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Europe

'Macedonia will only survive as a democratic country'

The latest elections have failed to put an end to the political crisis in Macedonia. Gudrun Steinacker, former German ambassador to Macedonia, explains what can be done to help the small Balkan country.

Mazedonien Wahlen (DW/ P. Stojanovski )

Elections in Macedonia in December

DW: Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov declined to offer a mandate to form a new government to the main opposition party, the Social Democrats. Previously, the conservative leader and former premier Nikola Gruevski, had failed to form a government. How do you evaluate the president's role in the current political crisis?

Gudrun Steinacker: I find it deplorable, because he does not anwer the question what else there is to do and how to overcome the present situation in the country. So the only other solution would probably be new elections, which would mean another few months of total stagnation. That would be an expensive choice for a small country like Macedonia: Organizing elections so often is very difficult. [Editor's note: The last vote in December was held as part of a European Union-brokered deal between Macedonia's main political parties aimed at ending a long-running political crisis. At the elections in December, Gruevski's conservative party VMRO-DPMNE secured 51 seats in the 120-seat parliament - only two more than the Social Democrats.]

The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed the West was trying to destabilize Macedonia. "The goal is obvious - to deal with Macedonian politicians unwelcome by the West", it stated at the end of last week. Do you agree with Moscow that conservative leader Gruevski is 'unwelcome' by the West?

Gudrun Steinacker (DW/P. Stojanovski)

Gudrun Steinacker, former German ambassador to Macedonia and Montenegro

Of course his reputation is severely damaged due to the wiretapping affair, which has not been clarified yet. We have to see what the special prosecutor will finally come up with. We know how often she is being attacked by media organizations close to the VMRO-DPMNE, which is not acceptable in my view. She should have a chance to do her job.

During my time as an ambassador, I did not see that Russia was really playing a constructive and positive role in Macedonia. And I'm a little amazed at the relatively new interest of Russia in Macedonia. I'm not sure whether the Russians are really taking into account that this is a fragile, ethnically and religiously very mixed country. I have the feeling that the Russian government is either not aware of this, or that it doesn't take it into account sufficiently. And finally, I don't see what Russia is offering the country and the region.

Many politicians in Brussels and Berlin seem to be tired of the Macedonian crisis. Do you see any danger that the EU and Germany, who obviously have to deal with much bigger problems such as Trump's presidency, the Brexit and the refugee crisis, could give up on this small Balkan country and accept any solution that might guarantee its stability - even at the expense of democracy? 

It is difficult to predict what is going on in Brussels. There is a certain fatigue with regard to the crisis in Macedonia and to the situation in the Balkans, particularly regarding EU enlargement: That was even an argument used by Western and German politicians in their dialogue with regional elites, with the message - 'You have to make more efforts towards reforms'. I could imagine that there is a certain fatigue, but on the other hand, I think the crucial people who are dealing with Macedonia are aware that they cannot give up on the country and that they have to stay involved. But there are also different positions in different EU countries and I see a problem for the EU to find a common stance on what to do and how to do it. 

Do you think the EU is doing enough in Macedonia and in the Balkans?

As someone who has been involved with the Balkans for so many years, it is my personal view that there is not enough involvement, although we do a lot for the Balkans in particular terms: economic support, support for the reforms etc. But perhaps we should rethink the methods and instruments that we - the EU or Germany - are using and adapt them more to the problems of the region so that we can see real progress and not only progress on paper.

What could be the solution for the Macedonian crisis in your opinion?

I think we should ask, in the foreseeable future, for all the claims of wrongdoing and even criminal acts to be investigated. I would not exclude anyone. And all those who are under investigation should refrain from taking political positions until we know what actually happened. It is still very unclear what happened in many cases. I would like to mention, for example, the case of the young people who were killed in Smilkovci [in 2012]. These are cases that put a strain on relations between the different ethnic groups in the country. Macedonia will only survive as a liberal, democratic country, a homeland for all its citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion. 

Gudrun Steinacker was Germany's ambassador to Macedonia from 2011 to 2014.

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