On the evening of May the 8th, the police forces of Macedonia entered Divo Naselje, a part of the northern city of Kumanovo. According to official sources, the police had information about a terrorist group hiding in some of the houses in this ethnically-mixed part of town that was planning to carry out attacks on state institutions. Throughout the night and following day, sounds of grenades and gunshots could be heard, while several buildings were burned and civilians evacuated.
As I drove into the city from the airport, there was one thought I couldn’t get rid of: Who would benefit from this crisis? Based on my knowledge of local politics and international relations, this crisis, and especially the narrative being spread, made no sense. Having lived in the city for more than 19 years now, it made even less sense. The terrorists couldn’t have expected to gain support from the local Albanians. So who?
“It’s almost nothing like 2001,” said a friend who happens to be a former member of the military reserve forces taking part in the conflict. We all remember 2001 quite vividly. There was more than just gunpowder in the air. There was fear of the “other”, an open disgust for those speaking a different language, and mistrust among most citizens in the country. More and more Albanians were moving into the city, buying up land mostly in the southern outskirts of town, in the neighborhood known as Divo Naselje.
Any self-respecting admirer of Agatha Christie knows the first rule in investigating a crime: Find the motive. To jump to the conclusion that this is an ethnic conflict is a gross misunderstanding of the political situation in the country, patronizing, and simply dumb. However, there is one group that clearly stands to benefit from the development of this crisis.
The Interior Ministry claims the group was planning an attack on state institutions. If a foreign terrorist group infiltrated the country and engaged in combat, the Government would have to declare a state of emergency. A state of emergency allows for special measures, such as introducing a curfew or revoking the right to protest. And what’s been happening in Macedonia lately? Protests.
For the past few months, the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE has been under constant public pressure after the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDUM) began releasing conversations illegally recorded by the secret police, revealing major instances of fraud and misuse of power by leading political figures of VMRO-DPMNE. Parallel to this, the overall dissatisfaction in the country has manifested into protests on various issues. There have been protests against a controversial law on higher education, the new tax law, secondary school reform, the unfair imprisonment of journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, and the death of teenager Tamara Dimovska, whose life-saving surgery was postponed by bureaucracy. Some of these groups of protesters have supported some of the other causes, but no issue has been as inflammatory as the recorded conversations between high government officials over the murder of Martin Neshkoski.
Martin was a 21-year old VMRO-DPMNE supporter who was beaten to death by a policeman at the victory rally of his own party in the 2011 elections. Once his death was made public, thousands of young people took to the streets to protest against police brutality and demand the resignation of the Interior Minister, Gordana Jankuloska. The Ministry claimed the policeman was off duty, so there was to be no political responsibility assigned, and Jankulovska is still a Minister. However, the publicized recordings indicate that Jankulovska hid the fact that the policeman followed a verbal order by a person who’s not his supervisor, thus proving that the chain of command in the police is completely rigged in favor of powerful individuals.
Since May 5th, there have been massive protests every day in front of state institutions in the capital. Different groups have merged together to form a movement against the government. The police limit the movement of protesters more each day, and the protesters in turn have responded to the changing dynamics by becoming more and more organized. From day one, provocateurs were identified and measures were taken to keep the protests peaceful. However, the police have shown very little restraint. The culmination of the protests is scheduled for May 17th, when the united opposition is organizing a rally.
One might think this is just another conspiracy theory. What kind of a government would be prepared to induce violence to stay in power? The kind that has too much to lose. The misuse of power by the Prime Minister and his closest allies is sickening and omnipresent. They have rigged elections, taken bribes, wiretapped more than 20,000 citizens, blackmailed businesses, created media content, imprisoned political opponents, exercised control over the judiciary and misused their power for their personal financial benefit. The day they give up power is the day they are liable for hundreds of lawsuits. And without the support of the current public prosecutor, nothing stands between them and a very long jail sentence.
As we mourn and pay respect to the brave policemen who were killed, many questions remain unanswered. Any way it plays out, the situation is getting more serious and the developments in the next two weeks will be crucial. I am not sure what I hope to hear from the government in the coming days. However, I do hope I see the regime crashing into pieces as soon as possible. I even have a 2006 bottle of excellent Italian wine ready to celebrate it when it does.