Wednesday, October 26, 2005

At a time when many Americans are understandably focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a remarkable success story has developed in Europe: Macedonia’s transition from the verge of an interethnic civil war to a stable democracy on the road to full integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Macedonia’s dramatic turnaround demonstrates what can happen when Europe and the United States work together to support democracy, justice and reconciliation. In the aftermath of the war in Kosovo, Macedonia nearly descended into the maelstrom of ethnic violence that characterized so much of the Balkans in the 1990s. But instead of all-out war, preventive diplomacy backed by military force led to a historic agreement signed at our lakeside town of Ohrid. It was the decisive combination of American diplomatic leadership, European Union engagement and NATO military power that enabled my country to turn away from violence and ethnic animosity, and instead embrace peaceful reconciliation and democratic reform.

The Ohrid Framework Agreement provided the roadmap for Macedonia’s transition to a stable European democracy. The reforms it called for were comprehensive. Today, they are nearly complete. While NATO peacekeepers and European Union police monitors provided valuable security, paramilitary forces were disarmed and our borders were secured. Our government came to power after the 2002 elections in a coalition with an ethnic Albanian party that had renounced violence in favor of the democratic process. Together, we implemented the Ohrid Agreement and fundamentally reshaped Macedonia society. Among our accomplishments were recognizing Albanian cultural and language rights, opening government employment opportunities to ethnic minorities, overhauling our police and armed forces and fighting the corruption and organized crime that had infected our country.

Perhaps most difficult was implementing the “decentralization” elements of the Ohrid Agreement — devolving authority from the central to the municipal level. Last year, after a difficult political struggle, Macedonians strongly rejected a referendum that would have derailed the process of peaceful reconciliation. Today, our parliament has passed all necessary legal changes and the implementation of decentralization is essentially complete.

Over these past few years, Macedonia has made it clear that our goal is full membership in the institutions that have so successfully transformed Europe — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU. Our Euro-Atlantic aspiration is broadly supported by all segments of Macedonian society. We are a part of the Euro-Atlantic community of shared values and we naturally desire full membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions. Just as the Ohrid process spurred societal reforms, the process of preparing for NATO and EU membership has driven economic, judicial and military reforms.

Macedonia has completely revised the criminal code through constitutional amendments and new laws to prevent and prosecute corruption. We have put in place witness protection, freedom of information, campaign financing, and financial disclosure. We have brought public-corruption charges against 215 individuals, including cases involving judges, prosecutors and government officials.

We rewrote our election laws and continue to investigate and prosecute cases of electoral fraud. We are certain our parliamentary elections next year will be a model of free, fair and democratic processes.

We have also made significant economic reforms to attract investment and spur growth. Our financial, labor, public administration and investment measures are bearing fruit as inflation remains low while our economy is expanding, our exports are increasing and our employment is growing.

In the defense sphere, Macedonia has also made dramatic progress as part of our Membership Action Plan with NATO. We have benefited from generous American assistance as we transform our military which can deploy and operate with NATO. As we build a professional force we have increased tenfold the percentage of ethnic minorities serving in the military.

Macedonia’s military reforms are motivated by more than the desire for NATO membership. They are part of our national commitment to be a net provider — rather than a consumer — of security in the Euro-Atlantic region. Today, Macedonian armed forces are deployed in Iraq and in Afghanistan as part of the global war on terror. We are proud to stand side by side with America and its coalition partners in Iraq and with NATO in Afghanistan as part of our commitment to face the new threats of the 21st century with our allies.

While Macedonians deserve the credit for the difficult reforms we have undertaken, we would not have come so far or so fast were it not for the support of the United States. In our part of Europe, we know first hand the value of American leadership and the necessity of backing diplomacy with military power. We appreciate American support for our process of reconciliation and reform.

We share President Bush’s vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace, building a secure future through the spread of liberty. If we work together, Macedonia will not be the last country to end a civil war and build a strong and confident democracy.

Vlado Buckovski is prime minister of the Republic of Macedonia.

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