“FYROM 2013”: Protests, cross ethnic violence, isolation and disintegration

“FYROM 2013”: Protests, cross ethnic violence, isolation and disintegration

For more, follow the full summary report of the journalist of Independent News Agency in Skopje, Naser Pajaziti

During 2013, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was characterized by different events which were reflected in the aspect of security, cross ethnic relations and Euro integrating process.

2013 once again marked another failure with the name dispute with Greece still unresolved. This didn’t allow the country to open negotiations with EU, after 5 consecutive years in which the opening of negotiations was recommended. This year was also accompanied by a tense situation in the cross ethnic relations between two large communities, Macedonian and Albanian, following the constant incidents occurred between the youths of both communities almost every month in Skopje, but also in other communes where the two biggest communities live.

March local government elections were a political confrontation, where parties of the governing coalition VMRO-DPMNE of prime minister Nikola Gruevski and BDI led by Ali Ahmeti achieved a victory in the majority of communes and municipalities of the country.

2013 was also characterized by the lack of dialogue between political factors which led to constant political deadlocks, which served as obstacle in voting the package of reforms. Meanwhile, the effects of the economic crisis would be felt like never before.

But, the other events that also produced a negative image were the debates on lustration, where the opposition accused that there was a “witch hunt” going on against it and its supporters, followed by the sentencing of the Macedonian journalist Tomislav Kezharovski, which sparked strong criticism by the international community. Another issue which was criticized was the placement of a monument of the Serb king Tsar Dushan, which at the start of December once again brought back and damaged cross ethnic relations, following rumors amongst Albanians for the lifting  of this monument, which is seen by them as a provocation by the Slavo-Macedonian power.

These developments aggravated the general situation of security, preserving the political crisis and the lack of political dialogue between large parties in the country.

A start of the year accompanied by anti-government protests

The first month of the year was accompanied by anti-government protests of the Macedonian opposition under the motto “The march for the truth-resistence against the lies of the regime”. The start of 2013 was accompanied by cross ethnic incidents between Albanian and Macedonian youths, which was marked by the beating of 4 Albanian youths by Macedonian hooligans.

This month followed with a bombastic declaration of the director of the Bulgarian National Museum, Bozhidar Dimitrov who stressed that over 100 Macedonians have been issued Bulgarian citizenship and Bulgarian passports. January marked the restart of the judicial process of “Monster” case, in relation to the 5 killings in Smilkovc, Skopje, where 5 Macedonians were murdered in April of 2012. The first month of the year was also accompanied by the so called swine flu or AH1N1, where a 62 year old man died, while 13 other cases affected by this flu were also registered. At the end of the month, the commune of Tetovo made Ramush Haradinaj, chairman of AAK, a citizen of honor, but this sparked reactions and debates from Macedonian parties. The start of the year also marked an extraordinary event, a meeting between prime minister Nikola Gruevski and leader of Albanian opposition party PDSH, Menduh Thaci, after a period of 5 years of lack of official communication between them, since the time when they were partners in the governing coalition from 2006 to 2008.

Local elections and intensification of cross ethnic violence

Month of February continued with political tensions and lack of political dialogue. Macedonian opposition decided to boycott local elections which would be held at the end of March. Political tensions were also accompanied by cross ethnic tensions, which were caused by the nomination of a former commander of the National Liberation Army, Talat Xhaferi as minister of defense. Association of Macedonian Veterans of the 2001 conflict called for massive protests against the nomination of a former NLA commander as minister of defense. On March 1 there protests by Macedonian hooligans, which resulted in violence and incidents against Albanians. Crowds of Macedonian hooligans beat tens of innocent Albanians in the streets of Skopje. These incidents provoked counter protests which were organized by Albanian youths in Skopje and which escalated by incidents and violence. These violent cross ethnic incidents were strongly condemned by authorities in Tirana, Pristina, but also the international community, while the intervention of political factors in reducing tensions was demanded.

This month was also accompanied by other cross ethnic incidents, where a 16 year old from Skopje was stabbed to death. A violent incident was registered in an urban bus, where Albanian students were attacked by Macedonian hooligans.

But this wave of violence was to happen in a situation when on December 4, the country had entered the electoral campaign of March 24 elections. The electoral campaign was accompanied by strong declarations between Albanian and Macedonian political parties. At the same time, there were also a strong political battle within the Macedonian political camp and on the other hand, there were also conflicts within Albanian political camp.

Parties of the governing coalition, VMRO-DPMNE and BDI won the majority of communes in the March 24 elections, out of 80 communes and the city of Skopje, which was won for the second time by Koce Trajanovski from VMRO-DPMNE. But, for Albanians, the commune of Kercova was a historical victory, because after 60 years it was to be governed by an Albanian, Fatmir Dehari from BDI.

Ashton in Skopje doesn’t help the process of the name dispute

One of the important events for the country was the visit of the EU foreign minister, Catherine Ashton in the middle of April in Skopje, where she clarified the demand of Brussels to find a consensual compromise for the name dispute with Greece. But, in spite of this call by baroness Ashton, authorities in Skopje didn’t make any steps toward finding a domestic compromise over the name with Greek authorities.

The political crisis has continued with growing accusations between majority and opposition in relation to the process of lustration, where 11 former senior state officials were declared spies of secret services in the past. This period was characterized with the release of the former Macedonian officer, Johan Tarculovski from the Tribunal of Hague, after suffering a sentence of 8 years in prison on counts of war crimes against Albanian civilians in the 2001 conflict in FYR Macedonia. April 18 marks another spectacular arrest, that of the former head of secret services DSK, Slobodan Bogoevski, on the count of money laundering.

Through the Minister of Culture, Elizabeta Kancevska-Milevska, the government of FYROM said for the first time that the project of monuments of “Skopje 2014” project has a cost of 207 million Euros. But, these figures have been rejected by opposition, who said that the cost of these monuments has amounted to 500 million Euros.

Failure of Ohrid Summit due to the non invitation of Kosovo

State authorities in FYR Macedonia received a hard blow following the annulment of a meeting of high international level known as the Ohrid Summit-Cooperation process in Southeast Europe on May 29.

The failure of this meeting came as a result of the failure to invite the president of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga and this action of Skopje also led to the boycott of the Summit by other countries such as Croatia, Slovenia, while the Greek president, Carolos Papulias had cancelled his participation a few days earlier in this meeting. This situation led to president Ivanov, in the quality of host, to announce the annulement of this summit.

In the middle of the year, the main focus of the developments in the country was the diplomatic campaign of the leader of Albanian party in power, BDI, Ali Ahmeti in New York and other western European countries, in order to seek help from the international community to find a solution on the issue of the name dispute. Ahmeti also stayed in the UN headquarters, where he demanded from UNO negotiator, Mathew Nimitz help for the solution of this dispute which has lasted several years with Greece. After this, Ahmeti continued his diplomatic campaign in Washington, Paris, Berlin and several other western European cities. Ahmeti also unveiled two proposals for the name which were discussed in his meetings in European capitals: Republic of Upper Macedonia and Republic of Northern Macedonia.

Zoran Zaev becomes leader of opposition

Following a big defeat in the March local government elections, the biggest opposition party, Social Democratic League (LSDM) elected its new leader, Zoran Zaev, the current mayor of Strumica, who for the third time has challenged the party in power in the local government elections in this commune, one of the biggest in the country. With his election, Zaev offered a new political and economic program, asking for the support of the citizens of the country.

But on the other hand, June also revealed a disagreement between parties of the coalition, following a joint meeting held between governments of FYR Macedonia and Serbia in Belgrade, where Albanian ministers from Skopje were absent.

FYR Macedonia, part of Russian pipeline, a new wave of arrests and sentencings

July of 2013 was characterized by the endorsement of the agreement between Skopje and Moscow for the Russian pipeline in the framework of “Southern Stream” project, where FYR Macedonia became part of the Russian pipeline. This month was also accompanied by other ‘hot’ events such as political arrests and sentencings. Former interior minister, Lube Boshkovski was sentenced with another 12 years in prison, accused of ordering a killing taken place in 2001. With this, Boshkovski received a second prison sentences, after the first one of 5 years, on the count of unlawful funding of the campaign of his part “United for Macedonia” in the 2011 elections. A court in FYR Macedonia sentenced 14 Albanians, mainly young, for their involvement in the ethnic unrest in March of this year. Prison sentences varied from three months to 5 years. Pasko Kuzman, former director of the Directorate for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in FYR Macedonia, also ended up behind bars in mid July. The trial against him still continues. He’s accused of ordering illegal digging and research of artefacts of cultural and archeological value, which have been sold in the country and abroad.

12th anniversary of the Ohrid Agreement, Albanians unsatisfied

August 13, 2013 marked the 12th anniversary of the Ohrid Agreement, which put an end to the armed conflict of 2001 in FYR Macedonia. The Ohrid Agreement which was achieved with a lot of difficulties and with the intermediacy of envoys from Washington and Brussels, managed to put an end to a 5 month conflict in the villages of Kumanovo, Skopje and Tetovo, between National Liberation Army and military police forces of the government of FYROM.

But, even on this anniversary, Albanian parties have expressed their discontent as far as its implementation is concerned. In this period, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted a resolution, demanding Skopje to carry out a registration of the population, because state policies cannot be implemented without one. The resolution also criticized the failure to implement the Ohrid Agreement.

This holiday period didn’t go by without an active political campaign, whereby at the end of August, prime minister Gruevski proposed the holding of early parliamentary elections in the month of October, as parties had not managed to come up with an agreement to resume political dialogue and find a solution for the approval of the report which would shed light upon the violent events in parliament on December 24, 2012. But, this demand by premier Gruevski didn’t find the support of other political parties, including the party in coalition, BDI.

Skopje-Pristina embargo, operation ‘Spy’

September brings into focus the economic crisis between Kosovo and FYR Macedonia. Everything started a few months earlier, when Skopje had applied a blockade for a part of products coming from Kosovo. This decision sparked Pristina’s reaction, which imposed embargo on products coming from FYR Macedonia. This situation was accompanied by tension and blockade on the border between the two countries, preventing free movement of people for several weeks.

At the focus was also the solution of the name dispute. In the framework of these debates, the visit of the leader of BDI, Ali Ahmeti in Athens and the meeting with foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos sparked debates in Skopje and also an indirect reaction of premier Nikola Gruevski’s party, according to which, there’s nothing for Ahmeti to discuss on the issue of the name dispute. This Kosovar embargo caused a damage to the economy and production companies from FYR Macedonia amounting to 200 million Euros. Month of September also marked the wave of journalist arrests, former members of state security services who were accused of spying and giving out secret information for the neighboring secret services, namely Greek.

Repeated progress report in Skopje

In the October progress report, European Commission once again only recommended the EU candidate status for FYR Macedonia, by not issuing a date for the opening of negotiations for accession, as a result of the pending name dipute with Greece.

Brussels’ decision was welcomed by the government with the claim that such ‘status quo’ is a result of the deadlock in the process caused by Greece, while opposition said that this is another failure, where the country remains isolated and risks the process of Euro integration.

This is the period when there was a strong declaration issued by the head of Greek diplomacy, Evangelos Venizelos, who said that Greece has never given up and will never give up on the red lines concerning the name dispute. But another declaration is issued by EU foreign minister, Catherine Ashton, who said that prime ministers Gruevski and Samaras should reach an accord on the name dispute. This period of debates on the progress report was accompanied by fresh cross ethnic incidents, massive beating of Albanian and Macedonian students in several high schools in Skopje. At the focus of the criticism of international community at the end of October was the sentencing with 4,5 years in prison of the Macedonian journalist, Tomislav Kezharovski, as he had leaked the identity of a witness under protection. The journalists’s imprisonment provoked strong criticism by international community, which demanded the immediate release of the journalist, who last month was moved from the prison of Idrizova into house arrest.

Rama couldn’t manage to unite Ahmeti and Thaci, appeals for the rights of Albanians to be respected

The visit of the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama at the start of November was one of the main events, as it was followed by messages of good neighborly relations between Skopje and Tirana and for the rights of Albanians in FYR Macedonia to be respected through Ohrid’s Agreement. But, the most important part of this visit was the joint meeting between the two Albanian leaders, Ali Ahmeti, Menduh Thaci and premier Rama. In spite of the efforts for cooperation between Albanian parties, a day after the visit, aggravation of relations between the two big Albanian parties, BDI and PDSH resumed again.

The destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in Albania was also reflected on the Albanians of FYR Macedonia. On November 14, there was a protest against Syrian chemical weapons in front of the Albanian embassy in Skopje by non government organizations. Government of FYR Macedonia named the Corridor 8 highway after the Albanian Nobel prize winner, Mother Teresa.

The end of the year sealed the failure in the aspect of European integration

EU Summit sealed the failure of the country to be given a date for the opening of negotiations. But, this Summit also increased the concerns of the international community. “I’m concerned over the domestic political situation in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and tensions between government and opposition, and the lack of results on the issue of name dispute in the talks being conducted by UNO”, stressed European Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fueule, by provoking strong political debates in the country.

On the other hand, European portal ‘Euroactiv’ warns that ethnic Albanians in FYR Macedonia are losing their patience about the negotiations for the accession of the country in the EU. This situation was accompanied by cross ethnic tensions as a result of the placement of the monument of the Serb king Tsar Dushan in Skopje. The evening of December 7 marked a failed attempt for its destruction by several Albanian officials, who are part of the government of FYR Macedonia. Since that day, reactions and warnings from protests for the destruction of ‘Tsar Dushan’ have grown.

This year was also characterized with the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between USA and FYR Macedonia. /ibna/