Today, August 13, 2021, marks 20 years from the signing of the infamous Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA), a deeply divisive document that has scarred Macedonian society. Considering the dire situation with the ravaging fires across the country, and the resurgence of covid-19, the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD), which has long been opposed to the Ohrid Framework Agreement, calls on the government to reconsider the anniversary celebrations in favor of a sober assessment and re-purposing of much-needed funds to save lives and property. We urge the government to:
1. Save money. Per media reports, the government is spending 500,000 euros to mark this occasion, most of it going to expenses for transportation, housing, and hospitality of guests from abroad. While the presence of foreign dignitaries is always welcome, this is not a time for leisure and festivities. The government needs to focus its efforts and expenditures toward curbing the spread of wildfires and not on entertainment. The half a million euros should be diverted to buying fire trucks or paying firefighters rather than wining and dining guests. It is estimated that millions of euros were recently spent on the Prespa Forum.
2. Abolish ethnic quotas. Every successive government since 2001 has in some way acknowledged the “transformative effect” of the OFA on Macedonian society without encouraging an honest conversation about its serious failings. For instance, the concept of positive discrimination, meant to address ethnic inequalities in employment and other sectors, has been grossly abused. Instead of encouraging the hiring of a more diverse, more capable workforce, the OFA has been used to fill government positions with ghost workers – people formally employed by the government and receiving paychecks but not doing any work. The practice of ethnic quotas needs to stop immediately.
3. Promote integration in education. As a result of the agreement, many reforms were enacted to broaden access for native-language study of minorities. In addition to primary-secondary, the government opened universities where the instruction was mostly delivered in Albanian. At least a generation of young Albanians has grown up without any substantive knowledge of the Macedonian language or contact with their Macedonian peers. This has led to an increased lack of understanding between the two communities and a growing sense of distrust and animosity. The government should promote integrative practices, rather than keep Albanian and Macedonian youth separate.
4. Champion the rule of law. There is a sense among Macedonians that the OFA has been used as an excuse to promulgate one set of rules for Albanians and another harsher set for everyone else. This notion is supported by the fact that the main perpetrators of the UCK uprising have been pardoned through a special amnesty law and never saw the face of justice. Furthermore, there is evidence that the government has little to no control in policing and taxation in the areas with a majority Albanian population. Hence, Macedonians feel that they must pay taxes and respect the law while their Albanian counterparts can do as they please with impunity.
In short, there is little to celebrate on the 20th anniversary of the OFA and much to suggest that a national commission of review be announced. The government should cancel the festivities altogether and use its resources to fight fires, vaccinate citizens, and invest in public health. It should then examine the failings of the OFA in earnest and try to address its many shortcomings. Then, and maybe then, it can think about marking the occasion in the originally intended spirit of reconciliation and equal opportunity for the advancement of all citizens of Macedonia.