State-sharing through power-sharing’: accepting the ethnic divide. The Republic of North Macedonia 20 years after the Ohrid Framework Agreement.

Arianna Piacentini


Arianna Piacentini obtained her PhD in Sociology and Methodology of Social Re-search at the University of Milan in 2018. Her researches focus on ethnically divided societies, power-sharing, nationalism, patronage politics as well as patron-clients relations. She has been Visiting Researcher at the University of Cambridge (UK), SS. Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje (MK), University of Sarajevo (BiH), as well as Research Fellow at the CAS SEE University of Rijeka (Croatia), and Post-Doc Researcher at EURAC Research, Bolzano (South Tyrol, Italy).

Dr. Piacentini is currently Post-Doc Researcher at the University of Milan (Italy), and Visiting Scholar at Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK), at the Centre for the Study of Ethnic Conflict.


The Republic of North Macedonia is a young state populated by two main groups, ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, next to which live other smaller groups. Although Macedonia is ranked among the so-called ‘divided societies’, the consociational model of democracy allowed its groups to share power, make the system function and avoid tensions. Yet the path towards consociationalism has not been easy, and frustrations and dissatisfactions do remain on both main groups’ sides. The article discusses origins, features, and consequences of the implementation of power-sharing mechanisms in Macedonia and, by using the concept of ‘state sharing’, reflects on the equilibrium stemming from an interplay between elites’ behaviours, collective frustrations, ethnic divisions, and power-sharing mechanisms.



The Republic of North Macedonia (hereafter Macedonia) is a young state whose population has historically been characterised by ethnic, religious and linguistic heterogeneity: next to the majority group constituted by ethnic Macedonians, smaller groups coexist in the same territory, and  the ethnic Albanians represent the largest one[1]. The country is however ranked among divided societies, and the two main groups live quite separate lives. From a political and institutional perspective, instead, the groups share power following the consociational model of democracy (Lijphart 1977) – yet the path towards consociationalism has not been easy, and frustrations and dissatisfactions do remain on both sides. This contribution discusses origins, features, and consequences of the implementation of power-sharing mechanisms in Macedonia, and uses the provocative concept of ‘state sharing’ to denote the condition of equilibrium stemming from a peculiar interplay between ethnic elites’ behaviours, collective frustrations, ethnic divisions, and power-sharing mechanisms.


Managing Ethnic Diversity and Sharing Power: A Brief Historical Overview

The Macedonian nation- and state-building processes have for a long time faced difficulties, finding a short interruption in the Yugoslav period where, for the first time in its history, Macedonia has been recognised as a republic and the ethnic Macedonians as a constituent nation. Ethnic Albanians have, instead, not been granted the same status and political recognition in neither Yugoslavia nor in independent Macedonia. In the light of pre-existing identity’s frustrations and insecurities, when the circumstances allowed for in 1991, the ethnic Macedonians established the new state as a nation-state for and of the ethnic majority, denying ethnic Albanians (but not only) previously enjoyed rights. The discrepancy between the newly born ethnic nation-state and its population’s ethnic heterogeneity opened a dispute over the nature of the state itself, letting surface collective frustrations – soon to become tensions: from the ethnic Macedonians’ perspective, their survival as people and nation depended on both the existence of their own state, and on their numerical majority in it; from the perspective of the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, instead, their discomfort was more about status-recognition and co-ownership of the state than recognition as a national group. A decade after Macedonia’s independence, in 2001, fears and insecurities escalated into violence and, after a few-months of fighting, the four major political parties (two ethnic Macedonians, and two ethnic Albanians) signed the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) under the supervision of the European Union and Macedonia’s President. Compromises between the two parts led to constitutional changes, the official (mandatory) implementation of consociational mechanisms, and more rights to the Albanian community – eventually paving the way for a condition of stability based on ‘state-sharing through power-sharing’.


The Ohrid Framework Agreement and the Macedonian Consociation

The Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) was a rather simple document containing guidelines for the introduction of power-sharing, and it stressed the need for constitutional changes aimed to ameliorate inter-ethnic relations and bring about democracy. The OFA’s key provisions followed Lijphart’s (1977) recommendations for building a consociation – namely, a grand coalition, proportional representation, veto rights and segmental autonomy.

The creation of a grand coalition was, however, nothing new for the young republic as, since 1991, a non-written, tacit rule was followed to include both ethnic Macedonian and Albanian parties in the coalition government. In order to guarantee the equal representation of the main societal segments in all the state bodies and institutions, the OFA foresaw the implementation of ethnic quotas and gave to the ‘Ombudsperson’ the competencies for monitoring the implementation of the principle. It also established a ‘Secretariat for Implementation of the Framework Agreement’ as well as a ‘Committee for Inter‐Community Relations’ (Velickovska 2013). Nevertheless, while the equitable representation of all the main groups in the public bodies was meant to counterbalance the disproportional presence, or even marginalisation and exclusions, of minority groups[2], its practical implementation has often followed ‘informal’ criteria, nurturing ethno-clientelistic networks (Piacentini 2019b). The Framework Agreement also introduced a double majority principle, the so-called Badinter principle, for laws directly affecting culture, use of language, education, personal documentation, and use of symbols (Marolov 2013). Although not made explicit, this double majority is connected to the ‘vital national interests’ and functions as a veto – another one of consociationalism’s requirement. Last but not least, while the OFA avoided federalism and territorial partitions[3] – averting a Bosnian-type situation, segmental autonomy was guaranteed by a progressive decentralisation and increase of municipalities’ autonomies[4].


From Power-sharing to State-sharing

The OFA tried to promote a civic understanding of Macedonia, increase all groups’ participation and representation in the state, discourage ethnic politics and zero-sum games while favouring political compromise and inter-ethnic dialogue. The implementation of its provisions and power-sharing mechanisms, however, had the effect of stressing the bi-national rather than multinational character of the republic (Bieber 2005), failing to provide enough mechanisms of smaller groups’ rights’ protection. Inter-group antipathies, social and political cleavages, as well as ethnocentrisms, have also persisted; and collective rights and interests did, and still do, largely prevail over the individual ones. Yet divisions and collective frustrations, essentially rotating around a disagreement over nature and ownership of the state, have found a partial way out after the official implementation of consociationalism in 2001. The political representatives of the two main ethnic groups have, in fact, tacitly welcomed, exploited, and even turned into a resource what is often considered a negative outcome of consociationalism: the institutionalisation of ethnicity and the ethnic divide. By so doing, they have tacitly agreed on a manageable ethnically divided state system, sharing power and the state alike, eventually favouring stability while soothing both major groups’ frustrations – namely, a failed exclusive state ownership on the one side, and a failed official co-ownership on the other one’ (Piacentini 2019). The concept of ‘state sharing’, therefore, denotes the development of two parallel, manageable and stable, ethnic state systems – whose raison d’être is the ethnic divide itself, and whose institutional infrastructure is the consociational model of democracy.



The last few years’ ’political developments suggest Macedonia is committed in its path towards democracy and EU accession procedure, yet its society remains deeply divided along ethnic lines, and so is its political landscape. Democracy is still weak and not consolidated, and the consocial institutions and mechanisms are largely exploited by the (often corrupted) ethnic political elite. Moreover, while immediately after the end of the ‘Gruevski’s era’ democratic hopes were high, the country’s ‘way of doing politics’ overall remains ethnic, and ethnicity institutionalised and greatly politicised. Put it differently: twenty years after the OFA and the introduction of power-sharing provisions, it is clear that the ethnic divide – instead of being overcome as hoped for by the OFA, has paradoxically turned into a key stabilising feature of the ‘shared’, unofficially bi-national, Republic of North Macedonia. And while ‘state-sharing through power-sharing’  allowed for stability, we can fairly say it also paved the way for the capturing of the state itself (Džankić 2018; Keil 2018) – eventually and once again demonstrating the limits and democratic deficit intrinsic to consociationalism itself.


[1] According to the last census of the population, ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians represent, respectively, the 64,2% and 25,2% of the society. See Census of Population, Households and Dwellings 2002

[2] See VV.AA. 2016. Life and Numbers. Equitable ethnic representation and Integration at the workplace. Skopje: European Policy Institute (EPI);

[3] areas of strong political influence were and are present, as ethnic Albanians live mostly in Western Macedonia while ethnic Macedonians in the rest of the country

[4] The Law on Territorial Organization of the Local Self-Government was enacted in 2002; while in 2004 the number of municipalities was reduced: this latter provision was largely opposed by ethnic Macedonians, while the ethnic Albanians saw it as a key way to ensure self-government;


Piacentini, A. 2021. ‘‘State-sharing through power-sharing’: accepting the ethnic divide. The Republic of North Macedonia 20 years after the Ohrid Framework Agreement.?’, 50 Shades of Federalism



Bieber F. 2005. ‘Partial Implementation, Partial Success: The Case of Macedonia’, in Power Sharing: New Challenges for Divided Societies, O’Flynn I., D. Russell (eds.), London: Pluto Press, 107–122

Census of Population, Households and Dwellings 2002

Džankić J. 2018. ‘Capturing contested states. Structural mechanisms of power reproduction in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro.’ Southeastern Europe, 43:1, 83-106

Keil S. 2018. ‘The business of state capture and the rise of authoritarianism in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia’, Southeastern Europe, 43:1,  59-82

Lijphart A. 1977. Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

Marolov D. 2013. ‘Understanding the Ohrid Framework Agreement’,  in Civic and Uncivic Values in Macedonia. Values Transformation, Ramet S:P., O. Listhaug, A. Simkus (eds.), New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 134–154

Piacentini A. 2019. ‘State’s Ownership and State-Sharing. The role of Collective Identities and the Socio-Political Cleavage between Ethnic Macedonians and Ethnic Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia.’ Nationalities Paper,  47:3, 461–476

Piacentini A. 2019b. ‘“Trying to fit in”: multi-ethnic parties, ethno-clientelism and power sharing in Bosnia Herzegovina and Macedonia.’ Nationalism and Ethnic Politics,  25:3, 273–290

Velickovska G., 2013. Implementation of the principle of adequate and equitable representation: perceptions of citizens, Здружение Институт за развој на заедницата – Association Community Development Institute – CDI
Association of the Units of Local Self-Government of the Republic of Macedonia – ZELS

VV.AA. 2016. Life and Numbers. Equitable ethnic representation and Integration at the workplace. Skopje: European Policy Institute (EPI)


Further Reading

McCulloch A. 2012. ‘Consociational settlements in deeply divided societies: the liberal-corporate distinction’, Democratisation 21: 3, 501-518

Piacentini A. 2019. ‘Make Macedonia Great Again – The New Face of Skopje and the Macedonians Identity Dilemma’, in Reinventing Eastern Europe – Imaginarıes, Identities and Transformations, Doğan E. (ed.), London: Transnational Press, pp. 77-94

Ramet S.P., O. Listhaug, A. Simkus (eds.) 2013. Civic and Uncivic values in Macedonia. Values transformation, New York: Palgrave Macmillan


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