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Opinion: Macedonians stand up

Thousands of demonstrators in Skopje demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Governing will become a difficult task, as the people have been shedding their fears, says DW's Zoran Jordanovski.

Images of the Macedonian capital are impressive: Despite several government attempts to prevent the large demonstration on Sunday, masses of people from all over Macedonia gathered in Skopje. They held a friendly, if not cheerful, demonstration. But their message to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was loud and clear: Your time is up, resign now!

This was not just the demand of the social democratic opposition, who initially called for the demonstration. Political party flags and banners were largely absent. Instead, the strongest and most unmistakable symbols were the different ethnic flags: Macedonian, Albanian, Serbian and those of other minorities living in Macedonia. But the protesters were not there to convey a partisan or ethnic message: They were simply discontented Macedonian citizens.

A battle against a corrupt and criminal system

The publication of illegally recorded wiretap transcripts convinced many Macedonians that their present leaders act in an arrogant, corrupt and criminal manner and that they completely disregard the basic rights of their citizens. This awareness drove the people to the streets, but not just yesterday; they have been demonstrating across the country for days now.

Zoran Jordanovski

Zoran Jordanovski heads DW's Macedonian desk

No matter how long the prime minister can maintain power, running the country will become more and more difficult; nothing is as it once was. Now that the people have awakened and freed themselves of paralyzing fear, they will fight even more strongly to assert their right to live in a real democracy, not a sham.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of demonstrators are young people whose lives are affected by unemployment and a lack of perspectives. Now they are fighting for their country's future, and by extension, their own. They have announced they will camp in front of the government building until Gruevski resigns.

The people have taken the lead in this situation but victory is nowhere in sight. Counter-demonstrations are already expected to take place today. The government will do their best to gather as many supporters as possible: Some of them will even be paid or brought to Skopje at the state's expense.

The government wants to display broad support for Gruevski and of course, to bolster his position - especially for negotiations to be arbitrated by three European parliamentarians with opposition leader Zoran Zaev in Strasbourg on Tuesday. But Gruevski is also facing the demands to resign, which have been growing louder in the West, as well.

The EU must do more for Macedonia

The conflict will continue, as there is no end in sight and further unrest is expected. Macedonia is fervently searching for its identity, its future and the best way to get there. Paradoxically, the government and the opposition officially speak of the same goals: EU and NATO membership, and the integration of Macedonia into the West.

One may cast doubts on the government's intentions and whether it is truly striving for these goals. The aspirations of the opposition are earnest, yet it does not have any power. Furthermore, the country faces an insurmountable obstacle: Greece's veto against Macedonia's accession to the EU, as long as Macedonia uses the name to which the Greeks have claimed rights.

The EU's support comes much too late to help Macedonia get on track with the EU membership process. In the end, the EU's efforts are half-hearted and it has done little to eliminate the country's main stumbling blocks.

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