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Contribution Paper #1

Skopje, 2010


Macedonia: An Example of
Democracy in a Divided Society
Kevin Bassney is currently an American student at Norwich University, Vermont. He is hoping to commission in the
US Army next year. You can contact him at

Bassney’s paper is the first one in our series of contribution papers. If you have written a paper or have an idea about one and
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Arend Lijphart in his article, “Constitutional Designs for Divided Societies,” tries to explain how to
create a functioning government in a society that is divided. Based on my experience with the
government of Macedonia, I agree with Lijphart’s analysis. In order to offer a more comprehensive
response to Lijphart’s work, I will compare his analysis against the actions taken by the Macedonian

The first argument that Lipjhart makes is that “power sharing” (Lipjhart:2) is the only type
of democracy that can work in divided societies. He then offers several other alternatives that have
either not been implemented, or when used have quickly fallen. He then states that because the
concept of power sharing has been instituted in nine countries with positive results, that
democracy based on power sharing is the only viable alternative for constitution designers.

While I am in agreement with Lipjhart that compared to various other forms of democracy,
power sharing appears to be the effective solution I believe that his analysis is not complete.
Nowhere in his analysis of a proper government does he mention any of numerous forms of
government that could exist in a society, from a dictatorship, to a theocracy, or an oligarchy. By
limiting his analysis to democracy alone I believe that Lipjhart has reduced the scope of the paper
and made it much less effective. An example of how this is limiting to his analysis is in regards to
countries such as Macedonia, who fared much more stable government and prospered much more
during the Yugoslav era, than they have in the 20 years of independence (CIA World Fact Book).

To show how Macedonia is an ideal illustration of Lijphart’s idea of a divided country, let
me first outline the ethnic makeup of the country. The Republic of Macedonia, whose population is
approximately two million, is one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the Balkans, with
approximately 25 % of the nation considers itself ethnically Albanian, with substantial portions of
the population declaring themselves to be Roma, Turks, Serbian, Vlach, Bosniak, Egyptian, Croat etc.
In fact, approximately 60% of the population considers itself to be ethnic Macedonian (CIA World

Fact Book). Because of the diverse make up of the country of Macedonia and the strong ethnic ties
most citizens hold, Macedonia fits most of the provisions of a divided society, The ethnic divisions
were best seen in 2001 when the country underwent an ethnicized military conflict between the
Albanian guerillas allegedly fighting for minority rights on one side, and the Macedonian army on
the other. The conflict was ended with the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, a document
which introduced numerous multicultural and consociationalist features in the Macedonian
political system. This makes Macedonia an ideal example to test Lipjhart’s analysis.

Lipjhart begins his paper with a basic description of his theory of how to create a stable
government in a divided society, which can be broadly defined as implementing “Power Sharing”
and “Group autonomy” in the society in question (Lipjhart:2). Throughout the course of the paper
he expands on these two topics and shows how they can be incorporated into a divided society.

The first principle that Lijphart describes, of how to construct a democracy in a divided
society, is the necessity of having a parliamentary democracy. He first expounds on several other
forms of democracy (Lipjhart: 5), but further explains that these could only be properly applied in a
homogenous society. But in a non-homogenous society, it is very difficult to maintain order among
several minority populations, due to the wide variety of concerns, from many of the different
population groups, such as insecurity and fear of oppression. A parliamentary democracy,
described by Lipjhart as a “collegial decision-making body” (Lipjhart: 6). Based on Lipjhart’s
description of a democracy, parliamentary democracy allows for the issues of the individual
ethnicities to be voiced in a peaceful and equal way. It also allows for the cabinet of the executive to
be composed of multiple groups giving more representation to minority groups. This is well
illustrated in Macedonia. Immediately upon declaring independence, the country started
consolidating its pluralistic parliamentary system.

One of the major tenets of Lijphart’s theory of “power sharing” is that proportional
representation within a parliament is necessary for a democracy to function in a divided society.
He posits that this allows for representation of the smallest, relevant minorities (Lipjhart: 5), while
making it difficult for any one minority to dominate the institution. He states that by representing
minorities through proportional representation a state is able to promote security and reduce fear
of oppression by the state. One of the major insights he makes is that by allowing for a proportional
representative system, the elections become much more party-based instead of based upon an
individual (Lipjhart Pg. 5). This makes it much more difficult for a single candidate to win an
election based upon his personality or identity. When people go to vote they are voting for a party

and not for a single personality. This makes elections much more issue based and makes it so that
emerging democracies will not become subject to a long standing dictatorship, based around a cult
of personality as has been seen in many other emerging democracies, such as in Syria with Bashar
al-Assad, Zimbabwe with Mugabe, and in Egypt with Hosni Mubarak.

Because of the ethnic differences that exist within Macedonia there are over 30 political
parties within the country (CIA world fact book: Macedonian Government). However, all parties in
the country fall into two almost identical categories as far as ideology is concerned. Most of the
different ethnicities within the country have at least two separate parties which compete for the
votes of the members of the given ethnicity., . This allows for each of the ethnic groups to have their
own representation within the country and to support their own specific causes. However because
many of the parties have very similar ideologies, it allows for a natural alliance to occur within the
government that permits for a virtual, two-party system to exist within the country. Creating a
virtual pluralistic electoral system with competing platforms that a citizen can vote for, this helps
promote, political stability within the country, as the majority of ethnic groups can unite under the
leadership of an individual party leader over their own ethnic leaders.

Another of the main points Lijphart makes is the sense of legitimacy that a prime minister brings to
a government (Lipjhart: 9). Since a prime minister is elected by parliamentarians, it allows multiple
ethnic groups to have a part in the election of the head of government. This makes him or her a
much more reputable leader, in that while he or she may belong to a specific ethnic group, he or she
is seen as being loyal to the multiple groups that put him or her into power. This allows for
multiple groups within a country to be loyal to a new leader and to support the government in
power or, if dissatisfied, an election can be called, and the leader may be removed.

One of the necessities that the creators of the Macedonian Constitution saw was that for the
country to operate, the leader of the republic had to not belong to a specific group but be a person
who was able to make the government of a very diverse country still operate. Making the prime
minister loyal to the majority of ethnic groups of a county, allows this very public figure to become
a much more unifying figure that is able to shape and implement policy. It provides for a much
more stable form of government since the majority of groups are represented in the government.
This parliamentary system also allows one of the major benefits of democracy to become more
apparent. By making it so that an elected leader is dependent on multiple groups, no one group
feels like action can be taken specifically against them, the threat of revolt is much less likely,
promoting a general sense of political security within the country that is a necessity of democracy.

This has held true in the history of Macedonia with one notable exception. In 2001 their was an
active Albanian insurrection in the country. The major cause of the revolution was the feeling
among many Albanians that they were not being accepted into mainstream Macedonian society,
and that their own Albanian representatives were not working for the benefit of there constituents.
In a short, but violent revolution the Albanian militants worked against the Macedonian
government, and brought their issues to national prominence. This lead the Ohrid Framework
Agreement of 2001, which was an attempt on the part of the government to integrate the Albanian
minority into public affairs of the state, such as recognizing the Albanian language as official
language in the areas with considerable Albanian population, and the de facto practice of the ruling
government forming a coalition with the leading Albanian party. These events show how a
government where the executive is seen as dependant to many ethnic groups is able to work across
cultural divides for the benefit of their country. This leads Lipjhart to face one of the most divisive
challenges that all constitutional designers must face the role of a president or head of state in a

Lijphart defines what he believes the role of a president should be in a divided society:
simply, a head of state and nothing else (Lipjhart: 9). He believes that the people should not even
directly elect their head of state (Lipjhart: 9), that the parliament should elect the person by a super
majority vote that would make it so that the person in power is completely apolitical, as well as
being a symbolic figure that can unify the country, an example that Lipjhart uses is the country of
Australia’s method until 1999. This allows a person to take care of all the ceremonial work of the
head of state, such as certifying ambassadors and meeting with other heads of state, while the head
of government can focus on the true governing of the country. This is the system used in most
parliamentary systems with an example being the United Kingdom, where the queen of the country
has virtually no power and is seen simply as a symbolic figure, whereas the prime minister is the
true power who holds head of government status and is able to change the course of a country’s
policy. This can be seen as preferable to the system in the United States or Mexico, where the
president of the country is the head of government and the head of state. This bogs down the
executive with ceremonial tasks, where his time could be much better spent on the actual
governance of a country. This also allows for the President to be an apolitical unify figure of the
country, whereas the head of government can be seen a political leader of faction of society.

An arguable instance where the Macedonian government differs from the model put
forward by Lijphart is the place of the president within society. In Macedonia, the president is

elected by the plurality method every 5 years and is the head of state and commander in chief of the
Macedonian military, conceivably making Macedonia a Semi-Presidential system. Historically, the
elections for the presidency have been some of the most contentious in the country’s history, such
as the 1999 elections. During the 2008 elections on another hand, there were violent incidents
which resulted with one casualty. The president, though lacking any powers besides Commander in
Chief within the government, is still a very prominent figure in Macedonian politics, due to his
ability to attract the media to himself.

Another one of the major issues that has occurred in recent years is that the president and
prime minister were of different parties. This created a very polarized environment, where the two
principle figures of a country were dividing the nation over policy. This not only divided the loyalty
of the population, but it made the military of Macedonia a very political force. In that in this
situation most decisions made on defense policy are in separate institution from the main body of
the government. This makes national security, one the key responsibilities of government, not have
an unified policy in government, especially if the president and prime minister are of different
parties. This makes an issue that in many nations is seen as apolitical, very political in Macedonia. A
modern example of this being considered an apolitical issue is President Barak Obama keeping
Republican Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense as he felt the job that this job was not dependant
on personal ideology and that Sec. Gates was more than qualified for the job. This is why I believe
that Lijphart’s analysis of presidential systems is correct (Lipjhart: 7-8).

One of the last pieces of Lijphart’s article is his advocacy of federalism and the division of
power (Lipjhart: 9). This can be seen as a necessary part of democracy in a divided society. This
allows for local problems to be dealt with by local people and for individuals to have a smaller
loyalty to their separate districts within the state. This creates a level homogeneity and for more
compact governments to exist within the state. Creating much more compact provinces allows
various ethnic groups to have a level of autonomy within the state. But this must be tempered with
appropriate loyalty of the people to the overarching state. A case in point example of where loyalty
to smaller district superseded loyalty to the country as a whole is the ongoing conflict with
Zapatista separatist guerillas in Mexico. In this case citizens of the many southern Mexican states
are attempting to separate from the country because they felt their own sovereignty were being
infringed upon by the federal government of Mexico. Therefore, in designating the specific
boundaries of the divisions of the federal government, a state should work to make it so that the
overarching power of the federal government can be assured.

This was also a focal point of government in Macedonia. By gradually decentralizing the
power of the state and delegating a lot of the responsibilities of the central government to the into
eighty four municipalities (units of the local-self government), the creators of Macedonia were able
to ensure some measure of political stability. As a result, the municipalities with predominant
population that belongs to some of the non-Macedonian ethnic groups (i.e. Albanian, Roma), are
governed by representatives of the parties of the predominant ethnicity in the particular
municipality. Furthermore, the gradual decentralization is not only reflected on power issues, but
also on financial and other aspects. This allowed the individual ethnicities to work within their own
separate communities and to not feel threatened by any outside groups. This then created some
degree of independence, but under an organized system of governance. The only major function
these municipalities lack is a separate judicial system of their own. Due to the relatively small
population of Macedonia, most judicial matters are settled by one central court.

The practices outlined by Lijphart in “Constitutional Designs for Divided Societies” can be
seen to work not only in academic theory, but also in actual practice as well. While in the specifics
of his analysis, Lijphart separates his arguments into nine bullet points, the core tenets of his theory
can be seen as three main principles: federalism, a proportional representational electoral system,
and a parliamentary system. These simple principles, if implemented well, can take small and
diverse groups of people and contribute to the fortification of the nation. I believe Lipjhart’s
analysis to be extremely useful and should if possible be implemented in many of the areas of the
world that are strife with ethnic conflict. Perhaps the simple example of Macedonia could provide a
template to help promote peace and security throughout the world.


1. Lipjhart, AL. (2004). Constitutional designs for divided societies. Journal of Democracy, 15(2), 96-

2. Macedonia. (2009). Cia world fact book. CIA World Press.