Turmoil in Macedonia

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

Political theatrics appeared in the Macedonian senate in April 2017, when people wearing balaclavas and draped in the yellow and red flag of their country exchanged punches with another group of men dressed in shirts.

Scenes had translated from war of words to fighting. These rebels were supporters of Macedonian Conservative party, who were protesting against the appointment of its first ethnic Albanian parliamentary speaker, Talaat Xhaferi.

Macedonian 2016 protests, also known as ‘Colourful Revolution’ have inflated the crises this year. Last year, European countries such as Italy, Serbia, Germany, Bulgaria and Croatia had called for peace.

The ongoing protests have triggered new ethnic tensions and constitutional crises. Hundreds of protesters, some of them armed and masked people, had stormed the Senate building and attacked representatives, displaying an unprecedented form of anarchy. Police, in retaliation, had thrown stun grenades to disperse angry crowds. Journalists have been hospitalised.

Macedonian political system has been in disarray for the last two years. Elections gave no party a clear mandate to form the government. In fact, since December last year, Macedonia is without a genuine functioning government. However, the Social Democrats managed to form an alliance with ethnic Albanian political parties by agreeing to their demands for granting them certain concessions. But several demonstrators on the streets deem this alliance as unholy. The Macedonian interior minister has already offered his resignation and President Gjorge Ivanov has called for emergency talks.

It was sixteen years ago when minority rights of Albanian rebels brought Macedonia into a brink of civil war. Western diplomacy was believed to have ended it. Once part of Yugoslavia, it gained independence in 1991. The region lies in the hotbed of ethnic tensions, war and even genocide.

The country also has several political (essentially linguistic) disputes with Greece. Most recent is where Macedonians are accused of stealing their country name from a Greek province just south of the Macedonian-Greek border. Both countries have many aspects of Hellenistic culture in common. It was due to this reason that Greece blocked Macedonia for joining NATO and EU. It seems that Macedonia is trapped in uncertain diplomacy and cannot be deemed as a stable country right now.

In 2016, an agreement called ‘Przino Agreement’ drafted by four leading Macedonian political parties allowed an early election last December. However, the previous government had been involved in a wiretapping scandal that included communications of 20,000 ordinary citizens for several years, including its own ministers in the cabinet. These facts have infuriated the public. The tapes revealed widespread corruption, misuse of power and security mishaps.

Macedonia is currently ranked 111 out of 180 by 2017 Press Freedom Index. It has also seen a rise in political prisoners. There is also poverty, unemployment and mundane clashes happen between political parties.

It is believed by many analysts that Nikola Gruevski, who served as Prime Minister, from 2006 to 2016, still controls many quarters of police power, intelligence agencies and has been responsible for the ongoing parliament protests. His party still controls almost half the votes in the assembly, but he hasn’t been able to form the government.

New controversies are also emerging. Leading American - Hungarian investor and philanthropist, George Soros, has been accused of sponsoring 61 organisations to fuel unrest in Macedonia with a $9.5 million funding through his initiative Open Society Macedonia to overthrow the government.

About 2000 protestors are demanding new elections outside EU headquarters in Skopje. These events in the Balkan country indicate that elections have worsened the political crises, instead of ending a two-year-old turmoil. It is because the protestors feel that Albanian political parties are trying to instil a form of minority supremacy.

Protests are still going on because many Macedonians feel that their sovereignty is under threat, particularly when Albanian minority leaders want the Albanian language as another official language in the Balkan country.

International mediation is underway. Several high ranking US officials have arrived to end the political tension. They view the appointment of Albanian speaker as legitimate and also want to discuss reforms needed for Macedonia’s Euro –Atlantic integration. It clearly demonstrates that Americans are opposing concerns of the protestors.

The protests in Macedonia are also simmering tensions in Serbia and neighbouring countries, where troops have been deployed on country borders amidst rising fears. Russia, on the other hand, has been blaming the Americans for their stances of going against the will of the protestors. These events do indicate that both powers want their presence in the region.

It is still unclear how things will progress in coming time when most of the Macedonian public wants an end to the current assembly sessions.


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