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Macedonia in a downward spiral of division

Europe

The recent elections in Macedonia have sparked incremental and divisive nationalistic hard-line rhetoric that raises concerns about a potential ethnic conflict, instead of producing a constructive political solution for the country facing EU and NATO integration challenges.

Mogherini’s visit to the western Balkans last week ended with an “ultimatum” to Macedonia’s President Gjorge Ivanov, demanding he granted the opposition a mandate to form new government. However, Ivanov’s response was a formal letter sent to the European Council’s president, Donald Tusk, ahead of the 9th -10th March EU summit, warning him to avoid attempts by Western powers to have a political agenda “written in Tirana” imposed on his country.

What started as a wiretapping scandal made public by Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDMS), the country’s main opposition, party was followed by extensive protests that led to early parliamentary elections in the country. According to many in the West, this was likely to produce political change in Macedonia after the Gruevski government’s ten years in power. But this was not the case. The governing party won 51 seats, the SDMS won 49 seats, while Albanian parties won 20 seats (BDI 10 seats, Besa Movement 5 seats, AAC 3 seats and PDSH 2 seats) and as established by the constitution, President Gjorge Ivanov handed over to Gruevski of VMRO-DPMNE a mandate to create a new government as leader of the party with the majority of seats.

The outcome of these elections have resulted in the Albanian parties being seen as kingmakers and their issues as essential in order to form a stable government for Macedonia. BDI, the largest ethnic Albanian political party, set the condition that Albanian should become the second official language in the country alongside Macedonian. But at this point precisely, the political discourse began its downward spiral, consisting of nationalistic hard-line rhetoric that may have consequence for peace and stability in the country, and potentially in the region as a whole.

Following Gruevski’s firm refusal to form a government with the Albanian parties, proclaiming as unacceptable the condition involving the Albanian language, it is now President Ivanov, a member of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, who is refusing to ask the SDMS (again the main opposition political force, second in line) to form a new government. His reasoning is that his decision is addressed at protecting national interests and preventing Zaev’s negotiations to accept a foreign country agenda, supposedly a step forward in creating a Greater Albania.

As of February 27th, when opposition leader Zaev presented signatures from three ethnic Albanian political parties to Ivanov - showing he has support from a total of 67 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament to form a new government - Nicola Gruevski called for mass protests against the Albanians’ agenda seen as a serious threat to Macedonian national interests. For days now, Macedonian nationalist mass protests, in some cases violent, have merged in Skopje’s streets, creating the conditions for raising ethnic tension between the two largest ethnic groups in the country