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?
Why, Nikola Gruevski of Macedonia.

Gruevski just seems to be sailing along. In fact, he’s so popular that he’s had to say — several times now — that he wouldn’t call early elections to take advantage of his popularity. His coalition holds a narrow majority in the current Macedonian Sobranie; if the polls are correct, a snap election today would give his party a much bigger edge. But he says he’s not interested.

At 37, Gruevski is one of the youngest heads of government in Europe. He heads a young government, too — lots of thirtysomething Ministers, including a number of diasporids. And their approval ratings are consistently high — unusual in the volatile Balkans.

I haven’t been to Macedonia in a while, so it’s hard for me to tell at this distance whether Gruevski is really doing a good job, or whether he’s just young, energetic and charming. Some of his support comes from Macedonia’s large Albanian minority, but not that much — the Albanians are split between two rival political parties (which, as I’ve said before, is probably a good thing), and it’s the smaller party that’s part of his coalition.

It can’t be because of the economy, I don’t think. Macedonia is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Unemployment is very high. They’ve had five years of steady growth, but nothing spectacular — average about 3% per year. The currency is stable, the budget is balanced and they’ve avoided economic disasters, but these aren’t the sorts of things that make a Prime Minister widely liked. They are a full-fledged EU candidate — the only one in the Western Balkans — but that’s been true for a while now, and nobody expects them to join before 2013 at the earliest.

So, something of a mystery. Maybe he’s just that likable? Or maybe the polls are wrong?

If we have any Macedonian readers, I’d love to hear their thoughts.

23 thoughts on “The Balkans’ most popular head of government

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Macedonia: Nikola Gruevski

  2. Please note that at least in the EU the official name for what you call Macedonia is FYROM. It’s akin to calling the USA ‘America’. Macedonia is officially a Greek province.
    And on a historical note, the present day people of FYROM’s ancestors arrived in Europe in the 5th/6th century AD, well after the momentous age of Alexander the Great which solidified the greatness of the name that is so hotly disputed today.
    Popular head of state or not, Macedonia will not get into the EU unless it compromises on the issue of the name.

  3. “officially”?

    And while the EU as a whole still uses FYROM, the majority of EU members do not.

    Thing is, there’s a ratchet: if countries go from FYROM to ROM, they don’t go back. So the number using FYROM has slowly shrunk, while the ROM contingent has expanded.

    Doug M.

  4. The second commenter is a perfect example of what is wrong with the Balkans, and perhaps human society in general. Does it honestly matter which state Macedonia “officially” belongs to? Is it really so important to know whose “ancestors” were doing what in which “momentous age”? Personally I couldn’t care less: the present and the future are infinitely more relevant. Ancient history is great for drawing inspiration and even better for learning lessons. As a basis for decisions in the present, the Balkans surely prove that it is decidedly rubbish.

  5. You may have a point about the irrelevance of the past but then again, if that is not as good a measure to base things on then what are you proposing? Everything in this world is about the past and your existence in this society at the very least is based on the combined efforts of a few intellectual geniuses who laid the foundations of what we now know as society today. I think you understand who I am referring to.
    To try to act as if you are upholding a more rational approach to this issue is for me ludicrous. To discard my comment as rubbish reflects your misunderstanding of both the history and importance of the Balkans and the multi-faceted nature of the dispute.
    Greeks are not saying that FYROM can’t call themselves Macedonia, they are saying FYROM can’t decide to arbitrarily take an important and defining part of their culture and wear it so to speak when they greet the world. Greeks do have a solid claim to their argument that their historical heritage is being infringed upon. They will not accept the possibility that 50 or 500 years from now a part of their history could be twisted to reflect someone else’s version of the truth.
    The sooner FYROM realize this the easier the talks will be to allow them to enter the EU which they have such need for.
    My apologies if the truth hurts, but you must realize that understanding ones past is the best way to figure out where to go in the future. FYROM should look elsewhere to define their identity because after all that’s what they’re trying to do; reinvent themselves.

  6. Congratulations to Nikola Gruevski and his government. We Macedonian’s now have hope of an economically bright future. As a minority in this beautiful peaceful country full of historical culture, I’m extremely proud of its recent success.

    Our govt has implemented the biggest education reforms in Macedonia’s entire history. New schools, new sporting facilities (160+), a laptop for every student are all bold policy decisions which will only have one longterm outcome. Opportunity = Happinness = Success!

    Thank you to the modern youthful energy this team has introduced to our political arena. The success has not been matched by any old school policitian in the past (who had only selfish fat profit minds).

    Finally, I wish our Greek neighbours peace and prosperity too. So please stop the childish bikering and restricting us from moving forward.

    An EU and NATO requirement is to build strong neighbourly relations. Greece hasn’t done much in terms of this. You would normally expect a member country to assist by cutting down some red tape to increase/stimulate the opportunity for prosperity.

    But, unfortunately the previous comments are evidence of the narrowed minded Greek political goals. Afterall, we blame the Greek politicians for falsifying and conditioning its population to think this way not its people.

    Samo napred Makedonija.

  7. Greece is the only country in Europe that insists it has the right to dictate the name by which neighboring states can call themselves (and even what they can be called by other states). That sort of silly posturing may go down well with the Greek nationalist electorate at home, but is unworthy. of a grown-up European country.

    Greece’s northern neighbor is the Republic of Macedonia, and it deserves to be called by its proper name by the international community.

  8. re: ‘narrow minded comments’ and ‘Greece … dictate the name by which neighboring states…’

    Regarding the 1st quote:

    I was born in a 1st world country and had the privelage of being raised in a liberal environment and having a liberal, arts & science education. I can, despite my name, be impartial. In fact, I knew many people from FYROM and we seemed to debate the issue quite nicely despite the controversial nature of the topic. Therefore, there is nothing of the 3rd world logic that your responses seem to suggest are in my views. Your casting aside my arguments as narrow minded, or silly posturing are indicative of the arrogance by which the present government of FYROM has chosen handle the issue. Read my comments carefully since they are not based on fiction or my personal convictions.

    Regarding the 2nd quote:

    In simpler English, I’m saying that Greece is only saying that FYROM can’t use Greek history as their own, nothing more nothing less. Choose whatever name you like but read Greek history first and then your own, and make sure that whatever you choose has nothing to do with the former. It really is that simple.

    Another thing. It’s one thing to go name calling and branding but it’s another thing to do it responsibly. I think the respondents to my comments are haphazardly revoking any logic other than their own as if it were the product of a 3rd world nationalist with considerably deficient powers of the mind, but the truth is that they have chosen to look at this as a one sided issue. And in so much as they are wrong on both counts, they are proving that they are nonetheless representative of the kind of approach that FYROM is taking on this issue.
    Don’t expect Greece to be impartial to an obvious attempt of infringement of one’s cultural heritage. If this is so difficult to see then I’m afraid that it is others that are being silly and adherents to an illusory nationalist sentiment based on whims to be likened to those of a child. Hardly becoming I must admit of a nation and people that want to call themselves worthy members of the EU.

  9. Sorry — the link I provided in my response did not work, which left my more substantive arguments unstated. Here’s the gist of it:

    Among the more bizarre phenomena in European politics today is the continued demand by Greek politicians and by successive Greek governments of the left and right since the early 1990s, that Greece’s neighbour, the Republic of Macedonia, must give up its constitutional name. The purported rationale is that the Republic of Macedonia (the country) shares the same name as the neighbouring northern Greek province of Macedonia. This allegedly gives Greece reason to fear that its neighbor is plotting to take over its northern province.

    Over the past decade and a half this issue has repeatedly brought hundreds of thousands of patriotic Greeks into the streets of Thessaloniki and Athens in mass protests. It has led to Greece imposing unilateral sanctions on Macedonia — measures such as blocking border crossings to Macedonia for several years. At Greece’s insistence, international bodies such as the UN and the EU still refer to Macedonia by the bizarre acronym FYROM (the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), despite the fact that more than 100 countries, including the permanent members of the Security Council, have recognized the Republic of Macedonia by its constitutional name.

    There are several things about all this that don’t make any sense. First of all, in no realistic sense does the Republic of Macedonia pose any threat to Greece.

    Greece’s population (10.7 million) is more than five times as large as that of Macedonia (2.05 m). As of 2006, Greece had a GDP of $256.3 billion — more than 41 times Macedonia’s GDP of $6.2 billion,

    The Greek armed forces, with 116,000 active duty troops, outnumber the Army of the Republic of Macedonia (11,000 active duty troops) by a ratio of more than 10 : 1. Greece’s annual defense budget is more than 50 times as large as the annual defense budget of its small northern neighbor.

    Finally, it should be noted that the situation with regard to shared geographic names is by no means unprecedented, even within Europe. Luxembourg, a sovereign state and a founding member of the European Union, has the same name as the adjacent province of Luxembourg in Belgium. Centuries ago, what is now the Belgian province was part of the state of Luxembourg. In modern times the province has been part of Belgium, while it continues to share the name of the neighboring independent state. A minority population in Luzembourg (the Belgian province) still speaks Letzeburgesch, the Germanic dialect that has the status of national language of Luxembourg (the country). School textbooks in Luxembourg continue to include historical maps that show the borders as they were 200 years ago when Luxembourg included territories that now belong to Belgium. Nevertheless, Belgium has sensibly refrained from demanding that Luxembourg change its name as a precondition for the two countries to coexist as member states of NATO, the EU, or the UN. And no Belgian government has ever attemped to dictate in international fora what other countries may call its smaller neighbour.

    In its constitution (Article 3 – for link see above), the Republic of Macedonia specifically renounces any pretensions to the territory of any neighboring state — that includes Greece. In the 1990s, Macedonia even went as far as to change the design of its national flag and symbols in an effort to assuage Greek sensitivities. Unfortunately, these concessions were deemed insufficient by Greece. It’s time, I believe, for the international community to stop humoring such misplaced sensitivities.

  10. For the record, a minority of Greeks feel any military threat whatsoever from FYROM.
    Rather, the issue for Greece is its claim to its cultural property. What is in a name really? The word Canada is actually a native Canadian Indian word meaning ‘village’ or ‘settlement’. So, is the name ‘Macedonia’ or ‘Alexander the Great’ just a bunch of letters with a textbook meaning.
    I think not. They are symbols and things of a symbolic nature tend to have a value much greater than the one we perceive at first. Who can guarantee me that in the future people all over the world will not mistake the ancient Macedonians with the present day people who are living there now. Will they claim that they are Alexander’s ancestors? I not only think so, I know they will cultivate this image simply because it’s the smart thing to do.
    Greeks are right to dispute what for the Macedonians is a non-issue. A mere detail so to speak. And they are also right to prevent people from robbing them of their cultural identity. As with any other people that have fought and died for their culture, the Greeks have earned the right to tell FYROM that they can’t borrow the Macedonia for their new country. And to belittle them for doing so is a cheap attempt to win over the international sympathy vote. FYROM may get into NATO but the EU is a completely different matter. I know this issue will always divide and eventually people will eventually get tired and sick of spending any rational thought to it. But it is a serious issue to Greeks and to pretend that a modern western country like Greece should play ball just because FYROM says so is a gross misinterpretation of what is at stake here.
    So FYROM, do you still claim it’s just a name?

  11. Anxiety about the name of its northern neighbor says a great deal more about Greece than about its neighbor.

  12. Something that gets missed here: Greece didn’t own any of what’s now Greek Macedonia until 1913. Greek Macedonia came into existence at the same time as Serb (later Yugoslav) Macedonia.

    And when Greece got it, Greeks were a minority. (There was no majority. The territory was inhabited by Greeks, Turks, Jews, Bulgarians, Romanians, Slav Macedonians, and Serbs, and no single group dominated.)

    The current Greek majority in Greek Macedonia came from waves of ethnic transfers — in 1913, in 1918, after the Asia Minor catastrophe, and then again after the Greek Civil War — along with a healthy dose of Hellenification over the last sixty years. Even so, there’s still a Slav Macedonian minority living in Greek Macedonia.

    Also, it’s worth noting how the goal posts have shifted since this dispute began. Originally, it was “the Macedonians are claiming our territory”. A bit later, it was “the Macedonians are a potential threat” (i.e., if they were to ally with Turkey). Now it’s down to “it has deep symbolic meaning for us”.

    Doug M.

  13. I think Greece should give up this old and tired story. They’re behaving rather childish. Instead of a silly acronym – how would Greece feel for example if someone demanded that it be called the Former Turkish Pashalik of Greece – so, how else would Macedonia be called?
    That geographical area has been called Macedonia for centuries, and it’s people Macedonians, whether or not they are related to the ancient Macedonians. They didn’t suddenly take up the name yesterday. Why didn’t Greeks complain when Macedonia was a republic of Yugoslavia for 50 years?

  14. My family have always lived in north west Greece – West Macedonia – and are Greek. I have read some inaccuracies in some of the posts here.

    i.e.The current Greek majority in Greek Macedonia came from waves of ethnic transfers — in 1913, in 1918, after the Asia Minor catastrophe, and then again after the Greek Civil War — along with a healthy dose of Hellenification over the last sixty years. Even so, there’s still a Slav Macedonian minority living in Greek Macedonia.”

    The last sentence is the only one that has some truth in it. There are some villages in our area where the people still speak a Slav dialect but these are few and far between.

    This issue is not about a name, it is about the fact that Slavs, who, whether you like it or not, migrated to this area in 600A.D., are now claiming that they are descendents of the Ancient Macedons. These people have erected statues of Alexander the Great all over their country, they have renamed their towns using names from Ancient Macedon e.g. Pella. Pella as you know was the birthplace of Alexander the Great. If you visit this town and the wonderful museum at Vergina you will notice that Phillip, Alexander’s father’s tomb was built with broken gravestones that had Greek letters on them. If what the FYROMIANS are claiming is true, then wouldn’t it be reasonable to suppose that Slav letters would be on these. But, of course, here I am forgetting that two of our Orthodox saints, brothers from Thessaloniki, invented the Slav alphabet……………….

    This is not an “old and tired” story.
    This is an attempt by a small country to steal the history of another. I realize that countries such as the US, which has no history of it’s own, do not understand this issue. At least try not to display your ignorance so blatantly and so arrogantly. And for God’s sake, mind your own business. Wherever you interfere in the world, you bring destruction in your wake.

    John Kombos

  15. “Why didn’t Greeks complain when Macedonia was a republic of Yugoslavia for 50 years?”

    This region of Yugoslavia was named Macedonia by Tito for political purposes. It was a region within a neighbouring country.
    I am not saying that FYROM doesn’t have part of Macedonia within it’s borders but what you want is the whole of Macedonia and more importantly it’s history to somehow uplift you.

    ““During the occupation…a combined effort was made to wrest Macedonia from Greece — an effort that allegedly continues, although in altered form… The main conspirational activity in Macedonia today appears to be directed from Skopje.”

    THE NEW YORK TIMES – July 16, 1946

    “The possible creation of a Macedonian free state within Greece to amalgamate with Marshal Tito’s Federated Macedonia State, with it’s capital in Skopje…would fulfill the Slavic objectives of re-uniting the…province of Macedonia under Slavic rule, giving access of the sea to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.”

    C. L. Sulzberger, THE NEW YORK TIMES – July 26, 1946

    Do you honestly think that the Greeks, who were the first country on the continent of Europe to fight and win a battle with the Axis in WWII, would just let you get away with this nonsense.

    We have a magnificent history, and not just ancient, and we are proud fighters. The sad part of all this is that the Slavs in FYROM will soon need Greece’s help against the Albanian threat. We are all tiny countries in the Balkans and we have taken enough from the so-called big powers. Don’t allow their interference to divide our region anymore than it already has.

  16. “Douglas Muir Says:
    February 1st, 2008 at 11:40 am Something that gets missed here: Greece didn’t own any of what’s now Greek Macedonia until 1913. Greek Macedonia came into existence at the same time as Serb (later Yugoslav) Macedonia”

    Complete rubbish and lies. This area prior to 1913 was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. Greeks have always lived here. The population exchange of 1922 meant that Greek refugees from the Pontus area were sent here. But they comprised only a small proportion of the population.

    When we refer to “Greeks” we are referring to Greeks who have always lived here, as my family has. We did not migrate from other regions, we were not Slavs who became Greeks, we are Greek Macedonians and proud of this. We are first and foremost Greek.

  17. Some quotes from FYROM leaders etc.

    :Some quotes :

    The former President of The FYROM, Kiro Gligorov said: “We are Slavs who came to this area in the sixth century … we are not descendants of the ancient Macedonians” (Foreign Information Service Daily Report, Eastern Europe, February 26, 1992, p. 35).

    b. Also, Mr Gligorov declared: “We are Macedonians but we are Slav Macedonians. That’s who we are! We have no connection to Alexander the Greek and his Macedonia… Our ancestors came here in the 5th and 6th century” (Toronto Star, March 15, 1992).

    c. On 22 January 1999, Ambassador of the FYROM to USA, Ljubica Achevska gave a speech on the present situation in the Balkans. In answering questions at the end of her speech Mrs. Acevshka said: “We do not claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great … Greece is Macedonia’s second largest trading partner, and its number one investor. Instead of opting for war, we have chosen the mediation of the United Nations, with talks on the ambassadorial level under Mr. Vance and Mr. Nemitz.” In reply to another question about the ethnic origin of the people of FYROM, Ambassador Achevska stated that “we are Slavs and we speak a Slav language.”

    d. On 24 February 1999, in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Gyordan Veselinov, FYROM’S Ambassador to Canada, admitted, “We are not related to the northern Greeks who produced leaders like Philip and Alexander the Great. We are a Slav people and our language is closely related to Bulgarian.” He also commented, “There is some confusion about the identity of the people of my country.”

    e. Moreover, the Foreign Minister of the FYROM, Slobodan Casule, in an interview to Utrinski Vesnik of Skopje on December 29, 2001, said that he mentioned to the Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, Solomon Pasi, that they “belong to the same Slav people.”

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  21. The last post from Douglas Muir , from
    February 1st, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Its rather nice short summary of the history of the region in the last 100 years.
    Since greek state is from 1821, I fail to see the centuries of continuity they speak of 🙂
    and, I do love how greeks “own” history, names, legacies :)))

  22. I understand that from what people are stating above, they don’t live in the area. I am Greek and due to my interest in this matter, which is of great importance to us, I follow what F.Y.R.O.M’s media are presenting as facts.
    they speak of occupied territories in “Aegean Macedonia” (the Greek prefecture of Macedonia) from which the “Macedonians” were thrown from in 1913.
    While it is true that there was a population exchange, and that indeed there was violence (as usually happens in such times) the point is that back then, there was no Macedonian authority, population, or ethnicity. Those people where exchanged with Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The name “Macedonia” was an invention by Tito, in order to unite the two major ethnicities in the area, the Slavs and the Albanians. Indeed it was an awful mistake by the Greek government to let this happen and not foresee this problem that would come in the future.

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