When Open Society began work in Macedonia in 1992, it found itself immediately engaged in the profound crisis facing the newly independent country. Greece and Serbia were blockading Macedonia’s borders, angry over its decision to break from Yugoslavia; the violent collapse of Yugoslavia was stirring up ethnic tensions, and some even suggested the country would not survive as an independent state. With the government in financial crisis, the new local foundation responded, supplying essential medical supplies as well as fuel oil for schools, and providing export assistance for farmers.
The Yugoslav war ended in 1995, but in 2001 a new domestic crisis flared over a developing conflict between the government and leaders of the sizeable ethnic Albanian minority. When a settlement was agreed, once again the foundation stepped forward—quickly helping to fund a drive by civil society groups to promote reconciliation, and to keep the public informed about the new deal.
Broadly, beyond Macedonia’s specific challenges, the work of the foundation mirrored its work elsewhere in the former Communist countries of East and Central Europe: funding modernization and reform in health and education; promoting Roma development; and supporting civic engagement and advocates for government accountability. Funding levels had declined significantly from the levels seen in the 1990s. But the foundation remains committed to Macedonia’s social and economic development, and its stability.
Nine facts about Macedonia and the Open Society Foundations:
- When he named the Foundation Open Society–Macedonia in 1992, George Soros became one of the first international figures to recognize the newly independent state by its constitutional name. He subsequently personally lobbied for international recognition and support for the new state—and its name.
- More than 700 citizens from the Republic of Macedonia have received scholarships from the Open Society Foundations for university studies abroad, including at the Central European University in Budapest.
- In addition to $98.7 million in funding provided from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, our Macedonian foundation has raised an additional $35 million from the United States, Switzerland, France, the European Union, and others since 2000 to support development work in Macedonia.
- When the global economic crisis erupted in 2008, the foundation provided $1.9 million in emergency funds to help small entrepreneurs, farmers, and citizens. This included cooperating with the government of prime minister Nikola Gruevski to provide backpacks and school materials for more than 19,000 children.
- In 1993, as newly independent Macedonia faced a catastrophic economic crisis, our founder loaned $25 million to the government to buy heating oil for schools—the first loan of its kind to the new government.
- In 1993–4, with the land route through Serbia and Greece closed, Open Society helped to organize and fund 40 airlifts of farming produce—primarily grapes, apricots, and tomatoes—to Slovenia. The next year, we helped set up a so-called Green Corridor that allowed goods to be driven to Albanian ports and shipped to Croatia and Slovenia.
- After the 2001 conflict, the foundation procured new transmitting and antenna systems for radio and television stations damaged during the fighting, making it possible to spread news of the new settlement and promote national unity.
- Since 1992, Open Society has spent around $9 million on training and equipping journalists and independent news outlets.
- After Macedonia started on the road towards EU membership in 2001, the foundation began supporting efforts to bring the civil service, the police, and the judiciary in line with the standards required by Brussels.