Restoring Peace and Prosperity to Macedonia
-- The Rule of Numbers

By Victor Bivell

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Macedonian version

The 2001 Albanian insurgency and terrorism in Macedonia - together with its appeasement by the international community, the one sided concessions by the Macedonian side in the Ohrid Agreement, and other national problems such as the slow pace of economic development, have left many Macedonians around the world pondering the future of Macedonia, and what they can do to help their homeland.

One of the hardest things for Macedonians to accept is that under the Ohrid Agreement the long-sought-after ideal of Macedonia as a homeland for the Macedonians has suffered a setback. Under the new Constitution, Macedonia is no longer a homeland for the Macedonians in the same way that Albania is the homeland for the Albanians and Greece the homeland for Greeks. Commentators have said the Constitutional changes mean that Macedonian society is no longer based on an “ethnic” model like its neighbours. Although the international community calls it a “civic” model, in reality it is a bi-ethnic model: before the Ohrid Agreement Macedonia was a country of one nation, the Macedonians, now it is a country of two nations: the Macedonians and the Albanians.

How did the ideal of a homeland for the Macedonians come to suffer this set back, and what can people of Macedonian background, including those who live outside of Macedonia, do to help build Macedonia into a secure, peaceful and prosperous country?

The Answer Is In The Numbers

In the absence of a military victory by the Macedonian military and a resolute response to the Albanian terrorism by the international community, the Albanian terrorists were successful in winning political concessions for the simple reason that the Albanians form a large minority within Macedonia.

In international minority politics, numbers count. Whether it is right or wrong, small minorities have small rights and large minorities have larger rights. Minorities of one to two per cent are everywhere and are unexceptional. Minorities comprising say around 10 per cent of the population, such as the Turks in Bulgaria, are large enough to cause severe international stress. The Albanians in Macedonia, at 22.7 per cent of the population, are by world standards a very large minority and this size brings certain rights and privileges not afforded to smaller minorities.

This does not excuse terrorism nor insurgency, made worse in the case of the Albanians because they were already a privileged minority by every Balkan and world standard.

But it does explain, for example, why large minorities are often allowed official use of their own language while small minorities are not.

This fact of international politics explains why the Albanians in Macedonia continually exaggerate their numbers, bandying about percentages of 30 and 40 per cent, without any regard for the most recent internationally monitored census. It also explains why Greece continues to swear against all the evidence that it is “98 per cent Greek”, and why it recognizes only a “Muslim” minority, even though the world knows there are Macedonians, Turks, Albanians, Bulgarians, Vlachs, Roma and others. It explains why the Greek Government does nothing to clarify the situation and why it does not have a question on ethnicity in its census.

As a rule, large minorities are very unpopular with governments and with majority populations, both of whom see them as representing large political and social trouble. Worse still is a situation such as that in Macedonia where there is a large minority yet the majority ethnic Macedonians, at only 66.7 per cent of the total population, are well below the level for most ethnic majority populations around the world. This is an inherently unstable situation. The point can be illustrated if we look at four multicultural countries: Australia, USA, Canada, and Fiji.

Australia has become a world leader in multiculturalism for at least two reasons: because the dominant ethnic group, in this case those of British descent, comprise about 75 per cent of the population, and secondly, while there are over 200 minority groups, the largest is only 4.3 per cent of the total population. In this model, no minority is large enough to constitute a threat to the dominant culture. This is a formula for long term peace.

In the US, white Americans form the majority at 75.1 per cent of the population, but among the minorities are two very large ones: the Hispanics and Latinos who are 12.5 per cent of the people and the African Americans who are 12.3 per cent.

These are large percentages. However, their respective political force is diminished because the populations are dispersed throughout the country. If each group were to compact itself into certain States, their right to further rights would improve. For example, if enough Hispanics were to move to say New Mexico, California or Texas where they are already strong and enough African-Americans move to say Louisiana, Mississippi or Georgia, so that each group became the majority in its chosen State or States, then they would gain new rights. Among them, if they chose to exercise it, would be the right to a referendum on independence and secession from the US.

This is in fact the situation in Canada, also a multicultural country with many ethnic groups. Those of French origin comprise about 23 per cent of the people, but they are a compact group, particularly in Quebec where 81 per cent of the population have French as their mother tongue. Already Quebec has had two referendums on independence, both failing by only a small percentage of votes.

If we take this process one step further and look at Fiji, we see a country that historically had one dominant group, the Fijians, but where under British colonialism Indian workers were brought in whose descendants since the second world war outnumbered the indigenous Fijians. In 1988 the Indians won the majority of parliamentary seats, a situation untenable for the indigenous Fijians. In the 14 years since, there have been three coups d’etat to maintain Fijian rule. After some population displacement, the current ethnic mix is 50.8 per cent Fijians and 43.7 per cent Indians.

The Macedonian Model

How does Macedonia fit into this model? The majority Macedonians comprise 66.7 per cent of the population, the Albanians 22.7 per cent, and the other minorities are less than 4 per cent each. Furthermore, the Albanians are compacted into the north west of the country and form the majority in Tetovo and Gostivar and some smaller localities. This is a situation conducive to long term political instability, particularly as current demographics indicate an increase in the proportion of Albanians and because the Albanians have shown a willingness to use ethnic cleansing of Macedonians to further compact their community.

The roots of Macedonia’s demographic dilemma lie in the influx into Macedonia of 150,000 Albanians from Kosovo in the 1970s and 80s. Had this not happened, Albanians would comprise around the 12.5 per cent of the population as they did in 1961, a large minority but not sufficient to threaten political stability or Macedonia as the Macedonian homeland.

The converse is that the percentage of ethnic Macedonians has fallen from 71.2 per cent in 1961 to the current 66.7 per cent. Compare this with say Slovenia where the Slovenians are 88 per cent of the population. The Slovenian homeland is secure, and free of ethnic divisions they have been able to get on with the serious business of economic development.

Clearly, the Macedonian politicians have been negligent in allowing the proportion of ethnic Macedonians to fall to such a dangerously low level and the proportion of ethnic Albanians to rise to such a high level. The following chart places into an international context just how diluted has become the ethnic Macedonian population in Macedonia.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that the stability of the country has now been shaken by terrorism, insurgency and near civil war between the two groups.

Comparing Ethnic Majorities in Their Homelands



% of Total


% of Total












































Mainland Chinese







United Kingdom











White Americans


Hispanics & Latinos



British descent









Sri Lanka





Macedonia (1961)






Greek Cypriots


Turkish Cypriots


Macedonia (1994)





Northern Ireland




















Source: Victor Bivell, based on ...
    • Australian Bureau of Statistics
    • NSW Government
    • US State Department
    • and various national census agencies

While the majority numbers for Albania and Bulgaria are likely overstated, they indicate the relative ethnic strength of two of Macedonia’ neighbouring countries.

The international comparison shows that, like Macedonia, many small countries are homeland states for their ethnic majorities, but unlike Macedonia they are not threatened by a diminishing majority or rising minority. The size of the majority is sufficient to secure its homeland.

Countries where this is not so are Fiji, which has suffered extreme political and social instability, and Malaysia which has had to resort to numerous affirmative action programs to preserve the majority’s position within its homeland.

Sri Lanka, where the Tamils are 18 per cent of the population, has suffered many years of civil war between the two ethnic groups.

Also interesting is the situation in Croatia where the Serbians where a 12.5 per cent minority until the recent civil war which saw their numbers fall to 4.5 per cent.

Belgium is an interesting case where peace between the Dutch speaking Flemings and French speaking Walloons is maintained by a Federal system and ethnically based autonomous economic regions.

A country’s political and social stability are also affected by how ethnically assertive or even aggressive is the minority, and by the attitudes of the majority.

However, as the chart shows, it is a general rule that the presence of a dominant ethnic majority is a factor for social stability.

The Way Forward

There is a clear need for Macedonia to achieve long term political and ethnic stability, and the international comparison shows that achieving these can be assisted by increasing the proportion of the majority Macedonian population to a level in line with other successful multicultural societies.

What that level should be is a decision for the Macedonian leadership and the Macedonian people. It would be interesting indeed to see the Macedonian people have such a public discussion.

For my own part, I believe a safe level would be a minimum of 75 per cent of the total population, as this would bring Macedonia in line with the Australian model, which I believe is world’s best practice.

Such a level would deliver many significant benefits. It would:

* Clearly secure Macedonia as the Macedonian homeland

* Help to avoid civil war with the Albanians

* Restore harmony between the ethnic groups

* End forever Macedonian concerns over the Albanians becoming the majority

* Make it easier for Macedonians to make available high level rights to the minorities, including the Albanians.

* Provide a dramatic boost to the economy and economic development.

How To Achieve It?

How such an increase is achieved should also be part of the discussion. For example, it need not be achieved through a reduction in Albanian numbers, although there exist internationally acceptable options if this is desired. Rather, it could be achieved relatively quickly through an influx of ethnic Macedonians from the diaspora.

No precise numbers exist for the size of the Macedonian diaspora, but it is credibility estimated on the conservative side at between 1.5 to 2 million and on the generous side at 3 to 4 million including those who have given up or lost their Macedonian consciousness. Certainly there are sufficient to achieve almost any target. The real problem is motiving a significant number of them to return to Macedonia.

So far the Macedonian Government has shown no inclination to use population policy to achieve political stability. Should this attitude continue, the policy can still be implemented by the Macedonian people, although it will take longer to achieve.

There are many expatriate Macedonians who are very willing to return, and many ethnic Macedonians from outside the Republic who would like to move to Macedonia. It happens continually. Many others would do so with only the slightest encouragement. Many feel a strong desire to help their homeland, and some of these may respond to the idea that they can help Macedonia by simply returning home, by having their feet on the ground and being a Macedonian in Macedonia.

But there are many others who would like to return but see no future for themselves in Macedonia, due mainly to the limited employment opportunities. Ironically, Macedonia’s level of economic development makes it a land of opportunity, and the growth of existing businesses and the formation of new businesses are areas where returning Macedonians would have both the ideas and the capital to make a big impact. There are many successful business people and professionals in the diaspora who could provide a real economic impetus if they could be enticed into establishing a business in Macedonia.

In addition, the large influx of Macedonians would immediately boost demand and therefore employment, enhance the country’s pool of capital and skills, and increase the formation of new businesses.

In this way, if it chooses, the Macedonian diaspora can play a substantial and even a decisive role in resolving the ongoing political tension between the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority, and also speed up the pace of economic development and reduce the related social problems of high unemployment and poverty.

This is one way to help bring peace and prosperity to Macedonia and secure its long term future.

Published in Australian Macedonian Weekly 2 July 2002


© Copyright, July 2002