Macedonia is stuck. Few, if any, disagree. Macedonia is poor. There are very few jobs. It is isolated internationally. Its EU accession process has lost all credibility.
The important question, for EU ministers and Macedonian leaders, for civil society and Macedonian citizens, is: what is to be done?
ESI has been investigating different aspects of the Macedonian crisis for more than a decade. We studied the effects of deindustrialisation, from Kumanovo to Kicevo. We looked at the crisis of the countryside, from Zajas to Klechovce. We interviewed entrepreneurs, from Tetovo to Stip.
We studied Macedonia's efforts to reform. We interviewed politicians, presidents, prime ministers, mayors as well as civil servants. We studied how Macedonia implemented the Ohrid Peace Agreement, put together a credible EU accession application, and overcame European scepticism to obtain visa-free travel.
We also looked at Macedonia's fraught relations with Greece. We worked with Greek and Macedonian officials when Macedonia submitted an application for EU membership. We made concrete proposals on how to overcome the name dispute.
One decade later, we arrive at a sobering conclusion. At different times since 2000, Macedonia has surpassed expectations: in 2001, when political leaders – aided by the EU and NATO – pulled the country back from the brink of civil war; in the subsequent years, when the country's leaders accepted difficult compromises in order to maintain the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement; and again in 2009, when Macedonia emerged as the regional front-runner in implementing reforms required to achieve visa free travel to the Schengen area.
And yet, any successes or breakthroughs were never enough to put the country on a clear reform path that would overcome its poverty, isolation, polarised politics and lack of perspective. Today, in 2014, all roads appear cut off. The one thing most Macedonians (and outside observers) can agree on is that the situation is bad, that it is unlikely to get better soon, and that very little depends on what is being done by Macedonians themselves.
And so, in the past year, we decided to take another look. We returned to Kicevo and Kumanovo, Tetovo and Stip. We talked again to government and opposition, Albanians and Macedonians, journalists and think tankers, entrepreneurs and diplomats. And we drafted a paper that suggests a way forward.