A week before the referendum it is now obvious, and at the same time disheartening, that the current government is trying to appropriate the whole issue, portraying its eventual success as its own and blaming its eventual failure on others. This is all the more unfortunate since in reality the parties making up the government did not even get a majority of votes in the last parliamentary elections, and if the referendum is to succeed it will have to rely heavily on voters who disapprove of the government. Precisely for this reason it is all the more necessary that these voters that approve of the EU and NATO but not the government, turn out to vote and make sure that the referendum succeeds. In the long term that is the only guarantee that things may finally change; otherwise we will be doomed to be governed by unaccountable governments, such as the previous and current one.
Many people certainly have doubts about the agreement itself. There is the question of whether this was the best deal possible, or have better deals been rejected in the past. Some may wonder why Macedonia did not get an immediate start to EU negotiations, or a speedy integration like Bulgaria and Romania. For Albanians there are additional worries, as they have largely been ignored in the process. There is the issue with Article 3 which could be interpreted as a negation of other ethnic identities in the country. Finally there is that sense of unfairness that while the Macedonian language finally gets recognized by its name, Albanian will remain nameless in the constitution and laws of the country, “that language spoken by the 20%”.
On the record of government, to give credit where it is due, it no doubt has taken certain steps to correct what it inherited from the previous one. This is particularly true in the matter of international relations where Macedonia’s position in the world is as positive as it has ever been. Pressure on the media has also relaxed, though far from enough.
Much however remains the same, and in certain fields it is even worse. Half of the old “regime” government is part of new “reform” one, meaning most of the same faces, not just the same parties. Notorious businessmen, media and public personalities have simply switched sides and now hail the government just as they did the old one. Public procurement continues to be conducted through shady backroom deals, often involving the same old characters and companies. Party membership is still the surest way to a job in any public institution.
Rule of law, under the slogan “No justice, no peace”, was the chief problem of the old “regime” and the chief driving force of its opposition. This is the sphere where most hope was laid and most progress was expected. Yet nothing seems to have moved forward. Commissions were formed and dissolved, but no judicial reforms are in sight. “Bombs” were published showing how prosecutors and judges were selected through party deals, and yet justice continues to be dealt by those same prosecutors and judges. The “Almir” case showed that the system has not overcome its prejudice along ethnic lines, and that you will be protected as long as you hold close to the party in power. Persons accused of rigging elections are now at the front of the “pro” campaign, in effect turning people away from a “pro” vote and throwing doubt in the referendum process itself. Local elections were conducted in a manner in many ways reminiscent of the “regime” times.
Economically things seem to be turning for the worse. In general it seems that the new government has no clue what it wants to do, and frequently ends up continuing where the old government left off. Ostensibly it is focused on social policies dear to the left, but often they seem just copies of the worst populist habits of the old government. Instead of addressing the enormous scope, waste and corruption of the public sector, it pays for this additional spending through higher taxes and more borrowing. There is no hint that the bloated administration will ever be reformed and reduced. GDP has stagnated, capital investments declined, and the average income has only risen due to changes in its calculation methodology and the pushed-through higher minimum wage. Even during the referendum campaign the key message seems to be that everything will be free, as if the EU was some kind of Santa Clause.
A similar situation reigns in other fields. Promises made to medical workers have been forgotten and they are fleeing the country in record numbers. Public health institutions continue to be nests of corruption with enormous sums tendered to shady companies. Public schools still face the old problems of under-funding and underpaid teachers. Pupil textbooks abound with errors, offensive content to Albanians, while physically they are in a sorry state. All the while the Ministry continues to dole out rich contracts to its preferred publishers. Environmentally nothing is being done to address the chronic problems of air pollution and waste management. Green surfaces continue to be indiscriminately cut down, precisely in the way that the party in power used to accuse the old government. To please some oligarchs it tried to make backroom deals to restart the great polluter Jugohrom without filters, by threatening or trying to buy-out ecological activists that shut it down in the first place.
Nevertheless these are not reasons to reject the agreement with Greece. On the contrary this is exactly why the referendum must succeed and integrations proceed. If the agreement falls apart things will only get worse, this and future governments more unaccountable and tyrannical, wholly out of control. Our only hope for criminals and corrupt politicians to stand trial, to make government a service of the people, and guarantee a safe future, now lay in EU and NATO integration. Thus precisely because this government is as bad and corrupt as the previous one, we should make sure the referendum on the 30th succeeds.
Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik