Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Opinion

Amending the constitution: A historic opportunity for Macedonia

  • Ziadin Sela: 'After being beaten by dozens of mobsters, I was left for dead in the corridors of parliament'

What was bound to happen has happened. The government of Macedonia has seen ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski flee and seek political asylum in Hungary.

The farce went as far as prime minister Zoran Zaev raising the possibility of Gruevski's possible 'abduction' - annihilating what his government had left in credibility.

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This move kills the hope of our citizens that justice can prevail in this country. It seriously damages the process launched on 27 April, 2017 to permanently anchor Macedonia within the EU after we overthrew the VMRO-DPMNE/Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) regime.

At the attempted coup of 27 April 2017 – later qualified as a terrorist attack – after being beaten by dozens of mobsters, I was left for dead in the corridors of parliament.

Hundreds of hooligans, masked paramilitaries and intelligence agents were let inside the parliament by VMRO-DPMNE MPs, with a mission to eliminate Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) leader Zaev and myself.

The Alliance for the Albanians played a major role in reaching the 61 MPs needed to form a new majority.

However, the Alliance decided to leave the government after less than six months as it became clear that Zaev cannot bring the radical transformation required for the Europeanisation of Macedonia.

To the contrary, we witnessed the installation of a new state capture by SDSM-DUI as Zaev started rehabilitating corrupt politicians.

It is revealing that he appointed as his deputy in charge of EU integration, Bujar Osmani, a former Gruevski minister for health, against whom Zaev had submitted evidence of corruption to the public prosecuter in 2015 and who is now being investigated by the special prosecutor.

Impunity has led a number of current ministers to be involved with corruption cases.

Corruption also explains the failure of the 30 September referendum on the Prespa Agreement.

I had publicly warned the government that holding a referendum was both dangerous and unnecessary because it would only increase tensions among citizens, while parliament would anyhow have to amend the constitution, no matter the outcome.

EU and Nato

Despite these hesitations, we supported the referendum and voted for amending of the constitution, as strong believers that Macedonia has no other perspective besides EU and Nato.

Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the two-thirds majority secured by Zaev, relying on a number of VMRO MPs prosecuted in relation to the April 27th events and corruption cases.

Observers have raised suspicions on promises for amnesty, blackmailing and buying of MPs, involving Gruevski's head of intelligence services Sasho Mijalkov, now partly confirmed by Zaev's calls a for pardon and national reconciliation.

This must not be allowed. Macedonia doesn't need reconciliation between the SDSM, VMRO and DUI.

What it needs is an independent judiciary so that wrongdoers from all parties are brought behind bars. What Macedonia needs is a reconciliation between Albanians and Macedonians, based on an internal agreement for full equality between communities.

Three-point plan for constitution

The amendment of the constitution provides the opportunity to achieve this by addressing the below issues:

1. The constitution should define Macedonia as the state of Macedonians, Albanians and other communities that constitute it. Albanians are autochthonous in Macedonia and living on their ancestral lands. They cannot be treated as temporarily living in a Macedonian nation-state.

2. 'Citizenship', as formulated by the Prespa Agreement, as "Macedonian / Citizen of the Republic of Northern Macedonia" is unacceptable. Macedonia is established as a multi-ethnic country where citizens of different national backgrounds, including Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Roma, Aromanians and others have "Citizenship of the Republic of Macedonia" under the current constitution. Zaev's attempts to link citizenship to the Macedonian nation are offensive to the Albanians, who are not and will never be Macedonians. If the current definition of citizenship is altered, Albanians too will request the right to use their nationality next to citizenship in the form "Albanian / Citizen of the Republic of Northern Macedonia".

3. Albanian should be confirmed as the second official language of the country. It is unacceptable that "Albanian" remains a forbidden word and is referred to as "the language different from Macedonian and spoken by at least 20 percent of the population", implying a temporary right which can be suspended based on percentages.

Taking into consideration the above, I appeal on all party leaders to sit together and reach an agreement so that the new constitution addresses these problems in a truly European spirit.

This would pave the way to the establishment of a technical government that has both the legitimacy and the credibility for amending the constitution, before new elections are held.

The EU through its new enlargement strategy has set the ambitious goal of supporting a comprehensive political, economic and societal transformation of the Western Balkans.

It now has a duty to accompany the above process if it is serious about initiating accession talks with Macedonia.

Brussels should make it clear to all that cultural and linguistic diversity is at the core of the European project, as are good governance and accountability.

That means Macedonia's European integration process must not be led by politicians investigated for corruption and supported by 'terrorist' MPs in exchange for amnesty.

That also means Hungary should immediately hand over Gruevski to Macedonia.

Ziadin Sela is an MP and leader of the Alliance for the Albanians, a centre-right party established in 2015, and previously the mayor of Struga

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