North Macedonia: History


For Macedonian history prior to independence, see Macedon, Macedonia, region, and Yugoslavia.

After the elections of 1990 that put in place the first non-Communist government of the Yugoslavian constituent republic of Macedonia, the federation that had been Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. The constituent republic of Macedonia declared its independence in Sept., 1991. However, the new nation's sovereignty was not immediately recognized by the international community, largely due to Greek protests over the name Macedonia. Greece, fearing future territorial claims, wanted to further the distinction between Macedonia and Greek Macedonia. There were also tensions with Bulgaria, which recognized the new nation but had historically regarded the area as Bulgarian.

In 1993 the new nation was admitted to the United Nations under the provisional name of “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM). The United States recognized the new nation under the provisional name in 1994. Greece, however, imposed an economic blockade on the landlocked country, which already was suffering from international sanctions imposed on its biggest trading partner, Serb-dominated remnant Yugoslavia. Greece lifted the sanctions in 1995, after Macedonia had agreed to certain conditions, including a modification of its flag and a renunciation of any territorial claims against Greece. By the end of the decade, relations with Greece and Bulgaria had improved, and in 2001 Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Macedonia signed an agreement demarcating the border. The lack of a resolution of the name issue, however, continued to be a source of tension with Greece, which opposed NATO and European Union membership for Macedonia until it was resolved. In 2011 the International Court of Justice ruled that Greek opposition to Macedonian membership in NATO and the EU was in breach of the 1995 agreement.

In 1994, Kiro Gligorov was reelected president in an election boycotted by the nationalist opposition; he was gravely injured in an assassination attempt in Oct., 1995. In June, 1996, the parliament suspended the constitution and repudiated opposition calls for a referendum on holding new elections. Following elections held in 1998, a center-right coalition government was formed that included members of the Albanian minority. In the presidential election in late 1999, the center-right candidate, Boris Trajkovski, won, but the result was tainted by fraud in some areas and was denounced by his opponent. The election was partially rerun in December, and vote-rigging again occurred, but it appeared irrelevant to the outcome, as it occurred in areas strongly supportive of Trajkovski.

The country was shaken by tensions between ethnic Macedonians and the Albanian minority, which were aggravated by the influx of Kosovar Albanian refugees in 1999 (see Kosovo). Isolated incidents of violence in 1999 and 2000 became sustained battling between Macedonian forces and Albanian rebels in 2001. Although the fighting was limited, it threatened to polarize further the nation's two main ethnic groups.

An accord ending the fighting was brokered by the European Union and the United States and signed in Aug., 2001. It called for NATO troops to disarm the Albanian rebels and for the parliament to establish Albanian as a semiofficial language and guarantee the political, cultural, and religious rights of ethnic Albanians. The rebels were disarmed, the constitution subsequently amended (although some Macedonian Slav politicians opposed the changes), and an amnesty enacted for ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Elections in Sept., 2002, resulted in a near majority in parliament for the Slav-dominated center-left Together for Macedonia coalition and a sizable vote for the Democrat Union for Integration (DUI), an Albanian party dominated by the disarmed rebels. A coalition goverment including both groups was formed, and Social Democrat Branko Crvenkovski became prime minister. In Mar., 2003, European Union forces were deployed as peacekeepers in Macedonia, replacing the NATO force. President Trajkovski was killed in a plane crash in Feb., 2004. In April Prime Minister Crvenkovski was elected to succeed him, and Hari Kostov became prime minister in June.

Legislation redrawing municipal boundaries and giving more power to local councils, actions that were regarded as favoring ethnic Albanians, sparked riots in July, 2004, but was passed the next month. In Nov., 2004, a referendum on overturning the laws failed when too few Macedonians voted; the government had called for a boycott of the vote. Kostov subsequently resigned, asserting that minority rights issues were overshadowing needed reforms; Vlado Buckovski succeeded him as prime minister in December. In 2005 Macedonia was granted membership candidate status by the European Union.

In July, 2006, the center-right Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) won a plurality of seats in parliament, ousting the Social Democratic party (SDSM) from power, but necessitating a coalition with the Democratic Party of Albanians and other parties. Nikola Gruevski, of the VMRO-DPMNE, became prime minister. The election was marred by some intimidation and ballot-stuffing, but was mainly free and fair. In 2007 the DUI, unhappy at being excluded from the governing coalition despite being the largest Albanian party, boycotted parliament until the end of May. The boycott ended when the government agreed that certain laws would not be passed unless they had Albanian support.

In Apr., 2008, the continuing dispute with Greece over Macedonia's name led Greece to veto an invitation from NATO to Macedonia to join the alliance; in 2011 the International Court of Justice ruled that Greece's veto had been contrary to the 1995 agreement. The June parliamentary elections resulted in a victory for the VMRO-DPMNE but were marred by violence between rival Albanian parties in ethnically Albanian areas. The VMRO-DPMNE and DUI formed a governing coalition; Gruevski remained prime minister. Former Prime Minister Buckovski was convicted in 2008 of abuse of office when he was defense minister; the case arose out of a 2001 defense contract for tank spare parts. Buckovski denounced the verdict as politically motivated, and an appeals court ordered a retrial, but he was convicted again in 2013.

In the 2009 presidential election, Gjorgje Ivanov, the VMRO-DPMNE candidate, was elected following a runoff in April. Snap parliamentary elections in June, 2011, led to losses for the VMRO-DPMNE, but it nonetheless gained a plurality; the DUI won sufficient seats to guarantee the ruling coalition a majority, and Gruevski remained prime minister. In Dec., 2012, political conflicts over the budget and scuffles in parliament led to the ejection of opposition legislators before the passage of the budget, which had been blocked in committee, leading Crvenkovski to call for a parliamentary boycott and civil disobedience campaign. The government accused the SDSM of an attempted coup.

In Apr., 2014, the presidential runoff and early parliamentary elections resulted in victories for the VMRO-DPMNE, with Ivanov winning a second term, and the party and the DUI winning a majority of the seats. Gruevski continued as prime minister. The SDSM denounced the elections as unfair and marred by vote buying, and boycotted parliament; some aspects of the campaign and vote were criticized by European and local observers. In Feb., 2015, opposition leader Zoran Zaev began releasing leaked telephone recordings that had been illegally taped by the government; the recordings led to antigovernment demonstrations and several ministerial resignations.

In July, 2015, the four main parties reached an agreement to hold new elections in 2016 under a caretaker cabinet and to establish a special investigation into the illegal wiretapping, and the SDSM ended its parliamentary boycott in September. The process, however, remained marked by tensions over the conditions of the agreement, and when in Jan., 2016, Gruevski submitted his resignation the SDSM threatened not to participate in the April elections. Subsequently, the elections were postponed to June, and then delayed indefinitely in advance of a May constitutional court ruling that declared parliament's April dissolution unconstitutional.

In April the president issued a blanket amnesty to dozens of government and opposition leaders with respect to the wiretapping investigation, sparking protests and denunciations from government and opposition leaders and foreign governments; he revoked the pardons in May and June. Negotiations led to a new agreement on elections, and in September a caretaker government was appointed. In the Dec., 2016, elections, the VMRO-DPMNE narrowly won a plurarity but proved unable to form a government. The party subsequently worked to block formation of a government by the SDSM, but in May, 2017, Zoran Zaev became prime minister of a SDSM–led government that included two Albanian parties; additional Albanian parties later (2018) joined the coalition.

Former prime minister Gruevski was convicted of corruption in May, 2018, but fled the country in November to avoid jail, and was given political asylum in Hungary; in 2019 Hungary refused to extradite him. In June, 2018, the Macedonian and Greek governments agreed to end their name dispute concerning Macedonia, after Macedonia agreed to rename itself the Republic of North Macedonia, subject to a referendum, constitutional changes, and a number of actions by Greece including Greek approval of North Macedonia accession to NATO. Although the referendum was invalid, because only a third of voters participated, the government initiated the process of amending the constitution with the support of some opposition members of parliament and won passage of the constitutional amendments in Jan., 2019. Subsequent actions by Greece led to the country's formal renaming the next month.

In May, Stevo Pendarovski, an academic supported by the SDSM, was elected president after a runoff; he had been an unsuccessful candidate in 2014. The vote was seen as a referendum on SDSM policies, but less than half the electorate voted in the runoff. After the European Union did not set (Oct., 2019) a start date for accession talks with North Macedonia, Zaev called for early elections, which were set for Apr., 2020; a caretaker government, headed by Oliver Spasovski, the interior minister, took office in Jan., 2020.

In Mar., 2020, the country officially became a member of NATO, and the European Union agreed to open accession talks. Parliamentary elections in July gave the SDSM narrow plurality, and Zaev again formed (August) a government with the support of ethnic Albanian parties. In November, Bulgaria blocked North Macedonia's accession talks with the EU over history and language issues that had previously plagued their relations.

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