North Macedonia – Macro-drivers of radicalisation and violent extremism

07 September 2021

The former southernmost Yugoslav federal unit Republic of North Macedonia got its independence after the successful referendum in September 1991. Even though successful at encircling the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, a violent conflict between the Macedonian security forces and the Albanian radicals broke out in 2001.1 After the insurgence, settled with the so-called Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA), a power-sharing model was introduced in the state which is now applauded in the scholarly literature (Bieber, 2008; Ilievski & Wolff, 2011; Horowitz, 2014). Just five years after the conflict, there was a rightist political shift, followed by a decade-long amplification of the ethno-centred, exclusivist discourses in the public sphere within both dominant ethnic-political camps in the state: Macedonian and Albanian. The key juncture in North Macedonia’s recent history is certainly the state’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a full member state in March 2020. The steps forward in the state’s European Union (EU) integration will culminate with the opening of the highly-anticipated association negotiations. This breakthrough came after the Greco-North Macedonia Prespa Agreement from 2018 and the Bulgarian-North Macedonia Friendship Treaty from 2017. Amid the focus on the good-neighbourly relations, the two accords broached security-related issues: both were signed in the name of strengthening the regional security and project closer inter-state cooperation within the United Nations (UN), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, among others.

The present paper is part of the CONNEKT research project and aims at mapping the macro-level drivers of radicalisation in North Macedonia. It dwells upon the new institutionalism theory and triangulates a set of 20 expert interviews with a close reading of the relevant institutional discourses and secondary literature on radicalisation and violent extremism in North Macedonia. New institutionalism is employed as a theoretical model that allows a better understanding of the individual agency in politics and policy-making, as well as the norm diffusion in institutional work (more in March & Olsen, 2006). As for the profile of the interviewed experts, we approached 11 representatives of the relevant governmental institutions, six experts from the civic sector and three experts affiliated with academic and research-oriented institutions. The interviews were conducted in the course of October, November and December 2020 as one-on-one online or in-person interviews, or via a specially designed online questionnaire (an online researcher-administered survey). As for the paper’s structure, we discuss the findings in separate sections, each of them related to a pre-assigned set of seven drivers of radicalisation. Before proceeding with the discussion, we will present a brief contextual overview of violent extremism in post-2001 North Macedonia, a literature survey of the most relevant publications, as well as an overview of the institutional setting in the state.

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