The Country of Macedonia, now North Macedonia following a name dispute with Greece, broke away from the Yugoslav federation in 1991. Following this decision, the new country was primarily comprised of two ethnic groups: Macedonians and Albanians. Conflict between the two ethnicities would grow until it reached a breaking point in 2000-2001.
The roots of the conflict have been present since the nation of Macedonia was founded, but the tipping point came in the election of 1999. At the turn of the century, Macedonian President, Kiro Gligorov, who had been president since the country gain its independence, was stepping down. It was his hope that this next, democratically-elected president would continue to lead the new country to an even stronger democracy. The two main contenders to be Gligorov’s successor was Tito Petkovski of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and Boris Trajkovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). Of the two parties, VMRO-DPMNE brands itself as a right leaning-centrist party while the SDSM is more left leaning. In order to win the presidency, a candidate must win the majority of the total number of registered voters; if there is no candidate that achieves the 50% threshold, the two candidates with the largest percentages move on to a run-off election. The candidate wins the run-off if he or she gains the majority of votes cast in the second round. In the elections of 1999, VMRO-DPMNE candidate, Boris Trajkovski, claimed victory in a second round of voting.
The catch with this election was not which candidate won as much as how he won. At this time, the ethnic Albanian population comprised roughly one quarter of Macedonia’s near 2 million inhabitants. Making up a sizable portion of Macedonia’s voting base, the ethnic Albanians were concentrated in a select number of cities and therefore, voting districts. In the 1999 election, the High Court of Macedonia nullified results in 230 different voting districts that were primarily Albanian. As there was clear targeting of the ethnic Albanian population by the judiciary, outrage spread. It was already the case that, even in municipalities where ethnic Albanians were in the majority, the governments were disproportionately ethnic Macedonians.
By 2001 the ethnic Albanian minority felt it was time for a change and politics were not the way to bring it about; they then formed the Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK). This armed rebel group set out to correct the injustices that were levied against their people. On March 4th, 2001 the UCK began its campaign killing 3 soldiers in intense fighting between the rebels and the Macedonian army. In response, the Macedonian government closed its border with the neighboring nation of Kosovo. The UCK was not phased. In June the rebels staged an attack on the Macedonian army, prompting further loses. Also in June, an “unidentified gunman” shot at President Trajkovski escalating the conflict even further. As a result, the Macedonian Prime Minister, Ljubco Georgievsky, asked the legislature to a lot him emergency powers that would allow him to “call up men of fighting age, seal the borders, appoint his own government and impose curfews.”
Following up on his actions, Prime Minister Georgievsky went even further to crush the rebellion. In August of 2001, the Prime Minister used police forces under his command to raid the primarily ethnic Albanian town of Ljuboten. During this raid, 7 ethnic Albanian men were killed and several houses were torched. The atrocities committed during the raid did not go unnoticed by the global community. Although it did not happen until 2007, Georgievsky and the police official that conducted the raid would both be charged by a United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the events that occurred in Ljuboten.
The fighting conducted by the rebels eventually gave way to peace talks that were conducted at Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. The rebels wanted increased autonomy for ethnic Albanians in the governing of areas where they were in the majority. As a condition, the Macedonian government demanded immediate disarmament of the rebels before any concessions were made regarding ethnic Albanian political equality. The timing of the disarmament temporarily hindered the pursuit of peace, but when all was said and done, the Macedonian government yielded to the rebel demands and UN peacekeepers were allowed to disarm the rebels without further violence. This accord was later known as the Ohrid Agreement. The terms of the agreement were not signed into law by the Macedonian government until early 2004, but the new legislation was in accordance with the rebel demands. Later that same year, ethnic Macedonians attempted to put forth a referendum that would effectively repeal the Ohrid legislation, but it fell short of the required votes.
The rebel uprising in Macedonia by the ethnic Albanian minority is an excellent example of an armed resistance bringing about desired political change. As a result of the conflict, rebel leader, Ali Ahmeti, would go one to represent a new political party, the Democratic Union for Integration, that aimed to help protect the hard-won rights of the ethnic Albanian people. Additionally, the conflict exposed the treatment of the ethnic Albanians on the global stage to further aid their cause.