2015-FYROM faced security and political challenges

2015-FYROM faced security and political challenges

Skopje, 29 December 2015/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Naser Pajaziti

The deep political crisis that escalated with the armed incidents in Kumanovo on May 9 marked the culmination of events that shocked FYR Macedonia. This situation could lead the country toward a new conflict with unpredictable consequences. However, with a strong international involvement, the country regained political normality, thanks to an agreement reached on June 2, with the brokerage of the European Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn. Year 2015 was also associated with protests by students and workers who had been working in bankrupted state enterprises.

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In the security aspect, there were no other security threats, besides the incident of Kumanovo, for which a wide investigation is being sought, including international expertise.

In the political aspect, one of the most important events was the publication of registered conversations by the leader of Macedonian opposition, Zoran Zaev. These materials which were made public, revealed authentic conversations between Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his collaborators, the content of which relates to unlawful activities of the government, prime minister and other officials.

Zaev said that Prime Minister Gruevski’s power had put under surveillance 20 thousand people. However, Macedonian opposition returned to parliament and political dialogue was launched for a political agreement, which has not yet been fully implemented. According to this agreement, there will be fresh elections on 24 April and a new temporary government which includes the opposition was to be formed. In the economic plan, government took out large loans, investments fell and a 3,4 billion euro budget was approved. This is considered to be the largest budget that the country has ever seen.

Kumanovo shook security of the country, threats of escalation

Although several small ethnic based incidents were registered at the beginning of the year, nobody could think that that this place, which came out of the 2001 conflict, could be involved in a serious incident which would shock the state of security in the country. The Kumanovo events took place on May 9, where an incident took place between an armed group considered a terrorist group by the government clashed with Macedonian security forces. The incidents had been warned, because on April 21, there was an attack on a border police post in Gosinca near the border with Kosovo. The armed group that was involved in the May 9 clashes was also involved in the April 21 attack.

Macedonian special police unit member talks to Albanians leaving the area where a battle took place involving the police and an armed group, in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, on Sunday, May 10, 2015. Fighting between police forces and members of an armed group has ended after two days in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo leaving 8 police officers and 14 armed suspected terrorists dead. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

During the clash that lasted two days in the multi-ethnic city in the north of the country, 8 members of police remained killed along with 14 members of the armed group, which mainly consisted of veterans of the National Liberation Army and Kosovo Liberation Army. Around 30 members of this group were arrested by police and a trial is underway to find out what really happened on 9 May.

Armed clashes in Kumanovo between police and an armed group

Such situation which could threaten the stability of the country sparked the reaction of the international community, which demanded an international investigation.

Kumanovo, two days of war with victims and wounded

But, authorities in Skopje launched a probe through the Prosecution. Clashes in Kumanovo led to the damage of 120 homes in the quarter known as “Divna Selo”. But in order to calm the citizens of this area, who were revolted, the government compensated all the residents for their damaged homes.

3 months following the events in Kumanovo, the state pays for the damages

The events in Kumanovo led to the resignation of the minister of Interior, Gordana Jankulovska and head of Secret Services, Saso Mijalkov, for their responsibility in the incident and the death of police members. But their resignation came following a request by international community.

The political crisis was overcome with the June 2 agreement

In the political aspect, since the start of the year, the country was engulfed by a serious political crisis. The situation further aggravated as the leader of Macedonian opposition, Zoran Zaev (chairman of SDSM) started the publication of registered conversations, the so called “bombs”, against the government, Zaev said that the publication of these materials reveals the criminal acts and the control exerted by the state and government led by Nikola Gruevski and his cousin, Saso Mijalkov (former head of Secret Services).

European Neighborhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations commissioner Johannes Hahn, center, and the four most relevant party leaders in Macedonia, Prime Minister and leader of the VMRO-DPMNE conservative party Nikola Gruevski, left, leader of the Democratic Union for Integrations Ali Ahmeti, second from left, leader of Macedonian opposition Social Democrats Zoran Zaev, right and leader of the Democratic Party of the Albanians Menduh Thaci, second from right, come to the media after their talks in Skopje, Macedonia, early Wednesday, July 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

The publication of the conversations revealed many decisions of the Prime Minister and his collaborators, which were unlawful and carried out as a form of reprisal against their opponents. These materials also revealed electoral fraud. But, immediately after they were published, Ministry of Interior and Prime Minister Gruevski pressed criminal charges against opposition leader Zaev. Zaev was accused of publishing state secrets, of collaborating with secret services and violating constitutional order. This led to the arrest of four people and among them Zoran Verusevski, former head of the secret services during the time when Macedonian social democrats were in power from ’92 to ’98, his wife and two other collaborators, while the opposition leader was not arrested, even though the court seized his passport in order for him not to leave the country.

Opposition to publicate its ‘bombs’ today, fresh arrests

IBNA Op-Ed/Skopje amid opposition ‘bombs’ and the government offensive

The publication of these materials revealed several state scandals, the capturing of the judiciary system from politics and the government, acts of corruption by officials, manipulation with the elections, which led to a drop in public trust on the institutions. In spite of this, through its media, the government denied the opposition’s accusations, stressing that a part of the conversations were manipulated.

Such situation of political aggravation led to a prompt intervention of the international community and on June 2, political parties put an end to the political crisis, but also to the tense security situation following the Kumanovo events. The leaders of the four parties, Nikola Gruevski of VMRO-DPMNE, Zoran Zaev of SDSM, Ali Ahmeti of BDI and Menduh Thaci of PDSH, managed to strike the June 2 political agreement known as the Przino Agreement.

Debates in Skopje following yesterday’s agreement brokered by Hahn

This agreement gave way to the political dialogue. The opposition came back to parliament and the Special Prosecution was set up. This institution would investigate the wiretapping affair and political parties agreed on carrying out several reforms and on implementing the Ohrid Agreement, which relates to the advancement of the rights of the Albanian community. Through this agreement which was completed on 15 July, leaders of the four parties agreed for the country to head to early elections on 24 April 2016. But these elections would be held by an interim government which would have a three month mandate, without Gruevski as Prime Minister. Also, the agreement also entitled the opposition to participate in the current government with an interior minister and other ministers.

But the process of implementation of this agreement continued with problems and gridlocks, due to the constant political disagreements. The Macedonian political camp continues to be dominated by VMRO-DPMNE in power and SDSM (Macedonian Social Democratic League) in opposition, whereas in the Albanian political camp, besides BDI (Democratic Union for Integration) and PDSH (Albanian Democratic Party), there’s also other new political parties, which are aiming to reconfigure the political arena which will be tested in the April elections.

The refugee crisis

FYROM was one of the transition destinations for refugees coming from Middle East. Their number increased in the recent months. Besides refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, refugees from other countries were considered illegal. In the summer, the government approved the law which enabled them free movement of 72 hours in the territory of the country.

FYROM on alert from illegal emigrants

The large number of refugees continued to rise in the months of April, May and June and so on. To cope with this situation, authorities of the country opened accommodation centers for refugees in the south of the country on the border with Greece, near the city of Gevgelija and another welcome center in the north of the country in Tabanoc in the Serb border. From June of this year until 29 December, the number of refugees which have entered the country was 377 refugees: 210 of them were from Syria, 93 thousand were from Afghanistan, 52 thousand were from Iraq and the rest was from other African and Asian countries. From that period until now, only 80 refugees have sought asylum, as they do not want to remain in this country.

refugees

The rise in the number of refugees forced the country to take extra measures in selecting refugees on the border with Greece. Authorities stopped entry of refugees from countries which are not involved in armed conflicts and are allowing only refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Ministry of Interior and the army have been placed on the border, where a barbed wire fence has been raised in order to prevent the illegal entry of refugees. President of the country, George Ivanov said that 1 million euros a month are to face the refugee crisis and for this, he demanded urgent aid from the European Union. The number of refugees is on the rise even in this cold weather.

The effects of the crises in the economy

The political crisis and the refugee crisis were also reflected on the economy. The country faced a drop in investments, rising prices and fresh debts by the government to cover budget deficits. The serious political situation in FYROM had a negative impact in the economy, especially in foreign investments.

Minister of Finance, Zoran Stavrevski says that he expects positive signs in economy after the solution of the political crisis.

“For the time being, I expects economic indicators not to deteriorate, but everything depends on how fast will the political crisis be overcome. I believe that it would be a good thing to come out of this situation and for businesses to start and implement their investment plans”, says minister Stavrevski, who is facing opposition’s accusations in relation to the negative trends in the economy.

Budget prompts fresh debates between majority and opposition

The political crisis led to foreign investments to mark the lowest level in the past ten years. According to the data from the Popular Bank, investments in the first half of the year were 120 million euros, 25 million less than that of the same period last year.

Popular Bank also lowered economic growth forecast for this year to 3%. But opposition economic experts say that the country will not mark any economic growth, due to the failed government policies.

Freedom of media and corruption

Lack of freedom of the media and corruption are two problematic issues that are ruining the image of the country. Based on the evaluation of international organizations, FYROM ranks among countries where there’s censorship and the government exerts control on the media and free speech. Freedom of the media was further suppressed with the closure of several newspapers, the lack of results in the accident that led to the death of Nikola Mladenov, publisher of the weekly Fokus, but also other problems for the media, especially the opposition media, which are struggling to survive due to the lack of funds.

Journalists in protest: Politics cannot speak on behalf of the media

Association of Journalists in the country has declared that the freedom of speech and independence of the of the media are seriously threatened. The talks for the solution of the political crisis also involve the bill on the media, which aims at lifting state control and state adverts on the media, depoliticization of regulatory institutions and public media. A part of journalists have also faced violent attacks.

A journalist from an opposition media is beaten in Skopje

Organizations such as Freedom House ranks the country in the list of countries with partially free media, part of which are African countries like Tanzania. Corruption is also a main concern and the country continues to be on the list of countries with high corruption. This situation is also reflected in the justice system, due to the control and political influences.

Criticism for a politicized and inefficient judiciary system in FYROM

Another chance for European integration, problems in the recent months

FYROM has maintained a status quo in the aspect of Euro Atlantic integration. Although not a lot was expected, the European Union made a fresh recommendation for accession, but this was a conditional invitation. In case there’s no progress in the implementation of the political agreement and if the April 24, 2016 elections are not free and democratic, then Brussels has warned that it will withdraw the recommendation for the country.

Progress report sparks debates and criticism in Skopje

But one of the most problematic issues remains the name contest with Greece. NATO and the EU have been clear: without the solution of this dispute, there is no accession. However, there’s been improvement in the relations between Skopje and Athens, following a visit by the Greek Foreign Minister, Kotzias in Skopje and the latest visit of minister Nikola Popovski in Athens.

Greek Foreign Minister to visit Skopje

These visits were considered to be historical as there had been no such visits on a ministerial level for 13 years.

In the meantime, the situation has aggravated with the recent protests against pollution, as Tetovo is considered as the most polluted city in the world with a level of pollution 18 times higher than the permitted level. Citizens of Tetovo, Skopje and several other cities have demanded urgent measures from the government to reduce level of pollution and this would be achieved by shutting down the metallurgic plants and other industrial companies.

The recent days have also been associated with clashes between majority and opposition, which have started a pre electoral campaign for the April elections, unfolding their objectives. /ibna/