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13:43, 26 September 2017 Tuesday
Update: 03:04, 30 April 2017 Sunday

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Macedonia in grip of new crisis
Macedonia in grip of new crisis

Protests at parliament shows that Macedonia is once more facing deep political lockdown and internal weakness

Jahja Muhasilovic

 

On Thursday Macedonia faced yet another serious crisis. A group of angry protesters stormed the Parliament building, injuring almost 100 people inside, most of them members of opposition parties. How did this crisis unfold?

- The reasons for political deadlock in Macedonia

For almost two months the Macedonian political elite has been unable to form a government. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the nationalist party of ethnic Macedonians, won a majority of votes in the last elections. The Socialist Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) came second. But neither party had enough votes to form a government on their own. None were able to continue without forming a coalition government. One of the two strongest players on the Macedonian political scene was forced to knock at the door of Albanian parties in search of a coalition partner.

The SDSM decided to make a coalition with various Albanian parties to form an effective government against the dominance of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE in parliament. The VMRO-DPMNE was now on its own, but kept preserving the critical presidential position, as Gjorge Ivanov comes from VMRO-DPMNE.

Ivanov blocked any opposition attempt to form a government by resisting signing any serious move in that direction. He and the VMRO-DPMNE stalled a solution for months. As the crisis was dragging on, on Thursday, the opposition decided to put to an end to the deadlock by electing an Albanian politician, Talat Xhaferi, speaker of parliament.

Outside the parliament an angry mass of VMRO-DPMNE supporters gathered to protest this move by the opposition. As an ethnic Albanian was elected to the position of speaker, Macedonian nationalists entered the building, beating politicians from the opposition. Some analysts even accuse the police of not stopping the protesters in their attempt to storm the building.

Among the injured was the leader of the main opposition party Zoran Zaev, and many other politicians, a large number coming from Albanian parties. Some were even heavily injured. Images of opposition leader Zaev and MPs covered in blood sent message to the world that the Republic of Macedonia cannot continue this way anymore and it is time for deep reforms to be implemented on the fragmented country.

 

-What does this crisis mean for the future of Macedonia and the region?

Ljubomir Frčkovski, ex-Foreign and Interior Minister of Macedonia, told Aljazeera Balkans that this crisis doesn't have the connotation of ethnic violence and it is yet another political turbulence. He believes that it will not lead to ethnic turmoil. Maybe Frčkoski is right in his projections. But one thing is for sure, reflection of ethnic tensions had negative impact on political scene and all this played an important role for the situation to evolve into something that we have today.

Macedonia in its post-Ohrid agreement years, is slowly crumbling under the pressure of the constrained system that fear of ethnic violence has created. In this period which is lasting for more than a decade, we witness few ‘serious alarms’ that clearly have proven something should be done as soon as possible to keep this country as a whole. Some would remember that just two years ago, angry citizens of Kumanovo town, which belong to Albanian ethnic community, have arisen in arms quite literary against Macedonian security forces. This was their method to demonstrate their discontent with political and economic conditions that country found itself in the recent years. Incident that has happened this Thursday might be yet another alarm. Fortunately crisis has calmed down, at least for now. But we are not sure if there will be going to be another alarm that will be solved this quickly. Definitely all the parties should sit around the table to find the solution as clock is ticking.

 

- Playground for the game between EU and Russia

Macedonia is a country that is deeply divided along ethnic, religious and cultural lines. All this would not be a problem, if political scene didn’t look like an ethnic battleground. For the outside observers, country looks as a ‘tribal union’, where the main objective for political parties is to provide enough voice for their ethnic community. In this ‘political unculture’, the understanding of Macedonia as common homeland is under the attack.

This recent incident clearly caused by reluctant and selfish attitude of VMRO-DPMNE was clearly a demonstration what can happen to Macedonia if political parties do not find common language and consensus. On the other hand, it would be wrong to search for the causes of the problems just inside Macedonian political spectrum. Clearly there are geopolitical reasons as well that caused the problem to evolve into what we have today.

It was long time ago when Macedonia won the candidate status for entering the EU. But this was all that this country has got from Brussels. Remaining only a candidate does not satisfy the needs of common Macedonians. Reluctance coming from Brussels for helping Macedonia to solve its existential problems is another aspect that has led to this today. Skopje needs strong push from the EU. But for years that help simply is not coming. EU preoccupied with its internal political crisis and economic problems keeps neglecting the Western Balkans. For years now it seems that Brussels doesn’t have any strength to solve this region’s problems. It demonstrated limited success in mediation of the talks between Serbia and Kosovo. But when it comes to other fault lines like Bosnia and Herzegovina or Macedonia, Brussels continuously keeps failing. Geopolitics is ruthless.

Other players did not demonstrate reluctance and filled the vacuum EU has left behind. Russia is slowly becoming a player to be reckoned with. Those critical of Russia have noticed the rise in Kremlin’s meddling in internal politics of the Balkans. Russia especially became more interventionist after the Ukrainian crisis. Kremlin tries to weaken the position of the EU in every possible occasion. In recent years Balkans became one of the playgrounds for this game between Brussels and Moscow.

 

- Finding solution for Macedonia's internal problems

In many instances European politicians raised their concerns regarding Russia’s foreign policies in the region. But as it is the case with ‘Eurocracy’ for years, it all ends with the words of condemnation and concern. Brussels became very good in condemnations and expressing concerns. This is exactly what happened on Thursday and Friday as the reaction to storming the parliament. Other International Community organizations follow the same method as Brussels did. Kremlin tried to approach Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE as the party nurtures strong ethnic Macedonian nationalism, which, like majority of nationalisms in southeastern Europe, finds its inspiration in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. This ground is very familiar to Russia for centuries.

Russia did not wait for too long to exploit the political lockdown in Macedonia. Kremlin accused SDSM for the recent tensions, blaming the opposition for confiscating the power, in spite of losing the elections. Now many fear that Russia could build stronger stronghold in Macedonia, if VMRO-DPMNE remains as the strongest political option in Macedonia. Kremlin sent a clear signal that nationalist stream has a partner in Russia. In previous crisis Gruevski maybe didn’t react as Kremlin was hoping, but if EU continues with the passive policy, one day he might pursue fulfilling Kremlin’s desires.

Common people in the region started believing that Brussels simply doesn’t have strength and will to help the region in its Euro-Atlantic path or simply ‘doesn’t care.’ Time will show if Macedonia is ready to continue its defined vision. Unfortunately many crises have proven contrary.

Country is simply fragmenting away silently and is desperate to find the adequate solution for its internal problems. For the sake of country’s better future and peace and prosperity of the region, we all hope that all sides of the political spectrum will find a common language and solution to the long-lasting problems.

In order to do that all parties should avoid charlatanism and should stop damaging foreign interference that see its own strategic interest in dividing the region, as it will equally hurt the all the sides.

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