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Macedonia: Ex-PM threatens ambassadors, NGOs

December 19, 2016

Macedonia is in danger of sliding into dictatorship, analysts tell DW, after former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski issued threats to foreign representatives and non-governmental organizations.

Mazedonien Wahlen - VMRO-DPMNE Gruevski
Image: Reuters/O. Teofilovski

A list of threats issued by the leadership of Macedonia's ruling party and announced by its president and former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (photo above) has caused consternation and disbelief in the country, less than a week after the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE won a tiny majority in tightly contested early parliamentary elections. The list, issued as a manifesto, declares that the ruling party plans to put an end to foreign meddling, stop negotiations under EU or US mediation and fight against NGOs financed from abroad.

Angry that the opposition decided to complain about voting irregularities in some polling stations before the country's State Electoral Commission (SEC), Gruevski told a crowd of his supporters on December 17 that he won't tolerate any more foreign meddling. 

In a scathing attack against the Western diplomats in the country he accused unnamed foreign representatives of "trying to influence the SEC" through their actions. "Some ambassadors are meddling far too much in our internal politics. That must stop,” he declared.

"We have information that foreign representatives were involved in the work of the SEC with a goal to influence one of its members to conduct post-election engineering and falsifying the will of the citizens", Gruevski said.

Gruevski resigned his post in January after almost 10 years in office following the opposition having revealed a wiretapping scandal and widespread corruption. A new government, in line with an EU mediated political deal, was formed with the task of organizing early elections. In another worrying sign, Gruevski announced that his party will no longer take part in political meetings in the presence of ambassadors or foreign representatives.

Support and mediation from both the EU and the US have been crucial for Macedonia since it gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, especially in 2001 when the country stood on the brink of a bloody civil war between the majority ethnic Macedonians and the ethnic Albanian minority that comprises around a quarter of the country's population. In 2015, Brussels and Washington helped feuding Macedonian political parties secure the political deal that was supposed to solve the deep political crisis. 

On December 16, Gruevski met the US and the EU ambassadors in Macedonia and his party later published almost full transcripts of the conversations - a highly unusual practice in diplomatic protocol - aiming to show the public Gruevski's "tough" stance during the talks.

No partner for Gruevski

Preliminary results show Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE won 51 of the 120 seats in parliament, two more than the opposition Social Democrats. Gruevski needs to form a coalition with a junior partner from the ethnic Albanian political block to ensure majority for a new government. But so far, none of the four smaller parties that represent the Albanian minority are willing to join him.

Mazedonien Jubel Wahlen Zoran Zaev
Zoran Zaev, leader of the Macedonian opposition party SDSM, celebrates with supporters in Skopje after early results of the parliamentary electionsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/V. Xhemaj

Faced with the possibility of losing power and under huge international pressure to allow democratic change, Gruevski appeared uncompromising, claiming he won't allow his rival Zoran Zaev of the opposition Social Democrats to form a government, and his party "will not allow functioning of institutions that don't have the legitimacy of the citizens." 

Nano Ruzin, former Macedonian ambassador to NATO, told DW that Gruevski is desperately trying to implement a different scenario and change his fortunes.

"He wants to get into the potential governing coalition at all costs," Ruzin said. "If he doesn't succeed he'll try to turn the country into autocracy with unforeseeable consequences for the country and its democracy."  

'Conspiracy against the government'

Since the beginning of the political crisis in Macedonia, pro-government media regularly blamed the EU, the US and NGOs allegedly financed by American billionaire George Soros for what they perceive as conspiracy against the government. Gruevski's speech marks a new level of aggression against both Western representatives in the country and supporters of the opposition. 

"We'll fight for de-Soros-isation of Macedonia and strengthening of an independent civil society that won't be under anyone's control," Gruevski announced.

Calls for protests in front of the US Embassy in Skopje on social media were later supplemented with threats against opposition supporters and publishing of their home addresses accompanied with the message "Get ready, we're coming." Speaking during a VMRO rally on December 15 one party official told supporters to prepare for the "Night of Knives," possibly referring to events in Nazi Germany in 1934 known as the "Night of the Long Knives."

Information made available to DW on condition of anonymity prior to the elections confirm there were plans by the ruling party to outlaw foreign financing of domestic NGOs. The new law is believed to be similar to Russia's Foreign Agents Law, introduced in 2012 by Vladimir Putin's administration.

But some of the representatives of the Macedonian NGO sector seem unmoved by Gruevski's threats.

"That was Gruevski's last speech," Andrea Stojkovski, president of the think tank Macedonian Center for European Training, told DW. 
"He declared war on everyone and with that speech he just opened the door for his own departure from the politics."