Macedonia’s government collapses too

Well, that was unexpected.

Just a couple of months ago, I noted that Macedonia’s PM Gruevski was the most popular head of government in the Balkan region. Well, his government just collapsed. The Albanian party — his coalition partner — has pulled out, leaving him without a majority.

Here’s a brief primer on Macedonian politics. Somewhere between 25% and 35% of the population is ethnic Albanians. The majority Slav Macedonians used to treat them pretty badly… not as badly as the Serbs in Kosovo, but they were definitely second class citizens. So, in the wake of the Kosovo war, Macedonia developed its own Albanian separatist movement. This led to a brief near-civil war in 2001-2. To everyone’s surprise, this was resolved by the 2002 Ohrid Agreement, which mandated power-sharing between the two groups.

Then Macedonia had a stroke of luck: the Albanian minority split into two parties. This meant there wasn’t a single “Albanian party” claiming to speak for a third of the country. That’s good, because it would have been really hard to accommodate such a party in government, but impossible to leave it outside. In every government since 2002, the two Albanian parties have taken turns — there’s always one in coalition with an ethnic Macedonian party and the other in opposition.

But now the Albanians are pulling out. Why? Well, they say that they made a bunch of demands of the government, and these demands weren’t met. What’s interesting (and worrisome) is that all these demands were Albanian-centric.

If I understand this right, the six demands were:

— more recognition for the Albanian language by the government
— more recognition of the Albanian flag and national symbols
— more Albanian public servants
— pensions for former Albanian guerrillas/freedom fighters
— closing of a case against four Albanian fighters for war crimes in 2001-2, and
— recognition of Kosovo’s independence

In the abstract, these are a mix of reasonable (the Albanian language issue, recognizing Kosovo), troublesome (should public servants be hired purely on merit, or are ethnic quotas okay?) and ridiculous (the Albanian fighters got amnesty under Ohrid, but guerrillas do not get pensions). But there’s clearly something else going on here. The government was chugging along comfortably up until quit recently. So why are the Albanians doing this now?

The short answer is, I don’t know. Hey, that’s a difference between blogging and journalism! On a blog, I’m free to say beats hell of me, no clue… anybody?

But, okay, I can speculate. One, Kosovo’s independence may have triggered a surge of ethnic nationalist feeling among Macedonia’s Albanians. One of the odd things about Macedonia is that, while the Albanians there are better off then their cousins in Kosovo or Albania proper, they don’t think they are… nobody in Prishtina or Tirana takes “Greater Albania” seriously right now, but in Tetovo they still like the idea. So maybe that’s it?

Second possibility — not inconsistent with the first — is that the Albanian governing party is trying to out-nationalist the Albanian opposition party.

Third possibility, it’s all a scam. There are several ways this could go. One would be, it’s a way for Gruevski to get early elections (which his party should win, with significant gains) without appearing to do so. Maybe. It would be very difficult for Gruevski’s party to get a majority by itself, but more seats and a new mandate are always nice.

Another thing: there’s a NATO summit just a month away, at which the ever-fraught name issue will come up. Greece is widely expected to veto Macedonia’s entry into NATO. This may or may not be connected.

But, honestly, I don’t know. And even if this is really about something else, the fact that it’s framed in terms of purely ethnic demands is… worrisome.

If there are any Macedonians, or people conversant with Macedonian politics, I’d really welcome informed comment.

N.B., “informed comment” does not include (1) Greek nationalist posters ranting about the name issue and/or doing that Balkan zero-sum “anything bad for my enemy is good for me” dance; nor, (2) Serb nationalists posters saying “SEE Kosovo Shiptar independence is destabilizing the region Greater Albania regional war NOW IT BEGINS”. I’ll do posts on both those issues in the not-too-distant future but, you know, we’ve heard it all before here. Think of something original to say, please, or go somewhere else.

Otherwise, comments welcome.

18 thoughts on “Macedonia’s government collapses too

  1. I have heard that the Albanian minority is limited to access and control of institutions in the country. Numerically I have heard that they are 40-42% which would make them the majority. I have also heard that slav-macedonians represent roughly the same percentage as the Albanians.

    One could conclude that without proper representation the Albanians were well within their mandate to pull out and rehash a new agreement on power sharing.

    I too would see ethnic motivations by Albanians as a worrisome trend. In fact, this is all the more a reason for a NATO membership. Unfortunately, there is the you know what issue that must be resolved.

    Realistically though, I think this is a sly attempt at an new mandate with a new majority, based on sympathy due to ethnic grounds vis-a-vis the Greece situation.

  2. This article:

    suggests that Gruevski has been talking to the opposition Albanian party about similar issues – which I would imagine forced the hand of the smaller governing albanian party to show that they were as concerned about albanian rights.

  3. Is the Albanian minority sufficiently concentrated in a geographic sense to make physical partition of Macedonia a possibility?

  4. Peter, the simple answer is yes.

    Doug, I am very familiar with the internal politics of Macedonia and would like to provide some more details rather than “explain” what has led to the current situation.

    The Macedonian political landscape could generally be described as follows: there are two major ethnic Macedonian parties — Social Democrats and VMRO–DPMNE (yes, yes, I know you’re shocked but this really is the abbreviation of the official name of the political party) — and two major ethnic Albanian parties — BDI and PDSh. The party that gets most of ethnic Macedonian vote forms the government with the party that gets most of ethnic Albanian vote.

    It is almost unheard of that an ethnic Albanian votes for an ethnic Macedonian vote and the vice versa. So, ethnic Albanians are fighting for the Albanian vote alone, and ethnic Macedonians are fighting for the Macedonian vote.

    However, following the 2006 elections the second-strongest, not the strongest, ethnic Albanian party was invited to the government. This created a storm and as a result the present government has never been as stable as it seemed from the outside. Most ethnic Albanians did not view the government as their government and with the Kosovo’s independence the government is looking to strengthen its position.

    The situation is further complicated by the fact that the largest ethnic Albanian political party BDI came our of the NLA (the guerrilla army) and if the regional situation is getting tricky then this is the people you want to keep closer to you, nor further. So, the PM was having (quite openly) talks with BDI, but they’re having none of it because they believe that if there are new elections they will get more votes, more seats particularly since PDSh is seen as particularly weak by the ethnic Albanians vis-a-vis Kosovo and other inter-ethnic issues.

    Faced with this situation, PDSh has few options: make some very strong demands to the government and if some of them are taken up then they can say to ethnic Albanians this is what we are achieving or fighting for or wait until BDI decides to join the government. In other words, PDSh is trying to take the initiative.

    In my humble opinion, Gruevski is not showing any political skill. His country is facing a massive cross-road regarding its name and NATO membership. Regardless of what you make of Greek position, Greece has the upper hand and Macedonia will have to accept a compromise. If they don’t the country will be in crisis. This situation could further be complicated if there is no improvement in Macedonian-ethnic-Albanian relations regarding recognition of Kosovo and the language and flag issue.

    If NATO intents to invite Macedonia and Greece vetos it because Macedonia does not move from its current position then the future of the country is at question. I don’t think this is the time to hesitate to recognise Kosovo, I think this matter should have been dealt with 4 weeks ago by the Macedonian government. A swift recognition of Kosovo now should please the ethnic Albanians for the time being and the government can then focus on NATO membership.

    If Macedonia does not recognise Kosovo now or in the coming days this government is going down and in one of the most important historical moments of this new country regarding NATO membership there will be no government.

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  6. People have it backwards IMO — they think that Greece is vetoing Macedonia’s entry into NATO because of the name situation.

    The opposite seems to me true — namely that Greece is now once again reviving the name situation merely to have an excuse to veto Macedonia’s entry.

    Remember that Greece had once consented to accept “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” for this country’s entry in ALL international organization — it hasn’t objected to the Republic of Macedonia entering the UN, or the Council of Europe for example, under the FYROM name.

    But now it suddenly does object. Now it suddenly says that the name must be resolved in advance.

    And that it’s doing that because same as in all things, Greece is in Russia’s back pocket — it has been buying weaponry from Russia, making gas pipes with Russia, following Russia’s words on Kosovo and any other foreign affairs situation. And Russia doesn’t want NATO expansion, Russia doesn’t want the Republic of Macedonia secured.

    And so Greece helps Russia out. Yet again.

  7. Fidel, a couple of points.

    One, no, it wouldn’t be that easy to divide Macedonia. The Albanians in Macedonia are mostly in the west, true — but there are some scattered elsewhere in the country, and two of the largest cities (Skopje and Ohrid) are divided almost evenly. You couldn’t break up Macedonia without splitting those cities in two, and also leaving significant minorities on both sides of the new border.

    Two, your explanation makes a lot of sense, but I have to disagree on two points. (1) While I agree that Macedonia should recognize Kosovo’s independence, there is an outstanding border dispute. It’s small — just 20 square km — but the Kosovars are, frankly, being dicks about it; they’re basically insisting that they’re right, the land is theirs, /and/ that Macedonia should recognize them, right away! That’s not good diplomacy, and I don’t blame the Macedonian government for taking its time.

    Two, I keep reading articles and comments that talk about how “crucial” the April summit is. I don’t see it. If Greece vetoes, then Macedonia can still join NATO a year later… or two, or three. NATO doesn’t need Macedonia. Macedonia doesn’t really need NATO, either — membership is more symbolic than anything. And Greece vetoing may backfire; the rest of NATO is not likely to view this move sympathetically.

    Doug M.

  8. Hi Doug,

    I never said that it would be easy or difficult to divide Macedonia. I for one do not any division whatsoever. I simply said that ethnic Albanians are ‘sufficiently concentrated’ in the west of the country. I think it’s best for ethnic Albanians to ‘stick to’ Macedonia and in the long run they might have a brighter future in Macedonia than as part of any division.

    Regarding the border dispute, it did not exist until 2001, ie post Kosovo War, when Serbia exchanged a part of territory of Kosovo (which it did not administer) for some Macedonian territory in the north of the country. Kosovar Albanians are right to insist that Serbia was not in a position to give part of the Kosovo territory to Macedonia, only UNMIK/Kosovo authorities had the authority to deal with Kosovo’s territory. Another important element here is that the land that Macedonians are laying claim to is owned by Kosovar Albanians, who are worried whether they would loose access to it.

    What is wrong with Kosovar authorities insisting on the 1989 borders, as they were defined in the former Yugoslavia?

    NATO membership is important not because Macedonia is threatened militarily by any country, but because of the perceived stability that it brings and “safety” for possible foreign investors — ie it won’t harm, will it? I don’t know where you read that NATO membership is “crucial” and in what regard, but I will explain why I consider it an important (non)event. If after the summit NATO does not invite Macedonia to join because of Greece then the question is how will Macedonia and Macedonian react. There may be public unrest and Greek embassy attacked, in turn Greece could retaliate by closing its borders. There are a lot of “coulds”, “possiblies” and the rest, but there have been violent demonstration in Skopje already. If tensions rise and there is absolutely no Albanian representation in the government (between a quarter and a third of the population) then you’re really asking for trouble.

    Just to give you an idea, there was a massive fight between Macedonian and Albanian school kids in Kicevo after Kosovo declared its independence. Macedonian kids were pissed off at Greece while Albanian kids were celebrating Kosovo’s independence and a massive fight started more our of confusion then anything else. If this massive fight had ended tragically, there could have been more serious consequences in the rest of the country. When emotions run high any number of silly situations can lead to disaster. It is the duty of the Macedonian government and it’s PM in particular to manage the situation and to ensure that the situation is under control. Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia have been quite despite the lack of progress in relation to language and flag rights because of the perceived Macedonian support for the “processes in Kosovo”, ie independence, and if this does not materialize then tensions could rise. Add the NATO/Greece situation here and you don’t have a good mix.

    My apologies for always writing long posts, but I feel like I need to explain better why I come to certain conclusions.

  9. Well, you didn’t notice what has been going on since the insurrection of 2001. Let me open your eyes: The result of the conflict was the the two communities’ teachers could not even agree upon the name of their schools!!!

    …And the situation has not improved since then:

    …As a result, these people shall never live peacefully next to each other.

    Gruevski became the most popular head of the Balkans simply because he tried to show strength against all internal and external enemies, something that was not the norm since the capitulation of 2001. This boosted his supporters amongst the dominant ethnic group, but forced the second largest ethnic group to unify against him, because of his refusal to implement the terms of the agreement of 2001.

    So, his ally in the government did not resist much as long as it could not influence the situation, but finally found an excuse when Gruevski picked a fight with someone who wasn’t scared or intimidated by his bullish manners, and now Gruevski risks dividing the country “Here and now” or capitulating to his opponents and thus losing his appeal.

    He shall certainly follow the first path for as long as he can, and for as long the newest state in the Balkans needs to show restraint, and force all of its’ allies to be cautious as well. Yet, if the recognition of this state gains traction and its’ leaders start feeling bullish like Gruevski, both countries could enter into an unofficial war with each other…

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  13. One in four Macedonian, speak Albanian language. That means Albanians are a minority there. After separation from former YGOSLLVIA, Macedonia is Building up a new Capitalistic Democratic Nation. While they language, culture, and rights are recognized, Albanian are living normal life side by side with Slavic majority of Macedonia.
    Slavic Socialism of Serbia, have killed hundred thousands and Displaced millions of Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovars. They failed and are paying their price. Many of Serbian that fled Croatia, Bosnia and Kosova, if they will return, might be in title to be Detained, Trailed and Punished, if they will be found guilty. Keep in mind that the Serbian people made massive and horrible crimes, and many of them are not punished yet.
    There is no way for any parallel between Serbian and Macedonians.

  14. Hmmm, what about VMRO, the terrorist organization “Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization” that has been responsible for the deaths of the Premier of Bulgaria Aleksandar Stamboliyski at 1923, and also the assassination of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia and the French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou in Marseille at 1934? Not to mention the other crimes…

    …Do you know the name of the political party that rules the country today? Let me tell you, it is something like… VMRO.

    Of course these people are more peaceful than the Serbians, but only because they are weak. Given the circumstances, they can be very lethal, and we know that…

  15. The Indo-European languages include Albanian language, Greek language, Slavic language but there is not any Macedonian language.
    Ancient chronics document that, the Dardanian King Bardhyll BARDH YLL WHITE STAR was involved in a battle against Macedonian King Faruk (Alexander the Great Father). Dardanian didn’t win but was not destroyed either.
    What language were speaking those two armies? Based on the name of Dardanian King Bardhyll White Star there is no doubt Dardanian were speaking Albanian then Illyrian language.
    If he will be speaking Serbian, or Slavic Macedonian his name will be Bela Zvezda. It is not true his name was not bela zvezda his name was Bardh yll.
    What language was speaking Macedonian army under the King Faruk. We know for shure what language was speaking the King’s son. Alexander the Great. There is no doubt the son speaks the father’s language.
    When Alexander the Great was dying, one of his close friends asked him. Alexander to whom are you going to leave the Empire? The answer was. TO THE STRONGEST.
    He said this word in pure Greek language. This is very well documented.
    Nowadays Macedonias speak a Slavic language more similar to Bulgarian, and one third speak Illyrian with dialect GEGE. The Slavic macedonias can’t pretend speaking Macedonian they speak a language similar to Bulgarian with differences only in the frame of different dialect of the same language, that is similar to Ukrainian to.
    Modern macedonias are a nation without a distinct language, they speak Slavic Ukrainian
    Their lays, pretending to be autochthon in the land are only Fanatic Nationalist Fantasy.
    After lying for more than 1500 years, now it is the time for them to face the reality. They came in Balkan on the 6th century A.D from Ukraine replacing Thracians and Illyrian in a violent way.
    Actually those people are weak and are surrounded by stronger neighbors, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece armed with Leopard 2 heavy tanks, fighter jets F-16 and more. The small Albania is stronger than Macedonia to. Many interests overlap over Macedonia and this nation was a receipt for trouble. This is the reason why the Global Financial Oligarchy (Globalists) put their hands there since the beginning.
    To find who they are refer to: En Route to Global Occupation: Gary H. Kah: Books. And you can find the World reorganized on 10 regions here:
    Those things are not games they are for real. Now they are working on region 2 and region 7. They can’t control the region 10. In the beginning region 5 was dismembered. Russia vent down and turned in shambles, but not anymore. Putin Russia changed from e former military superpower in an energetic superpower. They control 16 % of oil export and soon this figure will be 27%. Their economy increase fast, GDP totaled 2 trillion dollars and increases. Europe is dependent on they raw materials.
    The point is the One World government is not going to happen for some time.
    To be more realistic in the years to come the world will be bipolar. Balkans will be incorporated in the E U. We are pieces of sand in a big SAND STORM.

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  17. Wow, now that’s really “mature”,
    “Ukrainian and Macedonian are very similar and Macedonians speak Slavic Ukrainian”.
    Most of the statements in the previous comment were unsupported assumptions and inacurate information.
    Most of the comments in these blogs have shown very good knowledge about the discussed region (both Dougs, Fidel and others).
    I am fascinated with their understanding of the history of the Balkans in depth but the latest post is something I would qualify as a pseudo historical discovery.
    Good luck with such an attitude!

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