Macedonia – The Sounds of War Drums Are Mass Auditory Hallucinations
It has been 16 years since the last war on the Balkan Peninsula. The last time anything resembling a war occurred, hundreds died and the small country of Macedonia was left with a reorganized political system, a crushed economy and a convulsing system of social relations. These days, we hear the dogs of war begin their gruesome growls yet again as rule of law collapses in the Republic of Macedonia, but you would be a fool to believe your ears. So what has been going on in Macedonia?
Politics of division
Well, the country had a turbulent post-war period, where, after a brief social-democrat rule plagued by corruption and rising ethnic tensions, the then-reformist and highly nationalist party, VMRO-DPMNE won the elections. That was 11 years ago and this party is still in power. However, as of 2014, they have been caught red-handed, exposed by the opposition to be an organized crime group that wiretapped a large percentage of the population, as well as high officials from all parties, including their own and their coalition partner. A special public prosecution office was formed to investigate the obvious criminal violations resulting from the wiretapped materials and it started opening cases against high government officials. After many protests and very few resignations, the crisis continued with the parliamentary elections in December 2016. Unlike previous elections where the ruling party won without any doubt, their numbers dropped to a mere 51 out of the 120 MPs, but the now-reformed social-democrat party (SDSM) won 49 seats. The Albanian ruling party (DUI) dropped to 10 seats, while nine seats were divided by the rest of the Albanian parties and coalitions from the opposition (newly formed “Besa”, the “Alliance for Albanians” coalition and the failing DPA). The Albanian parties decided to unite around an “Albanian platform”, saying they would not join any government that did not accept it. The platform had many debatable points, such as recognizing a genocide of the Albanians in the early 20th century and opening debates about changing the national symbols. After a period of deliberation and a lot of pressure from the West, the Albanian DUI with 10 seats did not reach an agreement with VMRO-DPMNE and failed to form a government, thus clearing the way for a change of power. The social-democrats and the Albanian opposition declared a parliamentary majority of 67 seats, leaving out only the DPA (until now the sole Albanian opposition) and the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE. However, the President of the Republic refused to grant the government-forming mandate to the opposition leader, Zoran Zaev, thereby overstepping his constitutional boundaries and plunging the country even deeper into the abyss.
An unsteady course
There are rumours of paramilitary units being established to defend the “Macedonism” and there are even more ludicrous claims that thousands of armed Albanian insurgents wait at the Kosovar border to divide the country.
Now, the parliamentary majority is being denied its rightful place at the head of the country, 67 MPs being denied by 51 as the struggle to get Macedonia back on track continues. The opposition has asked the President of Parliament (who is also from the ruling VMRO-DPMNE) to continue the parliamentary session so that the new government can be voted in, but so far there has been no reply, even though the position comes with an obligation to comply with the demand. Meanwhile, the country erupts into protests as the VMRO-DPMNE party declared its struggle against “foreign elements that want to destroy the Macedonian identity”, taking to the streets in order to protest the Albanian platform and its new role in the government. There are rumours of paramilitary units being established to defend the “Macedonism” and there are even more ludicrous claims that thousands of armed Albanian insurgents wait at the Kosovar border to divide the country.
We have experienced a shift in the discourse of the nation, as we went from talking about crime, returning the stolen 5-8 billions of dollars to the country, reducing its national debt and jailing the guilty, to a discourse of nationalism and identity.
We can see a noticeable rise in nationalism in Macedonia, and, even though nationalism brings negative consequences everywhere, the Balkans are especially vulnerable and susceptible to its delusions. After a period of reconciliation and one of unity between the ethnic groups, the war drums start beating again as “Patriotic organizations” spring up all across the country to defend their respective ethnicities. The uniforms are being ironed and somewhere, the gun barrels are being oiled. Or at least that is what the creator of this scenario would want us to believe. We have experienced a shift in the discourse of the nation, as we went from talking about crime, returning the stolen 5-8 billions of dollars to the country, reducing its national debt and jailing the guilty, to a discourse of nationalism and identity. This shift happened in mere weeks after the VMRO-DPMNE failed to constitute a majority in Parliament and from there it should be quite obvious who benefits from this situation. I am not saying the social-democrats are squeaky-clean, nor am I saying that I fully agree with their goals, however as the party with a majority in Parliament now, they are entitled to forming the new government. This is being second-guessed daily, shattering the foundation of our democracy. The war drums are beating, but, for now, they are just the auditory hallucinations emanating from the protesting nationalists, as nobody really wants anything even resembling a war, aside from maybe those implicated in the wiretapped recordings who want to avoid going to prison.
So far, from the dozens of Special Prosecution cases opened, only one 30 day detention has been ordered by the courts against a main VMRO-DPMNE financier, but he is nowhere to be found, having left the country in a rush before he was supposed to be detained.
The only supporter President Ivanov has outside of the country’s borders is Russia, which claims that the reasons for the uproar in Macedonia are the attempts by the West to exert its pressure on the tiny country. The majority of Macedonia’s voters would disagree.
As for the country’s foreign policy, at this moment, Macedonia is in a stalemate with Greece over the name dispute. This has resulted in a veto of NATO membership in 2008 and in frozen ascension negotiation with the EU, leaving the country stuck in a political quagmire. The West, most notably the United States, has repeatedly asked President Ivanov to grant the mandate to the opposition, but he still refuses to do so. Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, along with numerous other European officials from the EU and NATO, have urged Ivanov to grant the mandate and stabilize the country, but he has not done so. The only supporter he has outside of the country’s borders is Russia, which claims that the reasons for the uproar in Macedonia are the attempts by the West to exert its pressure on the tiny country. The majority of Macedonia’s voters would disagree.
From a security point of view, the general public sees nothing. The secret service and intelligence agencies have had free reign under the heavy hand of Sasho Mijalkov, cousin of the former Prime Minister and head of VMRO-DPMNE, Nikola Gruevski. Mijalkov resigned in 2015 after 8 police officers died in a highly suspicious counter-terrorist action; however, his years in the secret service grant him a certain degree of influence on the agency. One of the main EU concerns is the regulation of the intelligence agencies, and thus far nothing has been done about them. Nothing has been done about a lot of issues, including the calls for redefining the country by radical Albanian politicians, threats and hate speech by anyone and everyone, journalist imprisonment and media influence, corrupted judiciary and so on and so forth. The list outstrips the scope of this article. Meanwhile the Macedonian army is in disarray, poorly equipped and dealing with substandard pay and living conditions. The Macedonian police is hiring more than ever, having grown to over 13,000 police officers for a population of about two million. The judiciary is in shambles, the Parliament has not assembled for months, the Government is on standby, and to top it all off, local elections have been cancelled because of the Parliament’s inability to call for them, rendering local authorities illegitimate and unable to work as of April and May.
One thing is for certain – Macedonia must have a new government and soon if it is going to implement any reforms required by the EU. It has to deal with the organized crime problem as soon as possible if it wants to continue exercising independence, and it has to reduce the nationalist surge if it wants to avoid another war. However, the country has proven unable to remove the criminal organization from power, and it looks to the West for help. So far, the help has consisted of many words and very few actions. Europe does not need and should not want a war in the Balkans, and I say the Balkans because I do not believe that if blood flows in Macedonia, Kosovo or Bosnia would remain silent. We are a package deal and, having had so many wars in the last century that they have become normalized, our mentalities are accustomed to the sound of gunfire. Europe is not and its leaders know it. After a long period of doing very little by an ineffectual bureaucracy, the continent is desperate to prove that it is still strong. With the growing Russian power and influence, the Turkish defection and the absolute chaos in the Balkans, as well as the rise of nationalism all across the continent, we in Macedonia have a question for the rest of Europe – is it so hard to help us keep the peace for everyone, or are we yet another bargain waiting to happen?