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04/12/2016

Juncker cancels meeting with Macedonian PM over tensions

Enlargement

Juncker cancels meeting with Macedonian PM over tensions

Nikola Gruevski

[Wikimedia]

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was due to meet with Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on Thursday in Brussels. However, a Commission spokesperson announced Monday (23 February) that the meeting has been cancelled.

The Juncker-Gruevski meeting was announced in the Commission’s calendar of meetings published on 20 February. Juncker deputy spokesperson Mina Andreeva said yesterday that “Because of the evolving situation on the ground, there was an agreement that it is not opportune to hold this meeting right now.”

The situation in Macedonia remains tense, after opposition leader Zoran Zaev published audio tapes on Sunday (15 February) that he said demonstrated the government’s total control over the judiciary.

The authorities accuse Zaev of conspiring with an unnamed foreign intelligence service. Zaev denies it. 

>> Read: Macedonian opposition releases new wiretaps exposing the government

>> Read: Macedonia opposition chief accused of staging coup d’etat

>> Read: Macedonia opposition leader says PM ordered ‘massive wiretapping’

Background

Macedonia declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991.

The country is an ethnic mosaic. Slavic Macedonians represent the largest group (64% of the population). Ethnic Albanians are the biggest minority (25%), with Turks (3%) and Roma (1.9%) also present.

Integrating the ethnic Albanians has proved a cumbersome process, and the country has come close to civil war. The August 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement, brokered by Western powers, halted the brinkmanship between the ethnic-Albanian communities (organised militarily in the National Liberation Army) and Macedonian forces.

Of all the hurdles standing in the way of Macedonia's EU accession, the so-called 'name dispute' with Greece appears to be the biggest. Seen from Athens, the official name used by Skopje – Republic of Macedonia – is an open challenge to the Greek region of Macedonia. In reprisal, Greece pledged to veto Macedonia's participation in international organisations, including the EU, until the issue is resolved.

Greece also believes that Skopje is misappropriating large chunks of its ancient history. Similarly, Bulgaria contends that Macedonia is cherry-picking heroes and glorious episodes from its mediaeval history and the 19th- and early-20th century struggle against Ottoman rule.

Recently, Skopje angered Athens by erecting a giant statue of a ‘warrior on horseback’ resembling Alexander the Great in the centre of Skopje. Both nations claim Alexander as a native son.