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28/09/2016

Macedonia’s Gruevski rallies supporters, defies opposition

Enlargement

Macedonia’s Gruevski rallies supporters, defies opposition

Nikola Gruevski [VMRO-DPMNE website]

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski rallied support yesterday (15 March), amid growing pressure over opposition accusations that his government organised widespread wiretapping, and rejected demands for early elections.

Last month, Macedonian opposition leader Zoran Zaev accused Gruevski’s conservative government of wiretapping at least 20,000 people, including politicians, journalists and religious leaders.

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

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

>> Read: Macedonia opposition leader says PM ordered wiretapping of journalists

Facing mounting international and domestic pressure to respond to the claims, Gruevski on Sunday hit back by accusing the opposition of “attempting to destabilise the country on behalf of a foreign state,” but named no particular country.

In January the government filed a complaint against Zaev and several other people for espionage and violence against officials. The opposition leader denied the accusations. 

European Union officials have expressed concern over the “deteriorated political dialogue” in Macedonia, and called for a thorough investigation.

>> Read: Juncker cancels meeting with Macedonian PM over tensions

Addressing some 7,000 supporters in a sports hall in Skopje, Gruevski also rejected Socialist opposition demands to form a transitional government and call early elections.

“We always believed that the people give the mandate and legitimacy through elections, and the people choose who will form the government and who will not,” Gruevski, who has been in power in the landlocked nation of two million people since mid-2006, told the crowd.

Earlier on Sunday, Zaev called on Gruevski to resign, form an interim government and organise “fair and democratic” early elections. The Socialists have been boycotting the parliament since April 2014 early polls, protesting alleged electoral fraud. Regular legislative balloting in Macedonia is due in 2018.

The former Yugoslav republic was granted EU candidate status in 2005, but has yet to obtain a date for the start of accession talks.

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 medieval 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.