North Macedonia

What now, Macedonia?!

The German radio show “Deutschlandfunk” reports from Macedonia this morning. “Die Zeichen stehen auf Eskalation.” [The signs are pointing to escalation]. The country has been in continous political crises for the last months and years, but the crisis peaked again when the president G. Ivanov – after weeks of delaying the process – refused to give the mandate for forming a government to the Social-Democratic party, formerly the biggest opposition party (SDSM).

On what grounds is he justifying this decision? He refers to the patriotic feelings of his supporters. SDSM has collected signatures from the Albanian party DUI in order to form a coalition (61 mandates are needed for a simple majority, SDSM and DUI have 67 together) and according to the president this means a betrayal on Macedonia and will apparently quite possibly lead to the destruction of the country. He has got his patriots by his side who have taken the streets in the center for the past view afternoons to chant rabble-rousing, nationalist cries and to, supported by whistles and honks, scream how they will defend their country against Albanians.

International voices call for democratic practices 

The European community has – again – reacted to the illicit refusal of the president. The EU commissioner for accession, Johannes Hahn, and the High commissioner of the EU, Frederica Mogherini, have issued statements condemning the behaviour of Ivanov. Mogherini reminded political stakeholders in a speech given on Thursday in Skopje  of democratic values and warned to use bad rhetorics to “avoid that this political and institutional crisis becomes an inter-ethnic conflict, or even worse a geopolitical conflict.”

The German minister of Foreign Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, supported Mogherini with a statement today saying: “Meine Aufforderung geht an alle in Skopje, die politische Verantwortung tragen, auch im derzeit aufgeheizten innenpolitischen Klima verantwortungsvoll zu handeln, ihre Rhetorik zu mäßigen und alles zu tun, um die Beziehungen zwischen den Volksgruppen nicht zu beschädigen.” [My call goes to everyone in Skopje who carries political responsibility to act responsibly also during the currently heated internal climate, to temper their rhetoric and to do everything to not hurt the relations between ethnic groups.]

Also politicians from Albania and Kosovo – countries inhabitated by Albanian majorities –  have harshly critized the Macedonian president’s decision. Their pro-Albanian argumentation might have fueled the president’s nationalistic rhetorics and his claim that Albania is trying to build a “grand” Albania.

What now? 

What does all this mean for Macedonia now?

Macedonia has, as said before, been in a continuous political crisis hence this new peak does not really freak anybody out. Still, the country and its people are facing two challenges now and it is not said that the current tensions will not indeed lead to the predicted escalations. On the one hand, there is the political governance crisis. On the other hand there is the ethnical, social – the “people’s” crisis.

The institutional crisis and its solution

Macedonia has more or less functioned without a democratically elected government since 2015. Because of continuous tensions in the population and a tremendous amount of organized (state) crime a technical government was set in place (with support of the EU and as part of the so-called Przno-Agreement). This technical government consisted of ministers from both former government and opposition and worked until the election results were announced in December 2016 (More on the elections and other struggles of Macedonia can be read here).

Everything would have been really nice if the president who is just like in Germany obliged to be neutral towards any political party would have acted accordingly to the constitution. If he would have given the mandate for forming a government to the parties who have the constitutional right to receive the mandate, Macedonia would not face this situation right now. He only gave the mandate to his own party, VMRO, who failed to find coalition partners.

The situation now is as followed: VMRO is – for the transition phase – again in the ruling position and they are trying to hold on to their power as long as they can. Since the president who would like to be almighty refused to give the mandate, the next step in the protocol has to be taken. And that is not – as rumour says – immediate re-election (which would probably be in SDSM’s favour anyways). Instead the parliament is now in charhe to elect with a simple majority (61 voices as SDSM and DUI have) a parliament speaker who will then guide through a parliamentary procedure to give the mandate for a coalition to SDSM. Seems simple? Nothing is simple in a country where fake news are more popular than the truth, still it shows that the institutional crisis does have a solution to it right there. It is different with the social crisis.

The unpredictable can happen: social conflict in Macedonia 

There is a reason that Hahn, Mogherini and Gabriel (amongst many others) have called for more constructive rhetorics. Populist propaganda and conflict-mongering rhetorics (also keeping in mind that most media is captured by the VMRO-government) lead to an indeed heated environment where the conflict lines are now running through “VMRO-supporters” vs. “everyone else”. This, the daily (counter-)protests and an apparent (though not actual) political dead-lock situation guide towards a tensed, less peaceful situation which might lead to more violent disputes. The development of this is not predictable, it’s only to hope that violence will stay low.

The only thing that is for sure now is that the political crisis in Macedonia will continue even after a new government has been formed and after tempers have cooled down. The last weeks have already shown a growing support of Albanians for SDSM (instead of choosing to vote for Albanian parties) which is a great success towards a more open-minded society. In baby steps the political development of Macedonia is starting to move forward again and that is definitely a positive outlook on the months and years to come.

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