each other. That is our ‘best achievement’ so far, our biggest investment in the future, so it does not really matter if we shall redefine the model in terms of federation or not.

In any case, we can’t expect anything but an ugly picture that reflects from a broken mirror... Or perhaps the mirror is just fine?


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