Good news shouldn’t obscure deep problems
I try not to pay too much attention to the Balkans these days, as there are much more important things going on in the world. But today’s news that the European Union has brokered an agreement that will allow Macedonia to hold early elections by April 24 next year crossed my desk at about the same time as an IRI Poll illustrating all too clearly why European mediation was necessary.
Prime Minister Gruevski, who won big in April 2014 parliamentary elections, has seen his popularity evaporate quickly. Disapproval has reached 55%. Almost half of the citizens now think the country is moving in the wrong direction (compared to fewer than one-quarter who think it is moving in the wrong direction). The single most popular solution is resignation of the prime minister. Most think the government has no plan to solve the country’s economic problems and relatively few think it is even trying to deal with corruption.
One big cause of Gruevski’s decline is the wire-tapping scandal that has bedeviled the country this year. This has generated enormous distrust in the government and Gruevski’s political party. Forty-two per cent of the population believes one or the other paid or engaged armed Albanians to stage a rebellion in May. That notion may be ridiculous, but it certainly demonstrates the level of distrust Gruevski has engendered.
The prime minister will now be required to resign so that a new government, with a different prime minister chosen by his party, can be sworn in 100 days before the election. Even before then new Interior and Labor/Social Affairs ministers chosen by the main Macedonian opposition party will enter the government, along with deputy ministers in key ministries and a new Special Prosecutor. The opposition has committed to returning to parliament. Resignation of the government 100 days before elections is supposed to become a permanent feature of the political landscape.
The cherry on this cake will be a meeting of the EU’s heretofore moribund High-Level Accession Dialogue in September.
All of this makes eminently good sense, but none of it will mean much unless the real causes of Macedonia’s malaise are identified and resolved. I would count these as
- A government and governing parties used to doing as they please with a minimum of transparency or accountability.
- Media and civil society that suffer constant harassment and threats.
- Interethnic relations that encourage Macedonians and Albanians to live more apart than together.
- A judicial system under the thumb of politicians and unable to conduct proper investigations of corruption and other malfeasance at high levels.
- An EU accession process stalled by Greek refusal to accept Macedonia’s constitutional name.
Getting rid of Gruevski and holding new elections does little to respond to these issues. He may even do well in next year’s election, despite current polling. Nor do I have a magic wand that will solve these problems, but the EU needs to recognize that a bit of reshuffling of government positions won’t cure the diseases that plague Skopje.