Two decades after its independence proclamation, Macedonia remains an important player in peace and stability in the Balkans.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 18/09/12
Macedonia was granted the status of an EU member candidate in 2005. [Reuters]
Macedonia remains a key player in the democratic, economic and political development of the region, yet still faces a number of challenges.
The 2001 armed conflict between the Albanian paramilitary forces and Macedonian Army, the 1990 former Yugoslav conflict, the loss of the Yugoslav economic markets, embargoes in the 1990s with Greece and Serbia, the bad privatisation process of large state companies, high unemployment, joining NATO, the ongoing dispute with Greece over the country's constitutional name, and the delay of the EU ascension negotiations are still obstacles to the development of Macedonia as a country, according to analysts.
Zidas Daskalovski, professor of political science at Bitola State University, told SETimes that Macedonia's unsolved problems are directly related to regional stability and peace.
"Possible conflict in the country would lead to unforeseeable consequences in regional relations and stability in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Interests of major players in the Balkans overlap here in Macedonia, so it is important they are balanced and harmonised. The idea is to have a Macedonian Luxembourg," Daskaloski said.
He cautions that the country name dispute with Greece must be solved soon.
"By not solving this problem, the Macedonian government is prolonging a difficult situation, allowing expansion of Albanian nationalism [in Macedonia], as well as nationalism in Sofia and Athens," Daskaloski explained.
Violeta Achkoska, a historian and professor at the Skopje Faculty of Philosophy, told SETimes that if Europe truly wants peace in the Balkans, it should bring the Macedonian case to those countries that deny Macedonia its multi-ethnic character.
"The future of the Balkans depends on how the EU will Europeanise the Balkans. Currently, the EU is deeply Balkanised with its double standards in relation to the same situation in different countries, such as the right to self-identification of Macedonians, who are becoming stronger in their determination to preserve their name and state. All other alternatives would be self-defeating," Achkoska said.
She thinks that Macedonia is moving forward despite all historical issues, its sensitive geo-strategic position, internal ethnic and economic problems.
"Stable and prosperous Macedonia, is the best solution for Athens and Sofia, but also for Belgrade and Washington," Risto Nikovski, former Macedonian diplomat, told SETimes.
"Unstable Macedonia … can only mean new Balkan conflicts and bloodshed. Keeping Macedonia on low branches is a problem for the entire Balkans. It can be linked to the incomplete resolution of the post-Yugoslav crisis. BiH future is still unpredictable. Kosovo is an unfinished story, and the Balkans is still shaky," Nikovski said.
Vlatko Cvrtila, professor of international relations and national security at the faculty of political sciences in Zagreb, said that Macedonia as an independent state contributes to the stability in the Balkans, but that its Greek blockade can cause regional destabilisation.
"The determination to enter NATO and the EU is a strong generator of peace and stability in Macedonia, and its surroundings. Unfortunately these processes have lost its positive impact after Greece blocked Macedonia's entry into NATO. That created many additional consequences that can destabilise the relations in that part of the region," Cvrtila told SETimes.
Macedonia's economy, over the years, has been steadily developing, with low taxes, low inflation and predictable monetary and fiscal policy, and stable exchange rate of the dinar, which is the official currency in Macedonia.
In the past two years, Macedonia recorded a number of investments of 300 million euros, while GDP grew by 2.5 percent. For several years the global financial crisis prevented a significant reduction of poverty and unemployment in the country.
Jasmina Trajceva, 31, from Sveti Nikole, said that Macedonia is now turning and developing into a modern, European, democratic county.
"More and more, Macedonia is proving that that it can keep up with the new age. After two decades of independence the county has built true and worthy promoters of Macedonian culture and tradition that represent the best of Macedonia worldwide. Macedonia is proud of its European handball champions, Olympic medal holders, recipients of music awards, best innovators worldwide," Trajceva said.