1998 Scores

Status: Partly Free
Freedom Rating: 3.0
Civil Liberties: 3
Political Rights: 3

Ratings Change

Macedonia's political rights rating changed from 4 to 3 due to a free and fair election and the inclusion of Albanian parties in the government.


In 1998, a center-right coalition led by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), which had boycotted elections four years earlier, won parliamentary elections in October; VMRO-DPMNE leader Ljubco Georgievski was named prime minister in late November and formed a government that included members from ethnic Albanian parties.

The VMRO-DPMNE and its coalition partner, the centrist, multi-ethnic Democratic Alternative, won 62 of 120 seats, ousting the ruling Socialist Democratic Alliance for Macedonia (SDSM, former Communists), which took 27 seats, down from 61. The Albanian-based Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), which was allied with the SDSM, took 14 seats, while the Democratic Party of Albania won ten. Prime Minister Georgievski said his government would continue to work toward membership in NATO and the European Union and strive for better relations with neighboring Balkan countries. He pledged to reform the economy by working to end corruption, reduce taxes, eliminate regulations on investments, and attract foreign investment.

In other issues, relations between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, which in 1997 were marred by a series of violent clashes between Albanians and security forces in Gostivar and Tetovo, improved despite sporadic flare-ups.

Kiro Gligorov, a former Communist leader and head of the SDSM, was appointed interim president in 1992 and directly elected in 1994. The country's first parliamentary elections since independence from Yugoslavia, held in October 1994, were marked by fraud and irregularities; run-offs were boycotted by the VMRO-DPMNE, the free-market nationalist Democratic Party, and others. The Alliance, composed of the SDSM, the Liberals, the Socialists, and the PDPA won 95 of 120 seats, and formed the government from which the liberals resigned in 1996.

Prior to the parliamentary elections, early 1998 saw a series of shifts in alliances and maneuvers. A new party, the Democratic Alternative (DA), was launched in March by well-known Yugoslav-era political figure Vasil Tupurkovski, drawing prominent intellectuals and political figures, some from the Liberal Party and SDSM. The two leading Albanian parties formed an electoral alliance, and the Liberal and Democratic parties merged. The SDSM, led by incumbent Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, tried to paint the opposition as pro-Bulgarian and sympathetic to Albanians. For it's part, the VMRO-DPMNE under Georgievksi dropped its traditional nationalist orientation and rhetoric. The Crvenkovski government was hurt by charges of corruption and the collapse of the TAT saving institution in 1997 that effected thousands of investors. Bribery was rife in public administration, the customs department, and among civil servants at all levels.

A key issue in the 1998 campaign was the state of an economy crippled by the 1994-95 trade embargo by Greece as well as the United Nations' ban on trade with the states of former Yugoslavia, which was lifted after the signing of the 1995 Dayton Accords on Bosnia. Unemployment remained high, privatization of large-scale enterprises lagged, taxes went uncollected, and living standards dropped.

In March, with the eruption of fighting in Kosovo, the 750-strong United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP), which was due to withdraw in August, announced plans to stay. Some 350 members of the force are Americans. In July, a prominent Macedonian newspaper reported that 20,000 displaced Kosovo Albanians had sought refuge in Macedonia.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Macedonians can change their government democratically. The 1998 parliamentary elections were free and fair. Voting was repeated for six seats due to procedural irregularities.

The constitution enshrines free speech and access to information, and prohibits censorship. Slander and libel laws have led to self-censorship. In October, VMRO-DPMNE leader Georgievski said he was suing the paper Vecer for slander because of an article that said his party and Albanian parties had agreed to the division of Macedonia. Most major newspapers and electronic media are government-controlled or receive some subsidizes. The pro-SDSM NIP Nova Makedonija, which is employee-owned and subsidized by the state, publishes four major dailies. Private, independent newspapers include Dnevnik, and the weekly Fokus, which covers sensational stories about scandal and crime. Party newspapers include the SDSM's Demokratija; the Liberal Party's Liberal, and the VMRO-DPMNE's Glas. The MIP Nova Makedonija has a virtual monopoly on distribution, controlling a network of more than 500 kiosks throughout the country. The 1997 Law on Broadcasting Activity guarantees the independence of the Broadcasting Council, whose members are chosen by parliament and which is empowered to recommend who should be given broadcast licenses. Because recommendations have to be approved by the government, critics have argued that the issuance of licenses has been politicized. Some 30 state-owned radio stations and five state television stations operate in the country. In all, 24 private TV stations and 91 combined radio and television stations share the airwaves, most of which focus on music and entertainment programming. In February, controversy arose when the VMRO-DPMNE local authorities in Stip moved to take over Radio Stip, changing the name to Radio Glas. In October, the government, with aid from the World Bank, launched MIA, a state news agency.

Freedom of religion is respected, and the dominant faiths are Macedonian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Islam (Albanians and Turks). Under a 1997 religion law, anyone carrying out religious work or religious rites must register with the Commission on Interreligious Affairs; Protestant groups continue to complain that they cannot register their churches.

There are no significant restrictions on freedom of assembly. In September, ethnic Albanians in the village of Kolari marched to protest the death of man killed by police, allegedly when he resisted arrest.

Macedonia has a multi-party system, and some 50 parties are registered. No parties are explicitly illegal or outlawed. The Union of Independent and Autonomous Trade Unions confederation was formed in 1992. The Council of Trade Unions of Macedonia is the successor to the Communist labor federation. There are some 3,000 NGO's registered, including the autonomous units of national organizations as well as professional groups.

The judiciary is not free of political or governmental interference. Macedonia has a three-tiered system consisting of regular (municipal) and appellate (district) courts and a Supreme Court. The constitution mandates a seven-member Republican Judicial Council, elected by parliament, which proposes the names of judges in consultation with the Justice Ministry and other bodies. The president of the council acknowledged in 1997 that political parties, particularly the ruling coalition, play a critical role in the election of judges and that "efforts should be made to eliminate the political influence in the selection of judges." Since 1996, several judges were removed for bribery. A nine-member Constitutional Court decides if laws conform with the constitution. In March, the Court ruled that the police would no longer be able to detain suspects without first taking them before an executive judge, though police often ignore the ruling as well as proper search warrant procedures.

National minorities, particularly Albanians, have complained about abuses at the hands of police and discrimination. Rufi Osmani, the former mayor of Gostivar, is serving a seven-year sentence for his part in the 1997 ethnic violence. Other minority groups include Turks, Serbs, Vlachs, and Roma (Gypsies). Ethnic Serbs maintain that they cannot worship freely in the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Freedom of movement is unimpaired by government regulation. The constitution and laws enshrine property rights. In February 1998, a citizens' group in Krivolak, whose property was taken away under the denationalization law, threatened to seek redress with the World Bank and international courts. An unreliable legal framework exacerbates bureaucratic delays, which are common in registering a business. While commercial laws are meant to enshrine fair competition, the development of the private sector and privatization has been characterized by the advantageous position of enterprise managers with links to the government and political parties. Several SDSM leaders were implicated in the 1997 TAT financial scandal, a savings scheme that bilked 30,000 savers of some $90 million. Smuggling, drug-dealing, and a large gray economy remain serious problems.

Cultural norms discourage women from reporting domestic violence, and women are underrepresented in government and the private sector. There are a number of women's advocacy groups.

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