9 July 2015

Macedonia is the Neverland of the Balkans

By Sani Saidi

Will the small country of Macedonia, a candidate country to join the EU, get out from the ongoing deep political crisis or it will face escalation? Through political agreement or violent rallies? With EU alone or with the help of the other international partners, respectively, USA will be able to help the process? These and a lot of other uncertainties are waiting their ultimate resolution. But first of all, let’s see briefly how the crisis evolved through the time.

The strangulation of freedom of expression, heavily controlled media, imprisonment of journalists and political leaders, contested judicial processes and a lot of incidents characterise the fragile democracy of Macedonia. The country entered into a political stalemate since the questionable elections of 2014, which were not recognised by the opposition and since then, the opposition has been absent in the parliament and continue the political battle outside.

Regardless of the aggravated situation, the country’s economy was doing well, at least on paper, mainly as a result of the huge government spending. But on the other hand, Macedonia still faces a high level of unemployment and low standard of living.

The opposition, political analysts and various non-governmental organisations were protesting against the corruption, censorship and a lot of other scandals prevailing in the country.

The political crisis exacerbated and got very serious with the accusation from the Macedonian opposition during the address of the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, for a large scale wire-tapping scandal of more than 20,000 people and presented recordings supporting its allegation. Hence, the opposition has continued with the process named “The truth for Macedonia” constantly releasing the so called “bombs” containing alleged wiretapped conversations of high officials of the government, including the PM.

“The Macedonian government has been behaving in a rather authoritarian manner, and there is a sense that judges and journalists are influenced by the government, so the wiretapping is not a huge surprise” said Florian Bieber, political scientist focused on South East Europe.

The credibility of the political system was a house of cards. The “bombs” revealed horrible facts including interference and mounted judicial processes, election trickeries, corruption deals, media censorship, even found hate speech and nationalism of the government officials. No one believes anymore in the country’s institutions. As a logical consequence of this chaotic situation most of the youth considers emigration as the only option. The hope for better life is suffocated by the current authoritarian regime.

The dissatisfaction within the population grew up as time was passing and new “bombs” were released, which pushed the citizens to constant anti-government rallies in the streets. As the crisis was not enough, the country had to experience even an armed conflict that endangered its stability and had the propensity to destabilise the region. It resulted with 22 dead people, including 8 police officers, increasing the concerns for inter-ethnic conflict in the country.

On 17th May followed the massive demonstrations of the Macedonian opposition seeking the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, to resign. On the other hand, something ridiculous occurred. The government organised counter demonstrations against the opposition demands and blamed it for the current political crisis and the regression of the country.

The EU and the United States showed readiness to help in solving the political crisis. On 3rd June in Skopje and 10th of June in Brussels, EU Commissioner Hahn gathered and held meeting with all the four leaders of the biggest parties in Macedonia but again, the negotiations failed and no agreement for solving the crisis is reached.

The possible solutions sprout out from the meetings, disclosed to the public include a technical government with all the parties but still with Mr. Gruevski as a Prime Minister and ruled by the current government garnish, with some minor structural changes. This is not acceptable for the Macedonian and Albanian opposition. But most importantly, it is not acceptable for the public too.

This kind of solution is not solving the crisis, merely preventing it escalating in the short term. In this regard, on 13th June, Albanian national anti-government massive protests were organised  in the patronage of the Albanian opposition party “Movement BESA”. Their demands ranged from the resignation of the current government until the disclosure of all open cases and judicial processes; and the redefinition of the state and its establishment as a consensual common state of all ethnic groups. A civil state is seen as the more viable long term solution to exit from the current crisis.

In any scenario, we should not allow to be ruled still by the current highly incriminated political elite and nationalist oriented officials. Definitely, Macedonia should leave the nationalist era and its associated ruling practices. The country needs to undertake substantial reforms, establish new democratic institutions and elect a new young political generation which is European-oriented with a fresh political program.

Otherwise, the country will lose the candidate status for EU membership and jeopardise its existence. There is a dead end and no future for her, if we continue in the same trend as until now. United, let’s start from the beginning and strive for better days and perspective for our country.

The upcoming period could be detrimental for the future of the country and will design the track on which the country will go. Let’s see if the negotiations in Brussels or leaders meetings in Skopje will be enough to get out from the crisis. Or if it will continue with the current status quo, which is deteriorating the economy and wellbeing of the citizens. No matter, through political dialogue or demonstrations, one thing is for sure: The current government needs to go and let the light of freedom, progress and development shine again in Macedonia!

Sani Saidi is a CapX contributor