Between the Integration and Accommodation of Ethnic Difference: Decentralization in the Republic of Macedonia

Article excerpt

The decentralization process in the Republic of Macedonia has been widely regarded as a success story by regional and international actors alike. It is frequently considered a suitable non-territorial model of ethnic conflict management that can be replicated elsewhere. By increasing the number of competences administered at the municipal level, in addition to replicating the central government's system of consociational power-sharing locally, the reforms seek to provide local, culturally diverse communities with greater control over the management of their own affairs and resources. This paper will begin with a theoretical discussion of how municipal decentralization may offer an institutional solution for managing and preserving cultural diversity within unitary states. It will seek to position Macedonia's decentralization reforms within the ongoing theoretical debate between integrationists and accommodationists, and will offer some initial observations on how the reform's implementation thus far have diverged from the original intentions of the Ohrid Framework Agreement.

Key words: Decentralization; cultural pluralism; consociationalism; Macedonia; accommodation; integration.

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The decentralization process in the Republic of Macedonia1 has been widely regarded as a success story by regional and international actors alike. It is frequently considered a suitable non-territorial model of ethnic conflict management that can be replicated elsewhere, such as in neighbouring Kosovo. The reforms, which form part of a more comprehensive peace process defined by the Ohrid Framework Agreement (hereafter, Framework Agreement) of 2001, offer limited autonomy to Macedonia's ethnic communities, in particular the ethnic Albanians. By increasing the number of competences administered at the municipal level, in addition to replicating the central government's system of consociational power-sharing locally, the reform process seeks to provide local, culturally diverse communities with greater control over the management of their own affairs and resources.

The purpose of this paper is to position Macedonia's experience with decentralization within the ongoing theoretical debate concerning how states deal with ethnic difference. It will begin by outlining how the devolution of power to sub-national units such as municipalities may offer an institutional solution for managing and preserving cultural diversity within a unitary state. The paper will then position this discussion within the wider theoretical debate between integrationists and accommodationists regarding how states should manage cultural pluralism. A review of Macedonia's decentralization process, a rather weak form of self-government in comparison to strategies adopted by other former Yugoslav republics, will then follow. Elements of the reform will be identified as belonging to either accommodationist or integrationist approaches to managing ethnic difference. Finally, the decentralization reforms defined by the Framework Agreement and subsequent legislation will also be compared with the reality of their implementation. Particular attention will be paid to the controversial process of territorial reorganization in 2004 and the effectiveness of consociational power-sharing arrangements adopted locally.

This paper will argue that accommodationist and integrationist strategies - i.e. those that either recognize ethnic difference or seek to weaken it through the promotion of a common (civic) public identity, for managing ethnocultural diversity are not mutually exclusive. Nowhere is this more apparent than in post-Ohrid Macedonia and its "complex" design of decentralization which incorporates many consociational techniques at the local level. Despite decentralization's offer of limited local autonomy to territorially concentrated groups, the reform is principally a mechanism for integrating ethnic communities into unitary state structures. …