Macedonia's political stability has been undermined by over a year of intractable conflict between the government and the oppositions. Allegations of government corruption has entrenched the opposition while hurting Skopje's image abroad; meanwhile, the latest violence in Kumanovo expands the crisis to the security sphere and complicates any resolution.
Macedonia is in a societal chaos. A political crisis has lingered since the elections in April 2014 when the main opposition party (the Social Democratic Union – SDSM) started boycotting the Assembly. The crisis escalated with the publication of wiretapped phone calls of top-level government officials. But most recently, the security forces clashed with more than 50 heavily armed suspected terrorist around the multiethnic town of Kumanovo on the 9th and 10th of May. Biased reporting and murky statements by international representatives compounds the security vacuum in the fragile state and contributes to a high likelihood of protracted turmoil. The loss of 8 members of the Special Forces and the forty wounded has underscores the assets available to the suspected terrorists, the porousness of the borders, which highlights the inability of security forces to deal with the residual radicalism of the wars in neighboring Kosovo and Bosnia.
Perspectives and Proscriptions for Resolution
The political and security chaos affects all political actors. Therefore, a proactive approach is essential for moving towards de-escalation of the crisis. The Macedonian government has to show an ability to reform the problematized aspects of the political system, and to pursue processes that would resolve the scandals, pervasive corruption, and election rigging. The resignations offered by the ministers of interior and transport, as well as the chief of the counterintelligence department, illustrates some positive attitudes within the leadership toward reform. However, these developments must be accompanied by substantive structural changes to the political arrangement and commitment to meaningful political dialogue with the opposition and Albanian parties in Macedonia—this burden lies squarely on Prime Minister Gruevski and his cabinet.
The opposition, on the other hand, has to realistically assess its role in the crisis and its responsibilities. The leadership maintains an untenable position on participation in the government, even following last year’s poor performance at the polls when they lost a significant amount of public support (losing by more than 200,000 votes in a country of 2.1 million). Resolving the opposition’s truculence would require their active participation in the national Assembly and presence on investigatory commissions related to the wiretapping scandal to de-escalate the political crisis. However, the political crisis is now exacerbated by an emerging security crisis—last week’s security operation in Kumanovo points to renewed violence in Macedonia from extremist elements within the Albanian community. That small minority threatens to undermine the peace that has been built over the last decade since the 2001 Ohrid Agreement between the majority Macedonians and minority Albanians in Macedonia.
Internationally, the security crisis in Macedonia is largely the result of a security vacuum left by NATO after its interventions in the Balkans. Radicalization in the Balkans presents a major challenge for Macedonia’s internal security going forward because Skopje envisions NATO membership as a guarantee of its internal balance. The internationalization of jihadis from the region that are fighting with ISIS or other radical groups in Iraq and Syria will have a significant destabilizing effect on the Balkans when these fighters return. For Skopje, an invitation to join NATO is a security priority, not a political bargaining chip. This contributes to a perception of NATO members as hypocritical when it comes to membership conditionality, particularly legal reforms and whistle blowers’ protections in light of Western governments’ own reaction to whistle blowers like Snowden.
The fragile situation in Macedonia presents a significant challenge to the ruling coalition, while the raid in Kumanovo appears to be a sideshow to the ongoing political standoff between the government and the opposition. But, such actions increase the likelihood of more violence and threaten the uneasy peace that has held since 2001. Stability will remain elusive without the opposition’s participation in government and movement on the wiretapping scandal. With eyes once again on the Balkans, past issues will inevitably play a major role amid increasing external interest in the region.
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