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.