A bittersweet victory for Gruevski

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Tanja Milevska argues Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, despite a recent electoral victory, is in an insecure position due to the EU's negative assessment of the country's candidacy prospects and mass protests following the police's murder of a youth.

Tanja Milevska is the Brussels correspondent of the Macedonian television station A1 TV.

"The least one can say is that the ruling party's (VMRO-DPMNE) victory on 5 June in Macedonia was bittersweet. Not only were the results tight, but unlike previous elections, the ball is in the Albanian camp this time. Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the leading Albanian party, DUI, won a comfortable position and this time he gets to choose his coalition partner.

Of course, it makes more sense to continue the coalition with Nikola Gruevski. It would also be unwise to play the bully and make the same mistake Gruevski himself made in 2006, when he chose Menduh Thaqi, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), over Ahmeti, despite the fact that Ahmeti had won the majority of the ethnic Albanian votes.

Already then, Gruevski was making it clear that he was going to play the nationalist card throughout his mandate and that compromise was not his best quality. However, after considerable pressure from Brussels and Washington, the Macedonian prime minister finally satisfied the demands of the large Albanian community and, after a round of early elections in 2008, Ahmeti took his place in the government.

The same logic should be applied this time and a coalition with the opposition party, the Social Democrats, would make no sense. Unless, of course, Gruevski refuses to solve the name issue at the very start of this new four-year mandate.

According to well-informed sources in the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI; the largest Albanian political party in Macedonia), reported by A1 TV, Ahmeti would have set clear conditions for his Macedonian coalition partner: he wants to see the name dispute with Greece settled in the first hundred days of the new government which would open the gates for accession to NATO and give a green light from the EU Council of Ministers for a start of the negotiations for membership.

The Albanian community has long seen itself as the victim of Gruevski's nationalist policy and rhetoric. When the Western neighbour, Albania, in 2008, had the privilege to finally get a seat at the North-Atlantic table, Macedonia was rejected because of its nationalistic moves, such as the renaming of Skopje airport after Alexander the Great, the drawing of some obscure maps of Greater Macedonia, and way too many provocative statements by senior officials in the government…

Athens' answer was loud and clear – no NATO accession or EU membership talks for Macedonia without 'good-neighbourly relations'. The EU is still expecting a serious breakthrough this summer on the name issue. On 10 June, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said: 'There have been good elections in this country: what we now expect is a solution to the name issue to be found. There is momentum for that and I hope that both sides will use it'.

Did Commissioner Füle speak too fast? Only four days after this encouraging statement, Alexander the Great showed up on Skopje's main square, in the form of a statue which is a part of the grandiose governmental project named 'Skopje 2014', a project that has angered the Greeks, the Albanian community, Macedonian architecture students, as well as the majority of the citizens of Skopje, who deem this project unaesthetic and way too expensive in times of economic crisis (the government never gave the exact figures, but the project costs tens of millions of euros and foresees dozens of statues as well as a triumphal arch…although it is unclear what triumph it stands for).

Although the statue of Alexander was officially named 'Warrior on a Horse' – probably a desperate move to avoid Athens' wrath – it was too late and the reactions were harsh. The Greek MFA called it an 'archaisation' policy that 'directly opposes the principle of good neighbourly relations and will have unavoidable repercussions for FYROM's [e.g. Macedonia's] Euro-Atlantic perspective.'

Washington and Brussels both called on Macedonia to avoid engaging in actions that might be seen as a deliberate provocation by the other side. Macedonia and Greece have seen their relations strained by the name dispute since the independence of Macedonia in 1991 and the process of mediation has been in the hands of the UN since 1995. With moves such as this last one, the hopes of finding a solution are slowly fading away, together with EU and NATO [membership] prospects.

If only Gruevski's domestic policies were successful and his citizens satisfied. They aren't. Gruevski is also facing the outrage of citizens. On the night of the victory of VMRO-DPMNE, while the supporters were celebrating on Skopje's main square, a 22 year-old boy, named Martin Neshkoski, who wanted to congratulate Gruevski, was dragged away from the crowd and beaten to death by a member of the 'Tigers' special police unit (full background here).

The boy never came home and the Ministry of Interior kept the murder hidden for more than a day. Only thanks to some youngsters who witnessed the murder did the word spread on Twitter and Facebook. The parents of young Martin learned about their son's death the next day on TV. Outraged by this attempt to cover a hideous murder, in a matter of hours, hundreds of youngsters spontaneously gathered on the streets of Skopje demanding responsibility, from the institutions and an end to the police brutality, a tragic practice in Macedonia that has resulted in an even more tragic number of deaths these last years.

Since 6 June protests have been held every single day in Skopje but also in other main cities throughout the country. The movement has been tagged #macedonianrevolution on Twitter, in the same spirit as the Greek and the Spanish ones. The protesters in Macedonia demand that independent control mechanisms over the police forces be set up.

Instead of delivering credible answers, the Ministry of Interior, backed-up by the pro-governmental media as usual, tried to discredit the young people taking part in the protests by labelling them 'members of the opposition', 'exploited by the Soros foundation',  or even funnier, 'manipulated by A1 TV and B92 TV (a prominent Serbian television station) who work for the Greek government'.

These ridiculous labels did not discourage the youth from keeping on with the protest, albeit with a smaller intensity, since many of them are afraid that these labels might cost them their job or studies if they are linked to the opposition party in any way.

Indeed, Macedonia is one of the rare places where, as the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights noted, discrimination on the basis of political orientation is among the harshest. Moreover, the Ministry of Interior through its spokesman, informed that all the groups on Facebook, related to the protests would be closed, and their members tracked by the police 'to discover if there are calls for violence'. Since day one of the protest, not a single act of violence was reported, despite provocations from the other side.

For the first time in the short democratic history of Macedonia, the youngsters in this country – often described as lazy, fearful or apathetic – of all ethnic backgrounds, and only thanks to the social networks, managed to get out on the streets massively and peacefully, for the first time without any political party standing behind them, simply demanding justice and freedom. As one member of the Macedonian Twitter community wisely put it in a tweet: 'my mother says I shouldn't post on Facebook [about the protests], otherwise I will never find a job. This is exactly why I protest…'."

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