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14th Apr 2024

Mob storms Macedonian parliament

  • Macedonian parliament after a paint attack in 2016 (Photo: John Crane)

Masked and bare-chested men stormed Macedonia’s parliament on Thursday (27 April), amid growing EU and US concerns about Balkan stability.

The men attacked Zoran Zaev, the leader of the SDSM opposition party, who was later shown on TV with a bloody gash on his head.

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They grabbed Radmila Sekerinska, an SDSM deputy, by the hair and yanked her to the ground.

They also injured three MPs from ethnic Albanian opposition parties, one of whom needed hospital treatment, and 22 police officers.

The mob of some 200 people occupied the plenary chamber until police reinforcements expelled them using flash grenades.

“There is total chaos,” a police spokesman told the Bloomberg news agency at the time.

“This is a sad day,” a spokesman for the ethnic Albanian DUI party said.

The incident was the latest escalation in a long political crisis pitting the country’s former leader, Nikola Gruevski, against Zaev and the ethnic Albanian minority.

Zaev’s SDSM and Albanian parties formed a ruling majority after recent elections.

But Gruevski and his ally Gjorge Ivanov, the Macedonian president, have refused to let them form a government despite EU and US pressure.

The attackers, which shouted nationalist and pro-Gruevski slogans, broke through police lines after Zaev’s coalition won a vote to appoint Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian MP, as parliament speaker.

Some eyewitnesses said the police acted suspiciously.

“The police let in the protesters and didn’t stop them when they started beating up the deputies”, Kalinka Gaber, an SDSM deputy, told Bloomberg.

“They are making no effort to prevent the occupation,” Andreja Stojkovski, the head of Eurothink, a think tank in Skopje, told the Financial Times newspaper.

The EU’s first reaction to the incident also highlighted police conduct.

“It is the responsibility of the police of this country to make sure that this kind of violence does not happen”, Mats Staffansson, Sweden’s ambassador to Macedonia, told press in Skopje on behalf of the EU at the time of the parliament siege.

“The interior ministry and the police must ensure the security of the parliament and its members”, the EU foreign service added in a subsequent statement.

Western officials also condemned the events on social media.

"Violence has NO place in Parliament. Democracy must run its course”, Johannes Hahn, the EU enlargement commissioner, said on Twitter.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg called for “dialogue, not violence”.

The US embassy in Macedonia said on its Facebook page: “It is critical all parties respect democratic processes and the law, and refrain from violent actions”.

Macedonia’s neighbours, Albania and Greece, voiced alarm.

Russia had not yet issued a high-level statement as of Friday morning, but its foreign ministry recently said the crisis was due to an EU and US plot to create a “greater Albania”.

The Macedonian crisis began when Zaev leaked wire-taps on Gruevski, two years ago, that could see Gruevski go to jail for corruption if his party is ousted from office.

The situation comes amid wider tensions in the Balkan region, not long after it was torn apart by ethnic warfare in the 1990s.

Britain has accused Russia of trying to stage a coup in Montenegro last year to stop it from joining Nato.

Serb nationalists in Bosnia have taken steps to split from the country by snubbing central institutions.

Russian arms deliveries to Serbia have also prompted a backlash by Kosovo, with EU and US politicians calling for more attention to the Russia’s effort to extend influence in the area.

“The coup attempt in Montenegro is an apparent example of this. It was an attempt to bring down a government elected by the people”, US senator John McCain told Voice of America Radio on Thursday after visiting the Balkans.

Hahn said last week at a speech in Princeton University in the US: “If we were to get wobbly in our commitments in the Balkans, someone else [Russia] could wrestle in - and that someone is actually already trying”.

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