Tuesday

18th Jun 2019

Opinion

Breaking Macedonia's vicious circle

  • Skopje: "Citizens have become hostages in this depressing scenario" (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)

Like its Balkan neighbours, Macedonia is no stranger to street unrest.

Lately, Nikola Gruevski’s conservative cabinet has faced waves of protest. But last Tuesday tensions spiralled out of control as youth threw eggs at the faux-neoclassical facade of the government headquarters - a proud example of the so-called Skopje 2014 project populating the capital with reminders of Alexander the Great’s timeless glory.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Riot police arrived promptly at the scene. But the crackdown only strengthened the resolve of student activists who pledged to come back – as they did the evening after. Shouting “resignation!” at the top of their lungs, the protesters are clearly not in the mood for giving up.

Popular anger has been building following the recordings released by Zoran Zaev, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, which implicate Gruevski and his closest entourage in wiretapping journalists, manipulating elections, and deploying the police to harass opponents.

The authorities and their media allies are doggedly fighting back - blaming it all on the machinations of foreign security services and the billionaire financier George Soros, a favourite scapegoat.

Zaev is facing criminal proceedings. But if the intention was to mute discontent it clearly did not work.

Anger exploded with fresh vigour after the latest “bomb”, as the recordings have been dubbed, showed the prime minister discussing with top officials from the interior ministry the alleged cover-up of the murder of 21-year old Martin Neshkovski by a policeman in June 2011.

The dramatic escalation should not surprise anyone. Macedonia has long resembled a pressure cooker.

The country is trapped in a vicious circle, where the Greek veto on its EU accession cements self-styled defenders of national honour in power. The outside world cares little unless the spectre of inter-ethnic conflict rears its head.

But Gruevski has expertly played off rival Albanian parties, using his control over the public sector spoils to ensure they are brought into line. Citizens have become hostages in this depressing scenario.

Shared blame

Though the VMRO-DPMNE government (ruling since 2006) may be seen as the main culprit, the opposition shares the blame.

Zaev is to be credited with doing a service to transparency and accountability, but he and his associates lack credibility. It was not Gruevski who invented the governance model melding high-level corruption, clientelism, and the misuse of the state’s repressive apparatus.

He simply perfected what the Social Democrats had developed while they were at the helm in the 1990s. In Branko Crvenkovski, former prime minister and president, Gruevski has a convenient bugbear anytime he faces graft accusation.

More to the point, there is a divergence between the horizontal activist networks and the main opposition party eager to harness the anti-government wave. Zaev’s call to protestors to keep their powder dry until he, as the high commander, summons them for a large-scale rally on 17 May has provoked dismay.

To its credit the EU has woken up to the fact that Macedonia is in danger. Sadly, it is also part of the problem too. With lots of good intentions, Brussels hosted talks by the two main parties with MEPs Ivo Vajgl, Richard Howitt and Eduard Kukan, acting as mediators at the behest of neighbourhood commissioner Johannes Hahn.

But that has played in the hands of Gruevski in defusing crisis and dodging responsibility.

Casting the crisis to a duel between the VMRO-DPMNE and the Social Democrats confirms the government narrative and marginalises a recalcitrant civil society. Which, of course, is at the end of the day the constituency pushing for the kinds of democratic values championed by the EU itself.

Are we witnessing the fresh sprouts of a “Macedonian Spring” or a Maidan (or rather “megdan”, to use the Turkish original which is current in Balkan languages)?

Some have floated the idea of a transitional government in the lead-up to free and fair elections scrutinised by the EU. Then again, there is the Turkish scenario, with Gruevski following Tayyip Erdogan’s 2013 clampdown of the Gezi Protests and winning power once again in future, carefully timed and prepared, polls.

Such a development would no doubt deepen Macedonia’s isolation, though the government will surely continue to pay lip service to EU accession.

Influential EU member states should step in, whether publicly or behind the scenes, to draw red lines to Gruevski and negotiate a roadmap out of the crisis.

The so-called Berlin Process involving the Western Balkans and the EU is the right platform, with a summit in Vienna due in August. But this is only a short-term fix.

Two conditions

There are two conditions for long-term progress.

First, civil society should use its newly found strength to hold authorities to account, whoever happens to be in power.

Second, Macedonia, once a frontrunner in the Western Balkans, should start accession talks sooner rather than later. That might be far from the bitter political realities of the day.

However, if I were Alexis Tsipras, the Greek PM, I would certainly recognise fellow souls in the youth marching down the streets of Skopje and think again.

Dimitar Bechev is visiting fellow at the European Institute, London School of Economics and author of Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Macedonia

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Macedonia violence prompts EU appeal for calm

The EU, the US, and Nato have urged calm in Macedonia after a firefight with “terrorists” in which 22 people died and which threatens to ignite ethnic tension.

Tens of thousands urge Macedonia PM to go

Tens of thousands of protestors on Sunday called for the resignation of Macedonian leader Gruevski - the biggest demonstration in 24 years of independence.

Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comin currently live outside Spain. They were prosecuted for the serious crimes, and they have fled justice. It is not possible to judge in absentia in Spain, where the justice system protects the rights of defendants.

News in Brief

  1. Romanian ex-PM frontrunner to head new liberal group
  2. France, Germany and Spain in fighter jet deal
  3. Tusk grilled in Poland over role as PM
  4. Italy is 'most credible' US partner in EU, says Salvini
  5. EU blames Sudan junta for killings and rapes
  6. Report: EU may suspend Turkey customs union talks
  7. Swiss stock exchange could lose EU access in July
  8. Austria's Strache will not take up EU parliament seat

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. Macron and Mogherini decline to back US accusation on Iran
  2. EU summit must give effective answer on migration
  3. Spain's Garcia set to be next Socialist leader in parliament
  4. Erdogan mocks Macron amid EU sanctions threat
  5. The most dangerous pesticide you've never heard of
  6. 'Russian sources' targeted EU elections with disinformation
  7. Top EU jobs summit dominates This WEEK
  8. EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us