The Balkans was best known for minority problems. Today, the most bitter conflicts are between parties that appeal to majority ethnic communities. As recent turbulence in Macedonia shows, Eastern Europe could face new dangers if majority populism ends the current stigma against separatism for oppressed small groups.
Political standoff turned violent late month as protesters opposed to new opposition Social Democrat (SDSM)-led coalition govt stormed parliament after new ethnic Albanian speaker was voted in, injuring scores. Visiting Skopje 3 April, European Council President Tusk 3 April urged President Ivanov to award mandate to form govt to SDSM leader Zoran Zaev, urged country to “avoid anything that could further fuel ethnic tensions”; Ivanov said his position unchanged. VMRO DPMNE MPs (who won 51 of 120 parliament seats in Dec 2016 election) continued to filibuster parliament to block effort to elect new speaker and establish new opposition-led coalition govt, continued to call for fresh elections; street protests by VMRO DPMNE supporters against new govt continued. 67 MPs (out of 120 seats) voted 27 April to elect new parliament speaker, ethnic Albanian Talat Xhaferi; VMRO DPMNE called election “coup attempt”. Violence broke out as protesters stormed parliament and attacked MPs; over 100 people reportedly injured including Zaev and three MPs from majority parties and several journalists. EU, NATO and U.S. condemned violence and called for dialogue. Provisional interior minister Agim Nuhiu accused police of failing to do their job, tendered his resignation citing his failure to eliminate political influence in police.
Macedonia is being shaken by twin political and security crises, both of which could escalate into violent confrontation or worse. While another civil war in the Western Balkans is not imminent, there is a serious threat to regional stability that the country’s leaders and international partners need to contain.
Ten years after the Ohrid Agreement ended fighting between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, Macedonia is more stable and inclusive, but political party and ethnic tensions are growing, and the new government needs to reverse the negative trends.
Macedonia is a relative success story in a region scarred by unresolved statehood and territory issues. International engagement has, since the 2001 conflict with an ethnic Albanian insurgency, brought progress in integrating Albanians into political life. This has been underpinned by the promise of European Union (EU) and NATO integration, goals that unite ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. But the main NATO/EU strategy for stabilising Macedonia and the region via enlargement was derailed in 2008 by the dispute with Greece over the country’s name.
The European Union summit’s December 2005 decision to grant EU candidacy status is a significant milestone on Macedonia’s path to European integration. However, its open-ended nature, with no start date for accession talks, indicates the practical and policy challenges the country still faces to become a stable post-conflict democracy.
The EU’s present visa regime with the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro including Kosovo) is fostering resentment, inhibiting progress on trade, business, education and more open civil societies, and as a result contributing negatively to regional stability.
Political instability keeps growing in the Western Balkans amid geopolitical contests and increased tensions with Russia. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to engage intensively to ensure the political space for avoiding more serious crisis does nto entirely vanish in the Western Balkans.
Originally published in NovaTV
Originally published in The Riga Conference
Just two years ago it appeared that deadly conflict in Macedonia was no longer a serious risk. Recent events have revived the threat.
Originally published in POLITICO