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.
Month saw further progress toward resolution of longstanding name-dispute with Greece, which would unblock path to launch of EU accession talks and NATO membership. Macedonia 6 Feb officially renamed main airport and highway, both previously named after Alexander the Great, in concession to Greece; PM Zaev same day said govt prepared to add geographical qualifier to name Macedonia; 19 Feb said he hopes dispute will be resolved by July NATO summit. Reported options under negotiation include: Republic of North Macedonia; Republic of Upper Macedonia; Republic of Vardar Macedonia; and Republic of Macedonia (Skopje). In late Feb media interview Zaev said he was hopeful of a settlement but said Greek demand for Macedonia to amend its constitution to show it had no claim on Greek territory was unreasonable. Nationalist elements in both countries continued to express opposition to compromise on name dispute: police in Greek capital Athens reported 140,000 people joined protest 4 Feb against use of name “Macedonia” by northern neighbour; in Skopje, several thousand protested against name change 27 Feb. European Commission President Juncker during late Feb visit praised progress on name dispute and pace of govt reforms. EU 6 Feb launched new enlargement strategy for Western Balkans, calling on countries to “urgently redouble their efforts, address vital reforms and complete their political, economic and social transformation”.
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