Unless we acknowledge the gravity of events in Macedonia, the final victim of violence across the Balkans will be democracy itself, argues Rudina Hajdari.
After more than 1 year without a government — and several months of serious political instability — Macedonia has been shaken by the most significant threat in recent memory.
During the evening of Thursday the 27th of April, approximately 300 protestors entered the country’s parliament. They smashed fixtures. They beat police officers. They humiliated parliamentarians.
The most emotive image captured by international media was that of Macedonia’s opposition leader Zoran Zaev — whose face was obscured by a cowl of dark blood — as he departed the parliament building. Some of the 12 parliamentarians involved suffered injuries requiring emergency treatment. More than 100 victims have now been identified.
Attempts to find solutions to Macedonia’s problems have been ongoing since 2015 — when then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was implicated in a wire-tapping controversy, which saw thousands of hours of telephone conversations recorded illegally. It is not appropriate to comment specifically upon Mr. Gruevski’s circumstances. They may be subject to future litigation. It is also not correct to angle criticism towards Macedonia. Rather the events of the 27th should be viewed as symptoms of a creeping problem in the Balkans. That problem is a kind of “gangster politics” — where the same, returning figures pay lip-service to democratic values, while doing everything possible to stay in power.
When violence — orchestrated by sneering cowards in balaclava masks disrupts democracy in a country with land borders to two European Union members — it is imperative that we condemn it, with the strongest terms we know. Balkan leaders must speak as statesmen and women should — because silence doesn’t stop people from getting hurt.
It would be a grave mistake to believe that history cannot repeat itself in this region. The Western Balkans have suffered sufficient torment and genocide to understand the consequences of political inertia.
But while this region is still certainly riven by political conflicts — and while scars are certainly still healing — concerns for Macedonia should not be borne from fear of the past. Reportage on Skopje looked more like a horrible playback of the bloody, chaotic 1990s, than an accurate portrait of the progressive and energetic region which a younger generation now knows. Often, they’ve worked, studied and lived abroad. That experience has formed their vision of what the future holds.
As the dust settles in Skopje, the spectre of “a greater Albania” has been reinvigorated again (and again) by news-portals of varying quality. Breitbart waded in with a piece on the tragedy, which simultaneously juxtaposed the historical exploits of Alexander the Great with bleak predictions of the imminence of war. The fixation on the idea of a threatening and malign “greater Albania” is quite extraordinary. Its not a concept that’s clearly defined, so the level of media interest feels paranoid. It’s also media interest that could be better directed toward the serious and real democratic problems which face the entire region. Macedonia is no exception to the rule.
For instance, a contributing writer to The Hill filed more accusatory shots against George Soros’ activities in the Balkans, by focusing on his networks’ activities in Macedonia — specifically, the $5 million USD payments he received from USAID between 2012-2016 in order to run his local NGO.
The op-ed in question alludes to this money as “[U.S] tax dollars used for political purposes” — a statement which is at least technically true. Yet it’s only half of the picture. The other half concerns the relatively high level of spending by Macedonia’s VMRO-DPMNE party — as disclosed by statements filed under the U.S Foreign Agents Registration Act.
According to the terms of the contract agreed between a Washington lobbyist and the then Secretary General of the VMRO-DPMNE Political Party Emil Dimitriev, for work commencing November 1st 2015, The Daschle Group earn $49,500 USD per calendar month for “…strategic consulting to the VRMO DPMNE Political Party in connection with political and public policy issues before hte [sic] United States government impacting the VMRO-DPMNE Political Party’s interests.”
Based on the proviso that the contract has endured until now, the VRMO-DPMNE have spent $841,500 on U.S lobbying alone. Soros’ disbursement from USAID is clearly bigger — and, of course, those dollars do come from the pockets of U.S tax-payers. While it can’t be proven, isn’t there basis to state that a retainer paid by Macedonia’s (once) ruling party is extracted via tax collection too?
It is profoundly important to reference cases like this, because they offer hard facts in the vicious cycle of half-truths, fake news and thin geopolitical conspiracy theories, which characterise many people’s view of the Balkans — while neatly avoiding the truth.
Put simply, a certain type of politician — with deep-pockets, and old regime connections — feels threatened. Young men and women across this region are asserting their inalienable right to democratic values, in a manner that’s entirely discomfiting to old-guard apparatchiks with intrinsically authoritarian tendencies. Events such as Skopje are tragic in every sense—but won’t be in vain, so long as they remind the leaders of tomorrow that our young democracies need more work.
Cover photo: Skopje, Macedonia April 2017. Credit: Lily Lynch/Balkanist