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Expert Altmann warns of 'national catastrophe' in Macedonia

Macedonia is grappling with its deepest political crisis since its independence from the former Yugoslavia. It could turn into a civil war, Eastern Europe expert Franz-Lothar Altmann warns.

DW: We've witnessed a rapid deterioration of the political and security situation in the Republic of Macedonia over the weekend - how do you rate these latest developments?

Franz-Lothar Altmann: The deterioration in fact increases the fear that things might completely get out of control, which will end up in civil war. In such a situation, extremist forces among the Albanians might feel encouraged to undertake terrorist action in order to further destabilize the country, opening the option for a complete collapse of the country and thus a final secession of the Albanian part. The EU, and in particular Germany, which still has substantial influence as an alleged neutral broker with its much-declared sympathy for the country, must urgently address the government in Skopje and call for unconditional talks with the opposition. Otherwise, Macedonia´s democracy, weak as it already is, will end up in a national catastrophe.

Macedonia finds itself in a deep political crisis since February following revelations by the opposition of a mass wiretapping scandal, and the government's counter-claims of a coup d'etat. What is your opinion on this political crisis?

We are following the constant deterioration of the political situation in Macedonia with great concern. We can't exclude that it might get out of control, with consequences not only for the country itself but also for its neighbors. The Albanian minority might even strive more strongly for separatism than so far, involving Kosovo and Albania proper. It is a mystery why the present conservative government indeed risks further disintegration of the society and the country. The government's crude interpretations concerning the obvious violations of basic rights do not meet with understanding or acceptance abroad.

Franz-Lothar Altmann

Balkans expert Franz-Lothar Altmann

The so-called "wiretapping scandal" revealed massive violations of human rights and abuse of power by the current conservative government in Skopje but so far, the ruling party has rejected calls for its resignation. On the other hand, the Foreign Affairs Commission of the German Bundestag held a closed session on the situation in Macedonia in March this year. German MPs told DW after the session that government representatives had warned: "the main problem in Macedonia is the authoritarian course of the current government and its prime minister." How can such evaluations affect the German policy towards the country, and can we expect a deeper involvement from Berlin in the political crisis in the country?

Authoritarian rule and violence against protesting citizens will not help resolve the international political situation, and will further add to the alienation between the EU and Macedonia. Germany in particular is very disturbed and disappointed because over the last years, Berlin always tried to support Skopje in its attempts to forge closer ties with NATO and the EU. The previous positive image of Macedonia has been constantly damaged over the last months, which makes it more difficult to convince our MPs to promote Germany´s engagement vis-à-vis Macedonia, be it in the framework of pre-accession support or on the unfortunate name issue. Probably, there will be no official reaction from Berlin, except condemnation of the use of force in internal disputes, but it would be important to feel the distinct reluctance caused by deep disappointment.

German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier visited the region last week, though not Macedonia. Afterwards, several media quoted EU diplomats saying they are worried about the developments in the region, specifically in Bosnia and Macedonia. Do you share their concern? Can the EU or Germany do more for the region?

I'm really concerned about the negative developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska in particular, and in Macedonia, also because these tensions could spread. But the EU is rather helpless, all we can expect are appeals. The only instrument the EU has is the prospect of eventual membership, and this is in both cases an extremely weak tool.

Franz-Lothar Altmann teaches International and Intercultural Relations at the University of Bucharest. He is a member of the executive board of the Southeast Europe Association and of the BTI-Boards (Bertelsmann Transformation Index).

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