Macedonia: boing!

Bungee government!

Two weeks ago I wrote about how Macedonia’s goverment had collapsed. Well, over the weekend it un-collapsed — PM Gruevski’s party and the Albanians reached an agreement and they’re coming back in office.

For now.

At least one Albanian minister seems to have resigned in protest over the deal, which suggests the Albanians aren’t getting much of what they wanted. More in a bit, perhaps.

In other Macedonian news, Greece continues to insist that they’ll veto Macedonia’s NATO membership next month if no agreement is reached on the name issue. Since “agreement”, to the Greeks, means “you can’t ever call your country by its actual, you know, name“, this is unlikely.

That probably deserves a post of its own, except that the Macedonia name issue is so stupid that it’s almost physically painful to write about it. Maybe sometime.

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. Continue reading

The Balkans’ most popular head of government

Who is it?

Not Serbia’s Kostunica. He’s in an interesting and difficult political position, and his political party has been losing support for a while now. He’s more respected than liked, and I wouldn’t say he’s all that respected.

Certainly not Romania’s Tariceanu. He’s lucky to still be in office, and unlikely to be re-elected next year.

Bulgaria’s quirky PM Sergey Stanishev is doing alright — he’s managed a difficult coalition better than anyone would have expected two years ago — but nobody would call him more than modestly popular. Greece’s Costas Karamanlis won a second term just a few months ago, but has seen his popularity dip sharply since; several of his ministers are embroiled in the “sex, lies and DVDs scandal”, and his party is now in a dead heat in the polls with the opposition Socialists.

Sali Berisha of Albania… no.

Who then? Continue reading

Meanwhile, in Montenegro

Montenegro initialed a Stabilization and Association Pact with the EU on March 15. That’s a step on the road to EU candidacy.

Nobody outside the Balkans noticed. Even inside the Balkans, nobody got too excited. Montenegro is a small and rather poor country, and EU membership is still years away. Hell, all they did was “initial” the S&A pact. They won’t actually sign it until (1) Montenegro adopts a new, EU-appropriate Constitution, and (2) all the current 27 members approve.

Still, it’s no small achievement. It shows that the Montenegrins, like the Croats, may be able to launder their recent history. Montenegro isn’t being held up for not cooperating with the Hague Tribunal, nor is their enthusiastic participation in the breakup of Yugoslavia being held against them. They are now formally, officially on the road to EU membership.

This is as good an occasion as any to review the league table in the Western Balkans. Continue reading

Just one more gelato

Two entries in three weeks? It’s surprising we’ve even managed that much. Come on. It’s August. We’re in Europe. We’re all away from the computer and you should be too, enjoying the final hot, sweaty gasps of summer.

But if you just can’t tear yourself away, here are a few tid-bits from my corner of things.
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Oh, yes, Macedonia

They had Parliamentary elections last week. Nobody much noticed, but,

1) The voting was conducted in good order and — according to international observers — was, for the most part, fair and without irregularities;

2) The opposition won a fairly clear victory; and,

3) The government promptly acknowledged the opposition victory, and is handing over power forthwith.

This is no small thing in Macedonia, an ethnically divided country with a long and miserable history of political violence. A bit more below the fold.
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Balkans moving forward…

The European Commission released its annual reports on enlargement yesterday, including a recommendation that Macedonia be recognised as an EU candidate. Eagerly anticipated (including by Doug Muir a few weeks back), but also pretty stunning given the difficulties the region has had, and given the general perception of enlargement fatigue.

However in my view this piece of good news is put in the shade by this morning’s Guardian story about likely Bosnian constitutional reform. Apparently a deal brokered by the Americans, but lubricated by the prospect of EU entry, “would give Bosnia the ‘normal’ trappings of an integrated, non-ethnic parliamentary democracy: a national parliament with full legislative powers, central government and cabinet enjoying full executive power, and a titular head of state”.
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And then there’s Macedonia

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel has just said that Macedonia has “real chances” to become the next candidate for EU membership.

This would be no big deal — the Slovenes have long had a soft spot for the Macedonians — except that Rupel is wearing two hats right now; he’s also Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. And he’ll be hosting the OSCE Ministerial Council this December, in Ljublana. That means he speaks with a lot more gravitas than just another small-country foreign minister.

“I cannot say when Macedonia’s entry talks will be launched, but express hope that the country will soon acquire the candidate status,” Rupel said. “Slovenia will support Macedonia’s candidate status, which may happen in December.”
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Slowed or stalled?

Taking a break from the German elections, I ran across this recent article over at Radio Free Europe. Short version: EU accession for the Western Balkans (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania) is stalling.

All of these five states would like to be part of the EU, but — with the partial exception of Croatia — none of them are particularly welcome. The EU appears to be going through a period of “accession fatigue” in general. The “No” votes in France and the Netherlands, though not directed specifically at these countries, have definitely created an atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty.

Furthermore, many of the countries of the Western Balkans are — there’s no way to be polite about this — unpopular. A recent Eurobarometer poll shows that more people oppose membership for Bosnia (43%) than support it. Only 40% of Europeans support EU membership for Serbia, while 44% oppose it. And for Albania, those numbers are a depressing 36% for, 50% against.

Obviously this could change over time. Again with the exception of Croatia, all of these countries are at least a decade away from membership. So opinions might shift. Still, the poll numbers suggest that there’s not much popular support within the EU for even starting the process.

Looking at the potential members one by one, below the flip.
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Formerly Known as FYROM

This blog doesn’t usually resound with praise for the far-sighted wisdom and diplomatic cunning of the Bush administration. (Neither does my own blog, for that matter.)

So I thought I’d be a bit contrarian, and point to a recent episode where Bush, or Colin Powell, or undersecretary of state Marc Grossman, or /someone/, seems to have done something wonderfully and exactly right.

Macedonia: small country in the Balkans, former Yugoslav Republic. Gained independence in 1991. For fourteen years, has been officially entitled, not Macedonia, but “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” — aka FYROM. This ugly neologism came into existence purely and entirely because the idea of a country called “Macedonia” drove Greek nationalists gibbering crazy.

(No, don’t ask. It doesn’t make any sense at all, and never did, so never mind. Oh, we could go into stuff like the early-’90s rivalry between Mitsotakis and Papandreou, and how they and their parties got locked into an escalating spiral of whipping up nationalist opinion on this stupid, stupid issue, but never mind. Just take it as given.)

So: on November 3 — the very first day after the election — the Bush administration announced that, after fourteen years, it was going to start recognizing Macedonia by the name it wanted to be recognized: i.e., Macedonia. And that there’d be no more of this FYROM stuff, thanks.

So why was this such a good thing?
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