Thousands of nationalist demonstrators of the so-called “Civil Initiative for a United Macedonia” resumed their protests in Skopje yesterday (2 May) against a plan for a coalition government that includes ethnic Albanian parties, five days after they burst into parliament and assaulted lawmakers.
The protesters allege that a deal struck between the Social Democrats (SDSM) to govern alongside ethnic Albanian parties, which emerged as kingmakers after an early election in December, would threaten national unity.
The accord would sideline the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party of former Premier Nikola Gruevski, which opposes a plan agreed on in Tirana to make Albanian the country’s second official language.
Last Thursday evening (27 April) the protesters stormed parliament over what they said was an illegal vote for a new parliamentary speaker, ethnic Albanian Talat Xhaferi.
— BALKAN NEWS (@balkannews) May 2, 2017
The riots, condemned by both the European Union and the United States, injured about 100 people, including SDSM leader Zoran Zaev.
The SDSM and their allies accuse the VMRO-DPMNE of inciting the violence and fanning ethnic divisions in a bid to cling to power.
“We’ve been ignored for 60 days. We will continue to come,” Bogdan Ilievski, one of the organisers of the protest, said outside parliament, where a strong police presence had been deployed.
“We have to continue our battle, we don’t have another country,” he said.
The protests were peaceful, though local media reported that an incendiary device had been found.
— HristijanGjorgievski (@HGjorgievski) May 2, 2017
The United States urged Macedonian leaders on 1 May to end the political stalemate and allow the parliamentary majority made up of Social Democrats and parties representing ethnic Albanians to form a new government.
“We feel that it is very important for the leaders to find a way to allow the majority in parliament … to propose a government and a government programme,” US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Hoyt Yee, said in Skopje after meeting leaders.
“We understand there are concerns about the composition of the government programme and, like in all European democracies, we believe that whatever is proposed by the majority should be considered seriously in parliament, debated in parliament and voted in parliament.”
— 42 (@forty_tw0) May 1, 2017
President Gjorge Ivanov has refused to give a mandate to Social Democrats leader Zoran Zaev to form a government, saying his coalition with ethnic Albanian parties would threaten the sovereignty of the state.
After meeting Yee, Ivanov issued a statement calling on Zaev to provide reassurances that his coalition would work according to the constitution and uphold national unity.
Macedonia has been without a functioning government since 2015 when it sank into political turmoil over a wiretapping scandal that brought down the ruling nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party bloc.
Efforts to move towards membership of the European Union and NATO have made little headway because of a dispute with Greece over Macedonia’s name, which it shares with a northern Greek province.