Ethnic ‘Balancer’ for Government Jobs Becomes Focus of Ethnic Division

After drawing up a plan for 20 hires this year by the city administration, the head of the municipal personnel department plugged it into the Balancer — a website run by the government of the Balkan nation of North Macedonia.

Seconds later, he received a chart giving the mandatory ethnic breakdown of the people to fill the jobs: 16 ethnic Albanians, three ethnic Macedonians and one Roma.

The computer-generated quotas, which match the size of different communities in the heavily ethnic Albanian city of Tetovo, in the country’s northwest, are part of one of the world’s most comprehensive and rigidly mathematical government programs aimed at enforcing ethnic diversity through affirmative action.

It is also deeply contested. Critics say it puts ethnicity above merit, while supporters credit it with helping to pull the country back from ethnic civil war. Both sides agree the program has become riddled with fraud, especially as ethnic-based political parties try to game the system, and that it and other efforts to promote diversity have contributed to the proliferation of unnecessary state sector jobs.

Many in the ethnic Macedonian majority see such efforts as unfair social engineering, contributing to a big election win on May 8 for a nationalist-tinged political party, VMRO-DPMNE, that appeals mainly to the majority and has pledged to scrap the Balancer.

North Macedonia tipped into a brief but bloody conflict in 2001 when ethnic Albanian militants, aided by fighters from Kosovo, took up arms against the majority population of ethnic Macedonians.Credit…Byron Smith for The New York Times

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