Postcard from Skopje: Night of the Blunt Knives

When God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son,” he was putting him on. Four thousand years later and Skopje’s clique of Euro-Atlantic foreign ambassadors are God to Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s hard-of-hearing Abraham.

To the best of my knowledge, neither of Gruevski’s biological children have been harmed. Cousin Sasho Mijalkov, however, will wake up tomorrow morning out of a job. Chief of Macedonia’s secret police, Mijalkov’s was a name most Macedonians dared not utter until recently. Now it is the punchline to a thousand black jokes.

Before opposition leader Zoran Zaev began leaking recordings of what he claims are illicit government wiretaps, the sound of Mijalkov’s voice was one only a select few Macedonians had heard. For years he had been a shadowy figure, most did not even know what he looked like. Then, earlier this year, he was thrust into the limelight when recordings of his phone conversations were made public. Not only did he find himself a man mired in scandal but also one thrust into the popular consciousness, if not acclaim.

The aggressively private spymaster-in-chief need fear the spotlight no more though. As of yesterday evening he is no longer a public figure. Along with Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska and Transport Minister Mile Janakieski, Mijalkov resigned last night.

In a resignation letter circulated online, Mijalkov wrote that he hoped by removing himself from government he would contribute to the resolution of Macedonia’s crisis. He believes, though, that time will leave him and the government sitting on the right side of history. Mijalkov, Jankulovska and Janakieski all featured prominently in Zaev’s wiretap revelations.

Pro-government media are painting the resignations as a noble self sacrifice offered to cleanse the toxicity of the wiretap recordings from the floundering government. Such purification can be effective when a political entity is ascendant — think Stalinist purges or the Nazi party’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’. Unfortunately for Gruevski, the current government’s downward trajectory seems firmly set. And the spontaneous gathering outside Macedonia’s parliament building late last night would seem to confirm the consensus on social media that the anti-government protest movement is not so easily fooled.

More than that, multiple sources close to senior opposition figures have told Balkanist that Mijalkov and Jankulovska’s resignations are believed by the opposition camp to have a far more sinister cause.

Speculation has been rife since the weekend that pro-government actors masterminded the tragic events that took 22 lives in Kumanovo to serve as a bloody false-flag operation. The opposition narrative, if true, would serve this interpretation.

Mijalkov and Jankulovska were summoned to the US Embassy on Monday. The opposition are saying they were called in to explain telephone conversations intercepted over the weekend. The intercepts are said to show Macedonian secret police operatives communicating with the Kumanovo gunmen in order to secure the safe passage out of the strife-ridden town for three of their number. The three are alleged to have ties to Ali Ahmeti, leader of junior coalition party DUI. Independent media outlet Libertas claims to have diplomatic sources backing this assertion.

These allegations come amid strongly worded statements from Skopje’s diplomatic community along with a call by EU Parliament Vice President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff for Gruevski to resign. The net seems to be closing around the Macedonian government and the diplomatic corps has made clear they are far from running out of options to force a resolution to the current situation. If the prime minister thinks offering senior ministers as sacrificial lambs can save him now, he, like Abraham, is mistaken.

 

 Cover photo: Protesters gather in Skopje on the night of May 6, 2015 (credit: albeu.com)

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Jack Davies

Jack Davies is a freelance journalist focusing on the Western Balkans. You can find him on Twitter @jackoozell