What is happening in Macedonia? Almost daily, international media are reporting some new developments in the country. From governmental resignations, wiretapping, corruption scandals, mass protests, police violence, to the weekend long armed conflict in the suburbs of the northern town of Kumanovo, the news are heated.
Early Saturday morning, 9 May 2015, the Macedonian special police forces started a raid against an anonymous heavily armed group settled in Divo Naselje, Kumanovo. According to the Minister of internal affairs Gordana Jankuloska, this was a terrorist group that intended to attack strategic state institutions in the upcoming days. The fighting lasted until noon the next day. Eight special forces officers were killed and over 35 were wounded. On the other side, 14 alleged members of the still unknown terrorist group were killed and around 30 of them surrendered during almost two days of intensive fighting.
This event raised fears and suspicions of new ethnic conflict in Macedonia and it led to increased concerns about the overall political stability in the Balkans. The memories of the ethnic conflict in 2001 are still fresh, and the first intimate feeling among citizens was: oh, not again!
No, this is not 2001! And it is not going to be! Today in Macedonia there is no room for new ethnic conflict. Although many feared the worst, this bloody weekend did not trigger any ethnic violence or more serious hate speech among citizens. As mostly epitomized in the citizens of Kumanovo, all around the country people stood unified, all shocked, but peaceful with a common fear of a new, bigger conflict. Indeed, one of the eight killed police officers was an ethnic Albanian. Moreover, these few days the public discourse was full of messages for unity and tolerance. All political leaders called for calm and described the conflict as an incident isolated from the overall political and societal situation in the country. At this moment there is no evidence that any serious political group is backing the incident, or is calling for violence. All these positive signals show that in the last 14 years Macedonian society has matured and that the violent ethnic hatred cannot be relived.
However, despite this, Macedonia is facing one of the biggest political crises since its independence. Extreme political abuses revealed in the last few months need to be considered.
Three months ago, the opposition leader Zoran Zaev accused Prime Minister Gruevski and his cousin, the director of the state intelligence service (currently in resignation) Sasho Mijalkov, for wiretapping the conversations of more than 20.000 citizens. Although there are different interpretations of this most probably exaggerated number, it became evident that Gruevski had access to the private conversations of every single important political and state official in the country. The list of taped persons is long and includes even its own ministers, as well as the opposition, civic activists, journalists etc. Zaev claimed that he got the materials from whistleblowers within the police, who did tap the conversations by orders from the above mentioned duo.
Gruevski has denied the allegations and explained that the materials were created by a foreign secret service and given to Zaev to threaten the sovereignty and stability of the country. For these allegations, Zaev has received several criminal convictions that are now under investigation. Although Zaev has published 30 rounds of taped conversations between high level political officials, Gruevski is still denying their content and saying that the conversations are a set up and not authentic.
The released conversations between government ministers have proved all the previous allegations of state capture. Basically, a few top officials have complete control over all branches of executive, parliamentary and judicial power in the country, and are directly micromanaging the most influential media in the country. To illustrate, within the conversations one can hear how judgements and judiciary decisions are dictated via phone by the director of intelligence services, and how the chief of Gruevski’s cabinet dictates what is to be in the media and what isn’t. In the conversations, one can even hear the Minister of Finance admit that the government spending is insane and that Gruevski is nuts.
These conversations confirmed what we already knew. First time elected in 2006, PM Gruevski and his reformed VMRO-DPMNE have turned their party and government into a political Leviathan. Institutions were captured by his party camarillas, while the extensive public spending and new employments in the public sector generated widespread clientelism among citizens and patronage in the business sector. This has helped VMRO-DPMNE to win numerous elections with ease: Their clientelist ‘carrot and stick’ policy, accompanied by nationalist rhetoric and media capture, created a stable electorate that was always ready to support them, voluntarily or not. Moreover, elections were organized by state institutions whose credibility now, after the wiretapped conversations, is very questionable. Even the Minister of Internal Affairs admitted in one of the published materials that she organized the police to work for her party during the election campaign. Simply, there were no boundaries between the state and the party and state institutions and resources were misused for party interests.
However, are all these developments making Gruevski’s Leviathan quickly approach its expiration date? And how does the last event in Kumanovo affect the mentioned political crisis?
The whole situation is very dynamic and fact changing and one cannot really answer these questions. Except the official interpretation of the event that has offered only scarce information about the so called terrorist group in Kumanovo, over the last few days there was a lot of noise and conspiracy claiming that behind the bloody scenario there is a well-trained mercenary group who was paid to inflate a conflict.
For instance, one interpretation advocated by pro-opposition opinion makers suspects that Gruevski and his closest clique stage-managed the conflict in order to generate a ‘controlled crisis’ and to defocus the public from the abovementioned scandals to some ‘managed’ interethnic tension. It is believed that this would have made more material for their propaganda machine where the opposition would be presented as responsible for the destabilization of the country. However, the shootout in Kumanovo this weekend turned out very tragic, with serious human loses and material damages. If this version turns out to be true, the ‘controlled crisis’ went completely out of control.
The other interpretation, mainly advocated by pro-government opinion makers, backed by the official statement of the Russian ministry of foreign affairs and also some Serbian media, suspects that the reason behind the incident lies within the cooperation between foreign Western security services and the opposition, whose intention is to radicalize the situation and organize another ‘colored revolution’. This is believed because the increased destabilization could lead to a technical or expert government, which is the opposition’s main request since they started releasing the wiretaped conversations.
Whichever of these interpretations is true, if any, Gruevski and his clique now need to answer a few additional questions: First of all, who were those armed men who made Kumanovo look like Bagdad? Secondly, if they had the right intelligence information from the beginning of the year, as President Ivanov stated, why did they not react earlier? And finally, how did the ‘well-planned’ action of the Macedonian special forces became a long standing battle with too many victims?
This puts even more pressure on the Government. The public needs to know the right information and authorities have the responsibility to provide these answers as soon as possible! Any delay will increase the speculations over the Kumanovo event and may impact negatively on overall national and regional security.
Going back to the broader political crisis, there is a need for political responsibility by Gruevski and his ministers, because without resignations there is no room for a resolution of the crisis. The institutions need to investigate the numerous allegations of corruption within the government and to do this they cannot remain controlled and pressured by those who are the main subjects in the allegations.
In the last two days, the international community issued a joint statement that put a serious diplomatic pressure on Gruevski claiming that the “Prime Minister and his government have not made progress towards accounting for the many allegations of government wrongdoing arising from the disclosures”.
Yesterday, just a couple of hours before midnight, three of Gruevski’s closest companions resigned: his cousin and the director of the state intelligence service, Mijalkov, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Jankuloska, and the Minister of Transport and Communications, Janakieski. Rumors are ongoing that several other ministers and important public officials will be following their example, while their Albanian coalition partner DUI is also rumored to be stepping out of the Government.
Anything can happen in the following days and months, but this seems to be the beginning of the end of Gruevski’s Leviathan…
The author is Macedonian civil rights activist, who recently wrote and edited a blog panel on the symbolic elements of Macedonian populism.