Polity: Parliamentary democracy
Population: 2,000,000
GNI/Capita: $4,651
Life Expectancy: 73
Religious Groups: N/A
Ethnic Groups: Macedoian (67 percent), Albanian (23 percent), Turkish (4 percent), Roma (Gypsies) (2 percent), Serb (2 percent), other (2 percent)
Capital: Skopje

Political Rights Score: 4
Civil Liberties Score: 4
Status: Partly Free

Ratings Change
Macedonia's civil liberties rating declined from 3 to 4 because of numerous reported abuses against civilians by both government security organs and Albanian insurgents.


In 2001, the long-simmering Macedonian-Albanian conflict erupted into open warfare. In February, the so-called National Liberation Army (NLA), composed of local Albanians with experience in the 1999 Kosovo war, began an armed revolt against the Macedonian government. Numerous human rights violations were committed by both sides in the conflict, including forced expulsions and apparent massacres of both combatants and civilians, along with widespread property destruction. Nevertheless, intensive diplomatic efforts by both local politicians and international officials managed to prevent the conflict from spreading out of control as had happened in recent Balkan wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Macedonia was recognized as an independent state in 1991. Internally, the country suffers from severe social and political polarization between its two primary ethnic groups, Macedonian Slavs and ethnic Albanians, and from a very poor economy. Externally, Macedonia for much of the past decade has suffered from disputes with neighbors over various issues: over its name (with Greece); over the status of the Macedonian language (with Bulgaria); and over its northern border (with Yugoslavia). Most of these external disputes have been successfully resolved over the past few years. The international community has tried in various ways to support Macedonia's fragile existence; the most notable example of this came in April, when the European Union signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Skopje, considered to be the first step down the road toward EU accession.

Three sets of multiparty parliamentary elections have been held in the country since 1991, and postindependence governments have always been careful to include Albanian parties in the ruling coalition. Parliamentary elections in 1998 resulted in the first transfer of power from the left-of-center governmental coalition that had ruled Macedonia since independence to a grouping of opposition parties.

Macedonian-Albanian relations deteriorated precipitously after the Kosovo war in 1999. By 2000, Albanian guerrillas who had participated in the Kosovo conflict were operating in Macedonia (often using NATO-occupied Kosovo as their base). Early NLA actions, which were concentrated in northern areas around the Albanian-populated towns of Kumanovo and Tetovo, involved attacks against Macedonian government police and military units. Among the NLA's political demands were changes to the Macedonian constitution, greater use of the Albanian language in official institutions, and an increase in the number Albanians in the civil services.

NLA attacks encouraged revenge attacks by both Macedonian government forces and civilian mobs, with violent demonstrations involving attacks on Albanian property breaking out in several cities during the year. The two ethnic groups formed a variety of loosely controlled guerrilla and paramilitary groups during the year, which made it exceptionally difficult to implement a stable ceasefire during the course of the year.

A national unity government composed of the leading Macedonian and Albanian parties was formed in May, but disagreements within the coalition led to little progress in ending the insurrection. In August, an attempt at a political solution to the conflict, held during negotiations in the town of Ohrid, was reached. Under the terms of the Ohrid agreement, the NLA agreed to hand over some 3,800 weapons to NATO troops, although most observers believe the insurgents had far more weapons at their disposal.

Persistent disruptions of the ceasefire, however, and obstructionism by Macedonian hardliners in the government made it impossible for the Macedonian parliament to ratify the constitutional changes until November 16. Whether these changes will be enough to repair the damage to interethnic relations in Macedonia – or the estimated $800 million in damage to the country's fragile economy – remains an open question.

Plans are underway to assemble an international force of some 600 to 1000 troops led by NATO and the EU to provide security for unarmed Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors, who would observe the current ceasefire. Parliamentary elections scheduled for late 2001 have been postponed until the first quarter of 2002.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Macedonia's most important constitutional problem is satisfying the demands of the Albanian minority for a more privileged status within the country. According to the Ohrid agreement, ratified by the Macedonian parliament in November, references in the Macedonian constitution to Macedonia as the "land of the Macedonian people" have been eliminated, and the Albanian language has been made an "official" language in municipalities where Albanians compose at least 20 percent of the population. Additional constitutional reforms include granting more self-government to local municipalities; increasing the number of Albanians in the police force from their current level of about 5 percent of the total force to 25 percent by 2003 (which will be achieved by hiring some 1,000 Albanian police officers); a devolution of the powers of the central government from Skopje to local municipalities; and the granting of an amnesty for Albanian insurgents.

Macedonians are afraid these changes will only prove to be the prelude to the possible secession of Albanian-populated areas in the country, or their annexation by a "Greater Kosovo." These fears are exacerbated by demographic trends in the country; if current trends continue, Albanians will probably be the majority population in Macedonia by 2015.

The Macedonian constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief and practice. Sixty-six percent of the population are Orthodox Christian, and 30 percent are Muslim, while the remaining 4 percent belong to a variety of different religious groups. A number of religious sites were destroyed or damaged in the fighting during the course of the year, including the thirteenth century Orthodox monastery of St. Atanasie and the Holy Virgin, in August.

On the whole, the government does not repress the media. During the course of the year, however, media outlets on both sides of the ethnic divide were often accused of fanning ethnic animosity with sensationalistic stories about atrocities committed by the opposing side. One of the major problems facing the media remains the lack of professionalism and proper journalistic training.

Women in Macedonia enjoy the same legal rights as men, although lingering patriarchal social attitudes limit women's participation in nontraditional social roles in the economy and in government. Domestic violence and trafficking in women from former Soviet republics remain serious problems. In Muslim areas, many women are effectively disenfranchised because proxy voting by male relatives is widespread.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.