Macedonia was an early concern of the Helsinki Commission during the course of Yugoslavia’s decade of violent disintegration in the 1990s. With little preparation for independent statehood, the country had to adjust to economic separation from the other Yugoslav republics, enforce sanctions imposed on the remaining Yugoslav federation and contend with an influx of refugees, all while contending with numerous domestic developments and at times facing sanctions and isolation due to its name dispute with Greece. Helsinki-organized congressional delegations concerned with these issues visited Macedonia in 1992 and 1993, during the course of the Bosnian conflict, and the country received additional attention during the course of the 1998-99 Kosovo conflicts.
Commission staff first observed elections in Macedonia in November 1990 and, reflecting ongoing concern about meeting OSCE standards defining free and fair elections, observed subsequent parliamentary and/or presidential elections in 1994, 1998, 1999, 2006, 2008 and 2009. Macedonia was also a country of major concern regarding human trafficking, although over time the efforts by the authorities to combat trafficking have been among the best in the region.
Ethnic tensions between the Macedonian majority and a sizable Albanian minority have been an ongoing concern regarding both human rights and democratic development. The country’s large and relatively active Romani community has also be the subject of Commission interest. Commission hearings focused on the Balkans and the prospects for NATO enlargement have often focused on the destabilizing effects on internal developments as the name dispute has stymied the countries aspirations for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. In recent years, this has been evident in the political crisis marked by widespread domestic surveillance and questionable actions against the country’s media. Noting the OSCE-recognized right to self-identification, the Commission has consistently referred to the country by its constitutional name, from the beginning, however, urging Macedonian authorities to avoid provocative policies implying claims of legitimate concern to Greece.
Staff Contact: Bob Hand, policy advisor