Republic of Macedonia

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Republic of Macedonia

Type of Government

The Republic of Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy with a unicameral (one-house) parliament, the Sobranie, whose members are elected by proportional representation. Its prime minister is elected by the parliament, while its president is elected directly by the people. The Macedonian legal system is headed by two courts, a Supreme Court and a Constitutional Court, which are overseen by the Judicial Council of the Republic.


Macedonia’s early history is highly contested. In ancient times a Greek kingdom called Macedonia, which was located in and to the southeast of today’s Republic of Macedonia, was one of the most powerful states in the region. Alexander III (356 BC–323 BC; known as Alexander the Great) was a Macedonian king. Ancient Macedonians and other Greeks were the original inhabitants of the modern-day Republic of Macedonia, but they were supplanted by Slavic tribes in the sixth century AD. Modern Macedonians are believed to be primarily descended from these Slavs, and they also speak a south Slavic language that is closely related to Bulgarian. Despite this Slavic heritage, modern Macedonians still claim ancient Macedonian history as their own. This claim dismays the residents of Greece, whose Macedonian provinces comprise the majority of the land that made up ancient Macedonia. In fact, Greece is unhappy about Macedonia’s very name: At Greece’s insistence, the Republic of Macedonia is referred to internationally as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in order to avoid any possible confusion with the Greek region of Macedonia.

After ancient Greece collapsed, the land that is now modern Macedonia was fought over and at times ruled by many different empires, including the Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgar empires. Then, in 1371, Macedonia fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire, which was centered in modern-day Turkey.

In the late nineteenth century, as the Ottoman Empire began to weaken and nationalist sentiments amongst the peoples of the Balkans began to strengthen, the region then known as Macedonia (an area covering both modern Macedonia and the lands to its south and east that were part of ancient Macedonia) became an ideological battleground. Serbs, Bulgars, and Greeks all tried to win over the residents of Macedonia, in hopes of being able to wrest Macedonia away from the Ottomans and to add its land to their own countries. By the 1890s this contest became violent when various militant groups sprang up. One of these groups, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO), launched a revolt in 1903 and declared an independent Macedonian republic. The Ottomans soon crushed the revolt, but modern-day Macedonians continue to honor this first Macedonian republic politically: several current Macedonian political parties use VMRO in their names.

In 1912 and 1913 Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria joined together to conquer Macedonia and divide it up amongst themselves. Greece took the coastal regions in southern Macedonia, Bulgaria took the northeastern portion of the region, and Serbia took the rest. The land taken by Serbia later became today’s Republic of Macedonia.

Even after this war, Serbia’s neighbors still coveted Macedonia. Bulgaria occupied Serbia’s portion of Macedonia during World War I, although it was defeated and forced to return the land at the end of the war. Bulgaria also provided a base for VMRO, which sent guerrilla groups across the border into Serbian Macedonia to fight against the Serbian authorities in the 1920s. Between 1941 and 1944 Bulgaria again occupied much of Serbian Macedonia, but Bulgaria found itself on the losing side of World War II and was forced to return this territory to Serbia.

Macedonia essentially disappeared within Serbia, and by extension within the newly created country of Yugoslavia (which included Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina), between World War I and World War II. Serbia called Macedonia “southern Serbia” and refused to recognize it as a separate nation within the Yugoslav federation. Such treatment only encouraged the continuation of Macedonia’s prewar nationalist movement, which continued to fight for Macedonian independence. The Macedonian independence movement, working in partnership with Croatian nationalists, even succeeded in assassinating the king of Yugoslavia in 1934.

The Communist government that took over in Yugoslavia following World War II finally agreed to recognize Macedonia as a separate nation within the Yugoslav federation. The Socialist Republic of Macedonia was formed in 1944, and its people remained loyal to Communism and to Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), the man who had given them their nation.

After Tito’s death in 1980, Yugoslavia began to crumble. The various nations within Yugoslavia began jockeying for more autonomy, and by the late 1980s Communist governments were beginning to collapse across Eastern Europe. On September 8, 1991, Macedonia held a referendum about whether to declare independence. The vast majority—95 percent—of the people who voted were in favor of Macedonian independence, although Macedonia’s Serbs and Albanians boycotted the vote. Macedonia formally declared its independence two months later.

Government Structure

Macedonia’s parliament, the Sobranie, consists of a single house with 120 members who are elected to four-year terms. Elections to the Macedonian parliament are based on proportional representation using an open party list system. In this type of election voters vote for lists of candidates—which are drawn up by political parties or coalitions before the election—as well as for individual candidates on each list. There are six election districts in Macedonia that each elect twenty representatives, so each party can draw up six lists (one for each district) that can have as many as twenty names on each. Then, when the votes are counted, each party is allocated seats based on the number of votes it received in each district. Macedonia uses the D’Hondt method, a complex mathematical process, for allocating the seats, but the end result is that the parties that received the most votes get the most seats. The seats allocated to each party are then filled by the candidates on the party’s list who received the most individual votes.

The party or coalition that receives the largest number of seats in the Sobranie has the power to elect a prime minister, who chooses a cabinet of ministers to help him or her exercise executive power. Unlike in most parliamentary democracies, in Macedonia the prime minister and his cabinet are not chosen from the members of the parliament.

The president is elected directly by the people to a five-year term of office. Presidential elections generally take place in two rounds. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the first round, the top two finishers from that round go head-to-head in a second round. The president’s powers are limited—most executive power lies with the prime minister and the cabinet—but the president is the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces. A person can serve no more than two terms in a row as president.

Macedonia has two high courts: a Constitutional Court and a Supreme Court. The Constitutional Court protects Macedonians’ constitutional rights, including the right to free speech; ensures that Macedonians are not discriminated against based upon their race, religion, or other such factors; and resolves disputes between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government. The Supreme Court is the highest appeals court in the country, with responsibility for hearing cases that have been appealed from the three Courts of Appeal. Beneath the Courts of Appeal are twenty-seven Courts of the First Instance, which is where legal cases are first heard. All of the courts are overseen by the Judicial Council of the Republic, a seven-person committee elected by the Parliament. This council nominates judges, who are then confirmed by Parliament. Most judges are elected for life. The exceptions are the judges of the Constitutional Court, who are permitted to serve only a single nine-year term.

At the local level, Macedonia is divided into eighty-five opstini (municipalities) that are self-governing in regards to affairs within each opstina.

Political Parties and Factions

Macedonia has a large number of political parties, but in elections the small parties often band together to form more broadly based coalitions. Three such coalitions dominated the parliament that was elected in 2006: For a Better Macedonia, which won forty-five seats; Together for Macedonia, which won thirty-two seats; and an unnamed coalition made up of the Democratic Union for Integration, the Party for Democratic Prosperity, and the Democratic League of Bosniaks, which won seventeen seats.

The largest party in the For a Better Macedonia coalition is the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO–DPMNE), a Christian Democratic party. VMRO–DPMNE is an anti-Communist, pro-Western party that was founded in 1990 by Macedonian nationalists. Despite the party’s nationalist roots, beginning in the late 1990s it started to concede to some demands made by Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority. In 2004 the nationalist wing of the party, which was upset about the concessions that the party leaders had made to the Albanians, split off to form the VMRO–People’s Party. The mainline VMRO–DPMNE has largely abandoned nationalism and bases its platform on supporting democracy, civil society, and European integration.

Other major participants in the For a Better Macedonia coalition are the Socialist Party of Macedonia (a traditional left-wing party that draws much of its support from the ethnic Macedonian working-class) and the Liberal Party of Macedonia, which campaigns on a platform of free-market reforms and strengthening Macedonia’s economy.

The Liberal Party was formed in 1990 as part of the reformist movement within Yugoslavia. In 1997 the Liberal Party merged with the Democratic Party to form the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In 2000 dissident former members of the Liberal Party broke away from the LDP and re-formed the Liberal Party of Macedonia (LPM). The LDP also remains in existence and is a major member of the Together for Macedonia coalition. LDP is a socially liberal party that is affiliated internationally with the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist Party and the Liberal International.

The other major party in the Together for Macedonia coalition is the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM). SDSM was the successor party to the Macedonian Communist party, and it has remained a large and influential party. SDSM held the most seats in the Sobranie from 1992 to 1998 and from 2002 to 2006; it lost to VMRO–DPMNE in 2006 in large part because the voters blamed SDSM for Macedonia’s many economic problems. SDSM is nominally a left-wing party and is a full member of the Socialist International, but it has cooperated with free-market economic reforms that were enacted to meet European Union entry requirements and to encourage economic growth.

The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) is the leading ethnic Albanian party; in the 2002 Sobranie elections it was the choice of 70 percent of ethnic Albanian voters. DUI grew out of the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA), a militant group that fought violent conflicts with the Macedonian government in 2001. After the NLA signed a peace agreement with the government in August 2001, the organization morphed into a democratic political party under the name DUI.

The other major Albanian parties are the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA). PDP, which was founded in 1990, is committed to advocating for Albanian rights by peaceful means. Its major issues have included efforts to get more Albanians into Macedonian universities and into government positions.

DPA was formed in 1997 by the merger of the Party for the Democratic Prosperity of Albanians, which split from the PDP in 1994, and the People’s Democratic Party. DPA is more radically nationalist than PDP; it advocates for ethnic Albanians to be recognized as a separate national group.

Major Events

Macedonia faced a series of difficult challenges after it declared its independence. International recognition of the new country was delayed by battles over Macedonia’s name and flag (which Greece considered to infringe on its own Macedonian heritage and symbols) and Macedonia’s constitution, which hinted at Macedonian designs on formerly Macedonian lands that are now part of Greece and Bulgaria. Without international recognition, Macedonia could not receive foreign loans, which were sorely needed. The Macedonian economy, already weak, suffered further when Greece imposed economic sanctions on Macedonia and when Macedonia agreed to participate in international sanctions against Serbia. The dispute between Macedonia and Greece was partially resolved in 1995, but the damage had already been done to the Macedonian economy.

Macedonia also faced unrest in its western regions, which are populated by ethnic Albanians. When Serbia began persecuting its own Albanian minority in Kosovo in 1999, tens of thousands of these ethnic Albanians found refuge in Macedonia, further increasing that country’s Albanian minority. (Estimates of the proportion of Macedonians who are ethnic Albanians range from one-quarter to one-third of the nation’s population.) The war eventually spilled over into Macedonian territory, with ethnic Albanian guerrillas from both Kosovo and Macedonia launching attacks within Macedonia’s borders in 2001. These attacks, which were popular with many Macedonian Albanians, spawned a several-month-long low-grade civil war that was ended by the Ohrid Agreement in August 2001. Under the terms of the Ohrid Agreement, ethnic Albanians in Macedonia were promised that Albanian would be recognized as an official language in Macedonia and that more ethnic Albanians would be given jobs with the Macedonian police.

Twenty-First Century

Despite the dire predictions of many observers in 2001, the Ohrid Agreement has held. In 2004 Macedonia amended its constitution to devolve more power to the local authorities, allowing ethnic Albanians a larger degree of self-rule in areas where they constitute a majority of the population. Although such concessions to the ethnic Albanian community remain unpopular with a significant fraction of ethnic Macedonian voters, the disputes between these two communities are generally being resolved without violence.

Macedonia continues in the twenty-first century to have a very weak economy, with unemployment rates of well over 30 percent, and it also has a high level of corruption, crime, and smuggling. The Macedonian government has been taking steps to confront these problems, with the support of the European Union and other international organizations, but progress has been slow. Due to this slow progress, Macedonia’s application for European Union (EU) membership has been stalled. Macedonia has been recognized as a candidate for EU membership since 2005, but no date has yet been set for formal accession talks to begin.

Benson, Leslie. Yugoslavia: A Concise History. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity. “FYR Macedonia Update.” (accessed August 8, 2007). (accessed August 8, 2007).