Gregory Attila Connor and Toni Popovski
We are just back in Skopje from an exciting high-level conference in the lakeside town of Ohrid that brought together more than 100 key national and international political actors to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ohrid Peace Agreement. That Agreement ended the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s (FYROM) internal conflict in 2001. It also helped promote the country’s good governance agenda, which UNDP actively supports.
The main message from the conference was: the country has much to celebrate—particularly the cessation of hostilities and the integration of national minorities into political life. But, challenges remain.
The Ohrid Agreement helped to set the foundation for the process of decentralization that has been key to post-conflict reconciliation and better governance. Decentralization has helped create a stable, democratic, multi-ethnic state that brings government closer to its citizens by providing better public services and strengthening institutional capacities.
A review recently conducted by the Government and UNDP confirms that decentralization is providing tangible benefits to citizens in areas such as social and environmental protection, local economic development, education and health care.
UNDP has also brought together public officials and citizens to generate recommendations for improving the institutional framework. One of the remaining challenges identified by the participants is institutional capacity. As the recent International Crisis Group Report also notes, without political and financial support, as well as effective coordination, the institutional framework for promoting good inter-ethnic dialogue will be undermined.
Decentralized, effective local government can be a key to fostering effective inter-ethnic relations. The FYR Macedonia decentralization model has huge replication potential. If used correctly, it can increase participation, protection, and representation of non-majority communities while also helping to mitigate inter-ethnic tensions.
There are still many economic and political dividends to be tapped from decentralization in FYR Macedonia. Nonetheless, the foundations so far are strong. As one of the negotiators to the peace agreement rightly pointed out at the anniversary conference, “It is not always about what happened, but also, about what did not happen.”
Congratulations on ten successful years of advancing peace and good governance!