Day: June 3, 2015

The Perils of Macedonia

With the European Union mediating, Macedonia’s four major political parties have agreed to some sort of transition arrangement to allow voter rolls to be cleaned up and the electoral mechanism lubricated, followed by elections next April, three years earlier than necessary. This presumably offes a way out of the crisis brought on by opposition publication of wiretaps demonstrating high level government malfeasance.

It’s a win-win-win-win, as one of my correspondent’s declared. Opposition leader Zoran Zaev, who lost a parliamentary election 14 months ago, gets another opportunity. Prime Minister Gruevski so far at least is avoiding calls for his resignation. He came out just one vote short of an absolute majority in parliament last time around and may well be able to beat his rival again in 10 months. The governing coalition’s Albanian leader Ali Ahmeti is relieved of pressure to bring the government down and can still hope to do well next year. The Albanian opposition gets another bite at the apple.

But it still has a big hole in it: that transition arrangement. The opposition will want a technocratic government. Gruevski will want to hold on to at least nominal control. It is not clear how they are going to square that circle.

But once again, Macedonia has taken at least half a step away from the brink of disaster. It has done that repeatedly since handily managing to escape Yugoslavia in 1991 without the secession wars that marked independence for Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. It managed a massive influx of Albanians during the NATO/Yugoslavia war of 1999 without the often predicted dire consequences. It negotiated an end to a burgeoning inter-ethnic civil war in 2001 before things got out of hand. Macedonia is the Balkan Pauline: always in dire danger, but escaping somehow at the last moment.

Pauline always escapes, at the last moment
Pauline always escapes, at the last moment

Credit for this latest escape goes in part to the EU, whose Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn did the honors. He reiterated the EU’s commitment to Macedonia’s European perspective, which I suppose involves some sort of assistance promise. He also made it clear the EU wants the government to stop mucking about with the media and the judiciary.

That has become the standard European and American refrain, as Gruevski–originally elected and successful as an economic reformer–has demonstrated an increasing tendency to follow Vladimir Putin’s lead on governance (not to mention Ukraine sanctions and natural gas supplies).

The villain of this episode is Greece, which has blocked Macedonia’s progress towards EU membership for years because it claims the exclusive right to use the name “Macedonia.” That means there is little gain, and much pain, in Macedonia’s politicians doing what is needed to adopt the acquis communitaire as well as align the country’s foreign and security policies with Brussels. Macedonia has already qualified for NATO membership and its soldiers have fought integrated with Americans in Afghanistan. But Greece has blocked that road to international respectability as well, despite a clear, unequivocal and binding decision of the International Court of Justice that in doing so Athens violated a 1995 commitment.

So Pauline lives to provide even more excitement in the next episode, which I imagine isn’t far off. Will Gruevski resign? Will the election be transparently free and fair? Will the judiciary and media act independently and not face repercussions? Will Albanian insurgents try to kidnap the process? Tune in next month for another exciting episode of the Perils of Macedonia.

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