Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Macedonia PM tries to weather storm

  • EU and US-brokered talks in Brussels broke off with no deal

Nikola Gruevski, Macedonia’s 44-year old PM, portrays himself as the man who fixed his country.

He brought in foreign capital, got along with the Albanian minority, and the European Commission has long-backed the opening of accession talks.

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But he’s also responsible for creating a crisis which puts everything at risk.

Twelve hours of talks with opposition leaders and EU officials ended in Brussels on Wednesday (10 June) with no deal.

The commission is so annoyed it’s all-but washed its hands of the process.

Its next move is to send Skopje a list of “hard-hitting” rule-of-law reforms. If it doesn’t see swift action, its backing for EU entry talks could end.

“With or without the EU, we have to continue our discussions in Macedonia”, Gruevski told EUobserver on Thursday.

Zoran Zaev, the Macedonian opposition leader, said: “We made some progress, but not enough”.

“We’re caught between two fires”, Artan Grubi, an aide to Ali Ahmeti, Gruevski's Albanian coalition partner, said on the Gruevski-Zaev clash.

Wire-taps

The crisis dates to February, when Zaev began to leak a cache of intelligence wire-taps.

Wherever they come from, they reveal what EU sources call “gross … systemic abuse of power”.

They show that Gruevski rigged elections, for instance, by intimidating public sector workers to vote for him.

They also show that he used courts to attack political opponents, corruption in public tenders, and the cover-up of a police killing.

“Gruevski thinks he can weather the storm. But in any Western European country, not just the interior minister, but the whole government would have resigned”, an EU source said.

“It’s astounding that he’s still there.”

Elections

Gruevksi and Zaev had agreed, on 2 June, to hold early elections in April 2016.

But they can’t agree when Gruevski should step down.

Zaev says he should go in October so that a technocratic government can prepare a fair vote. He says if he doesn’t, the new election will be “another robbery”.

Gruevski wants to stay until the last minute.

He told this website, citing a poll by a Skopje university, that people “trust” him to prepare the new vote.

“If elections were held now, the citizens would pick us to continue to lead the country”.

Kumanovo

Things got worse in May, when Gruevski ordered a police raid on ethnic-Albanian “terrorists” in the town of Kumanovo, causing 22 deaths.

Zaev says he did it to create “fear”, masking the wire-tap scandal.

“This isn't true. It’s speculation with no-good intentions”, Gruevski noted.

He dismissed the wire-tap revelations: “Maybe some individuals out of the control of the party made some negative steps, and we’re ready to investigate this. But generally, it [abuse of power] isn’t something that was massively done”.

He has launched investigations into the wire-taps and into Kumanovo.

He says international institutions are free to “monitor” the probes. But he won't let them take part behind the scenes.

“Everybody is invited to follow the court procedure. Everybody will have acces to the information … The OSCE, for instance, is welcome to monitor the court procedure”, he said.

Absurd

The net result is that Zaev risks prison for leaking the information.

But, after four and a half months, prosecutors still haven’t made a move against any Gruevski loyalists tainted by the revelations.

Zaev told EUobserver the situation is “absurd”.

He said if Gruevski is guilty of the things the wire-taps show, then the PM should go to jail.

“If we had an independent judicial system, there would be a very powerful investigation and if it uncovered criminal activity, then everyone would be held accountable”, he noted.

“There should be no amnesties or special privileges”.

Albanians

For his part, Ahmeti, like Zaev, wants international participation in the wire-tap and Kumanovo probes.

But the Albanian leader is trying to stay out of what his aide, Grubi, called an “intra-ethnic” clash.

Whatever happens with the political crisis, Macedonia’s EU and Nato entry process is also being held up by Greece, in a decades-old name dispute.

Grubi warned that if people lose faith in accession “the crisis could shift from being intra-ethnic to inter-ethnic”.

“The euro-Atlantic path is the only thing keeping us together. Otherwise we’re just too different in terms of language, culture”, he said.

“If there’s no future in that, it endangers inter-ethnic relations, and if you endanger ethnic relations, then you make the current crisis look like a joke”.

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