A proposal to roll back decentralization in Macedonia has failed in a peaceful referendum. The outcome was a clear victory for Macedonia's multi-ethnic government. Teuta Arifi is a member of the Democratic Union for Integration, an ethnic Albanian party that is part of the governing coalition. She said the referendum was "a choice between voting to go back to the past or look[ing] ahead to the future. People are clearly looking to the future," said Mrs. Arifi.
The United States and members of the European Union believed the proposal set forth in the referendum would have undermined Macedonia's 2001 peace agreement. The Ohrid Framework ended months of armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and government security forces. One of the centerpieces of the accords is decentralization -- the gradual turnover of increased power to local Macedonian authorities. Decentralization will strengthen local government in Macedonia, making it more efficient and accountable. In defeating the proposal, Macedonia's citizens have reaffirmed their desire to build a democracy in which citizens of all ethnic communities can fully participate at the local and national levels.
The U.S. strongly supports a multi-ethnic, democratic Macedonian state, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher:
"The United States, the European Union, and NATO have been working for years to bring lasting stability to the Balkans. The key to Macedonia's future remains the Ohrid Framework Agreement signed by major political party leaders in 2001. Macedonia's multi-ethnic government coalition has worked to finish implementing this agreement and the final pieces are now being put into place."
The Macedonian government has shown courage in supporting the rights of the country's minorities, including ethnic Albanians. This will help bring Macedonia closer to NATO and European Union membership. Macedonia's success is in the interest of its neighbors and the U.S. As Mr. Boucher said, "Macedonia is an important and steadfast partner of the United States in the global war on terrorism, contributing troops to coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan."