Democracy has lost its meaning in Macedonia

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

Journalists protest against libel suits. Skopje, 2012. [Reuters]

It may be a moot point whether Macedonia today meets the dictionary definition of a democracy – but despair is not the answer, writes Erwan Fouéré.

Erwan Fouéré is former EU Special Representative and Head of Delegation in Macedonia. He contributed this article to Balkan Insight (BIRN ) and kindly authorised its republication in EURACTIV.

“The Oxford Dictionary defines a democracy as “a state having government by all the people, direct or representative; a form of society ignoring hereditary class distinctions and tolerating minority views”.

Judging by its record in recent years, the VMRO-DPMNE governing party definition is radically different. It goes like this: a state where government controls all the levers of power, including the judiciary and the electoral process, does not tolerate any minority or dissenting views, and uses fear and intimidation to exercise its authority over society. 

This year’s early parliamentary electoral process is the latest example of the governing party’s approach to democracy. According to the interim report of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission, although the elections were “effectively administered” and election day “went smoothly”, the report underlines that “the run-up failed to meet important OSCE commitments, including the separation of state and party, on ensuring a level playing field, on the neutrality of the media, on the accuracy of the voters list and on the possibility of gaining redress through an effective complaints system”.

The government’s own assessment of “Scandinavian-type elections” was in stark contrast, and shows once again that the VMRO-DPMNE-led government operates according to its own rules. In fact, since the election of the current Prime Minister in 2006, the country’s record in the conduct of elections has been problematic, with the same weaknesses in the electoral process being repeated and even worsening on each occasion. Apart from the OSCE/ODIHR report on the 2008 elections which included one fatality and several injured in violent incidents, this latest report is the worst on record. 

With every passing election, the political environment has dramatically deteriorated. Whether it is in the area of political dialogue between the political parties which is virtually non-existent, the allegations of intimidation directed at public servants in a country that has one of the most bloated civil services in the region, the deepening inter-ethnic tensions and increasing climate of intolerance in society or the almost total control over the media, warranting the worst media freedom rating of the entire Balkan region, the assessments made by all international organizations are unanimous in pointing to the gravity of the situation in the country. 

The growing number of cases of alleged government involvement in corruption that have come to light are even more troublesome for a government that was elected eight years ago on the basis of a strong anti-corruption platform. The government’s claims of bringing increased investments into the country ring hollow when some of those proudly launched with great fanfare turn out to be with business partners with dubious credentials, while unemployment levels, particularly among the younger generation, remain unacceptably high. The tragedy is that, except for those who have given up and left the country, the majority of the citizens are unaware of these facts because of government control over the media.

If the diagnosis is clear, the remedy is far less so. Those who try to play by the rules are subject to harassment and worse still, humiliation and insults. The vitriolic attack launched recently by the government against CIVIL, a respected NGO that fosters respect for human rights and greater tolerance in society, is one example among many. The few remaining independent journalists who have survived intimidation and constant harassment are reduced to publishing their articles on internet portals. 

The opposition has already announced that it does not recognize the results of these latest elections. It has also intimated a possible boycott of the incoming parliament. While boycotts can never be a solution, one can only sympathize with those who despair of normal democratic standards ever returning under the present authoritarian regime.

But, despair can never be the way forward. Those courageous individuals who continue to fight to restore the basic democratic standards expected of any country aspiring to join the EU must be supported. The incoming government must be persuaded that a spirit of compromise and effective consensus is more than ever vital for the sake of the country’s future.

The international community, in particular the EU, needs to make it very clear what it expects the government to do to reverse the current situation. It must also increase its practical support for civil society and independent media, if only to ensure greater accountability from the government for its conduct.  Only in this way can democracy begin to find its true meaning once again in Macedonia and a new generation of political forces emerge.”

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