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24th Sep 2022

EU dismayed as Macedonia crisis reignites

  • The decision prompted stone-throwing crowds in Skopje on Tuesday, amid warnings of further violence (Photo: Zlatevska DNEVNIK)

The Macedonian president’s snap decision to pardon everybody under investigation for electoral fraud has reignited a political crisis in his country - a front-line state in the EU refugee crisis.

Gjorge Ivanov on Tuesday (12 April) issued a blanket amnesty for all suspects under investigation by a special prosecutor.

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The decision lets off the hook senior figures from the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, such as former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, but also from the opposition SDSM party, including party leader Zoran Zaev.

Most of the people concerned had been implicated in helping to rig local and general elections in 2011 and 2014 in revelations contained in a wire-tap leak.

Zaev is on trial by a local court for missuse of funds in the Strumica municipality where he is mayor.

Ivanov, who hails from the VMRO-DPMNE camp, said on TV: “I am convinced that this is a big step forward toward reconciliation, and that this will help in creating an atmosphere for normal political and democratic competition.

"I've decided to put an end to the agony and, metaphorically speaking, to cut a knot.”

The special prosecutor had been created last year as part of an EU and US-brokered deal, the Przino Agreement, to end political deadlock between the VMRO-DPMNE and the SDSM.

The EU had hoped that the deal, which also covered electoral reform, would pave the way for an election in June.

Zaev on Tuesday denounced Ivanov’s decision as a “coup d’etat”.

SDSM supporters also gathered outside Ivanov and VMRO-DPMNE’s offices, local media report. They chanted “No justice, no peace!” and threw stones at the buildings.

VMRO-DPMNE supporters held a counter-protest outside the SDSM’s headquarters.

The VMRO-DPMNE’s junior coalition partner, the DUI, representing the ethnic Albanian minority, also urged Ivanov to reverse his decision.

“He has taken the crisis into an unpredictable situation,” Artan Grubi, a senior DUI member of parliament, told EUobserver from Skopje on Wednesday.

Grubi said that the potential collapse of the Przino accord could lead to “violence… between supporters of the two major political parties and between Macedonia’s two different ethnic groups”.

Elections in doubt

The SDSM’s Zaev had already said he would boycott the June vote because of stalled electoral reform.

But Grubi said the DUI was willing to take part in the election because it was the “only solution” to the crisis.

“The country has been suffering for two years already - nothing is functioning. Academia, business, the state administration are all paralysed,” he said.

“Zaev must put the interests of the country before the interests of his party.”

The EU and the US condemned Ivanov’s decision.

EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said the pardons were “not in line with my understanding of rule of law”.

“In light of these developments, I have serious doubts if credible elections are still possible,” he said.

The EU foreign service called on all sides “to avoid interventions that risk undermining years of efforts within the country and with the support of the international community to strengthen the rule of law”.

The US embassy in Skopje said Ivanov’s decision raised “serious concerns about Macedonia’s commitment to the rule of law”.

Migrants

Macedonia is on the front line of the EU’s attempts to control irregular flows of migrants from Turkey, via Greece and the Western Balkans, to Europe.

It recently followed Austria’s lead on closed borders by slamming shut its frontier with Greece, causing a build-up of tens of thousands of people in its southern neighbour.

Turkey has extracted political concessions from the EU in return for reducing the flow of people to Greece.

The ruling VMRO-DPMNE in Macedonia is in a weaker position because if it reopened its border the refugees would get stuck in Macedonia due to Serbia’s border clampdown.

Asked by EUobserver if Ivanov and the VMRO-DPMNE are also trying to use migrants to force EU appeasement, the DUI’s Grubi said: “I don’t think so.”

“I don’t know what Ivanov was thinking … but perhaps he had a naive idea that if he pardoned everyone it would create equal ground for the [June] elections.”

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