FYROM with elections, crises and problems during 2014
Skopje, December 30, 2014/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Naser Pajaziti
2014 in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been accompanied with different events and developments in the aspect of cross ethnic relations, political crises, the blocked Euro Atlantic integration process, protests and other developments.
One of the events that dominated the start of 2014 was the political crisis and the early parliamentary elections that were held along with the presidential elections.
Meanwhile, the middle and the end of the year is being marked by protests of social workers and students. Amid all of these developments, the government is saying that it’s continuing with its priorities, while the focus is to attract foreign investments and maintain macro-economic stability.
Cross ethnic relations amid tensions and calls for harmony
Cross ethnic relations have been marked by ethnic incidents mainly in Skopje and other places where there’s a blending of Albanians and Macedonians. Victims of these incidents have mainly been school students, but there have also been attacks by Macedonian hooligans against Albanian students.
There was also aggravation of cross ethnic relations in sport activities or other activities in open spaces, where there were nationalist chants and slogans of hatred between the two largest communities. At the start of July, there were massive protests by Albanians, which culminated in violence and clashes with police. These protests were sparked following the conviction of six Albanians to life in prison, after they were charged for the murder of five Macedonians in April 2012 in Smilkovc, Skopje. Albanians’ protests have continued until September, but they were also followed by ethnic related incidents in schools and other public places.
The Helsinki Committee has reported that in 2014, there have been 175 hate related incidents and 130 of them are ethnic hatred related.
The killing of a Macedonian youngster on May 19 in the quarter of Gorce Petrov in Skopje by a suspected Albanian youngster, sparked tension and violence, following the massive protests of Macedonian ethnics. For several days, crowds marched in the streets of Skopje by damaging Albanian properties and bars. Different international organizations and the US State Department report raised the alarm for cross ethnic problems and tensions, by calling for composure and measures to be taken by the government. The Macedonian opposition accused the government of orchestrating incidents between students in order to veer off the attention from the most serious problems that the country has. But the government has accused the opposition of using these incidents for political purposes and in order to make the situation even tenser. Minister of Interior, Gordana Jankulovska said that the Ministry of Interior continues with its “Cities with no violence” project, which included schools and other institutions in order to avoid violence between young people. According to her, in contrast to 2013, cross ethnic incidents during 2014 have gone down by 30%.
Politics marked by elections and crisis
In the political aspect, 2014 has been a year of elections, because at the end of April (April 27), the country held early parliamentary elections and presidential elections. These elections were preceded by the political crisis between the partners of the coalition comprised of VMRO-DPMNE led by PM Nikola Gruevski and the Albanian party, BDI (Democratic Union for Integration).
The elections were dominated by cross ethnic tension, because Macedonian and Albanian parties, especially those in power, played the card of nationalism and ethnic demands. The presidential elections were held amid tension, as the Albanian party, BDI, invited Albanians not to vote any of the Macedonian presidential candidates, because its idea to run a consensual presidential candidate, accepted by all citizens, was not accepted. But, VMRO-DPMNE ignored this demand and it reran president George Ivanov.
After the elections, which were completed at the end of June, the two parties, VMRO-DPMNE and BDI once again won the elections and managed to form the governing coalition with the intervention of the international factor.
On the other hand, the largest Macedonian party, LSDM (Macedonian Social Democratic Union) backed by small opposition parties, did not recognize the election result and launched a boycott of the institutions, a step which was followed by the resignation of MPs.
The boycott of the opposition is still being reflected in the political aspect in the country
In spite of the efforts for political dialogue and the return of the opposition in parliament, this has not happened yet.
The Macedonian opposition has articulated its two demands for political dialogue. The formation of a technical government and the holding of early elections once the voters’ lists are cleansed and once the freedom of media is guaranteed.
The Albanian opposition has held an active campaign against the current government, but not through an institutional way. Albanian opposition led by PDSH (Albanian Democratic Party) has also been active in the political aspect, but its opponents within the opposition, have accused it for negligence and passivity and also for cooperating with VMRO-DPMNE of Nikola Gruevski. The Albanian opposition may see the creation of two new political subjects, Movement for Reforms, a fraction divided from PDSH of Menduh Thaci and “Besa” movement, which is suspected as a political subject close to the Turkish AK party of Turkish president Recep Tayip Erdogan.
The last months of the year have been featured by intense political activities and different political parties say that there’s a possibility for the country to head toward fresh parliamentary elections, due to disagreements within the governing coalition, social and economic problems and the scenarios of the party in power, VMRO-DPMNE to hold fresh elections, with the aim of once again defeating the opposition, which continues to face attacks.
Optimist expectations in the economic aspect
2014 was seen as a positive year in FYROM. Economic growth was 4%, in line with the government and international financial institutions’ projections. Unemployment rate was 28% and it was considered to be the lowest one since the independence of the country.
According to the government, the level of direct foreign investments has been 50% higher than last year. PM Nikola Gruevski announced in the past three days that three foreign companies will invest in the country at the start of 2015.
According to the Popular Bank of Macedonia, 2015 will be a difficult year for the economy of the country. Signs of the crisis and problems with the state budget and other related risks have also emerged at the end of this year.
Another problem, which emerges for the first time, is the aspect of the reduction of foreign currency reserves, which at the end of the year, mark an increase due to the entry of foreign currencies in the country as a result of the arrival of migrants. But foreign currencies last month saw a fall of 14 million Euros compared to October. Government debts continue to make the economic situation even harder.
According to recent data of the Popular Bank of Macedonia, gross foreign debt at the end of the year will be 5,7 billion Euros, while next year, the government will start to pay back the debts through the installments determined by international financial institutions.
Freedom of media and corruption
Lack of the freedom of media and corruption are two problematic issues that are ruining the image of the country. According to the evaluations made by international organizations, FYROM is ranked among countries where there’s censorship and the government has a growing control over media and free speech.
Association of Journalists in the country says that the freedom of speech and independence of the media are seriously in danger. “Although the Constitution of Macedonia guarantees freedom of speech and information, these basic human rights are not being guaranteed. The main media in Macedonia are biased and non professional. Instead of informing the public on the social reality, they have become an instrument of propaganda for the governing structure”, says the Association of Journalists. Other organizations such as Freedom House ranks the country on the list of countries with partially free media, alongside countries such as Tanzania. Corruption is also a concern and this concern has also been addressed by the US ambassador to Skopje, Paul Wohlers, who has underlined that it’s said that in 2013, there have been no people convicted of corruption in FYROM, although the Anti-Corruption Committee has investigated 228 cases of corruption in 2013.
Status quo in the aspect if Euro Atlantic integration and the name dispute
FYROM has remained in a stalemate in terms of the Euro Atlantic integration aspect. The European Commission progress report recommended for the sixth time for the country to launch its accession talks, but no date has been given for the start of these talks. No date was decided even in the EU December summit. This summit approved a conclusion according to which, the Council will revisit the issue of FYROM next year, after the country has shown significant progress in promoting neighboring relations and the solution of the name dispute.
Deputy PM for European Integration, Fatmir Besimi says that in the light of the failure to solve the name dispute, a refusal of the sixth recommendation of the European Commission was expected, but according to him, the country must continue to work in order to prevent the obstacles in the Euro integration aspect. A similar situation also exists about the NATO accession. The secretary general of this alliance, Jens Stoltenberg has said that the doors for the country’s accession are open and this will happen as soon as the country solves the name dispute with Greece.
Even this year, efforts and negotiations for the solution of the name dispute have been futile. Negotiation rounds held during the year with the brokerage of the UN envoy, Mathew Nimetz have resulted unsuccessful. The latter has proposed the name “Republic of Upper Macedonia”, but this proposal was rejected by the Macedonian side and there has been no other progress in order to overcome this situation.