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Macedonia's planned destabilization

Boris Georgievski, Leiter DW Mazedonisch
Boris Georgievski
April 28, 2017

The outbreak of violence in Skopje is hardly surprising. The attack on the Macedonian parliament is the result of a long-planned attempt to destroy democracy, says DW's Boris Georgievski.

Mazedonien Erstürmung des Parlaments
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Grdanoski

Yesterday's violent storming of the Macedonian parliament had one goal: to make it possible for former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his clique from the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party to stay in power at any price. The party won a narrow victory in early parliamentary elections in Macedonia in December 2016, but failed to build a governing coalition.

The Social Democratic Union under the leadership of Zoran Zaev was more successful, forming a coalition with three Albanian parties. Albanians are the second-biggest ethnic group in the country, at around 25 percent. The Albanian parties had refused to work with Gruevski because of his nationalist statements and attempts to stamp out democracy in Macedonia.

After losing the majority in parliament, Gruevski and his party opted to block parliament and prevent the election of a speaker, as well as the formation of a new government. Gruevski was supported in this by Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov.

Power at any price

After MPs from the parliamentary majority decided on Thursday to end the blockade and elect a new parliamentary speaker, the sign was given, and the situation devolved into mayhem and violence.

Georgievski Boris Kommentarbild App
Boris Georgievski heads DW's Macedonian department

Hundreds of people under the direct command of VMRO-DPMNE stormed parliament, wearing black masks to cover their faces. Some of them carried guns, knives and baseball bats. The police, in league with Gruevski, didn't just let them in, they even greeted them. Only after two hours had passed were special units able to enter parliament. MPs from the new parliamentary majority were the main targets of the attack, but journalists were also injured. In all, more than 100 people were wounded, including three opposition MPs who were taken to hospital with serious injuries. 

Intentional destabilization

The incident was anything but spontaneous. It was planned and organized by Gruevski and his party. For him and his inner circle, losing power means they will likely be looking at jail sentences of several years. The Special Prosecutor's office, founded several years ago after pressure from both the EU and the US, accuses him of spying on tens of thousands of citizens via intelligence services while he was prime minister. He's also accused of election fraud and ties to other corrupt practices.

Mazedonien Proteste im Parlament
Opposition leader Zoran Zaev was the victim of the violenceImage: picture-alliance/abaca/N. Batev

To prevent being prosecuted, Gruevski and his party have for months now deliberately been trying to provoke an ethnic conflict between Macedonians and Albanians, labeling anyone who cooperates with them as "traitors."  Controlled destabilization of the country would provide Gruevski with the trump card he needs to be recognized again as a negotiating partner with the international community. And that, in turn, would open the door for an amnesty for his decade-long criminal regime.

Failure of EU policy

And if that doesn't work, there's an alternative scenario. There is already public speculation that President Ivanov could declare a state of war, putting an end to Macedonia's already weak democracy.

Mazedonien Proteste im Parlament in Skopje
It took the police two hours to bring the violence in parliament under controlImage: Reuters/O. Teofilovski

After Thursday's bloody events, it's clear that Gruevski and Ivanov could see such a plan through, meaning it will be no surprise if the situation in Macedonia continues to escalate. What would be a surprise is if the EU and its leading member states, such as Germany, were to finally take decisive action and stand up for democracy in Macedonia. Gruevski is the best example of the EU's failed policy in regard to the Balkans, where autocratic rulers have been supported for years instead of liberal, democratic politicians. The rule of thumb appears to be "stability before democracy." But that is coming back home like a boomerang, and the price is the loss of both democracy and stability. It may already be too late for Macedonia, and an indecisive EU is partly to blame.

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