Postcard from Skopje: Rain Fails To Stop Play

Yesterday afternoon, two hours before the third evening of protest’s six o’clock kick-off time, the heavens opened over Skopje. Not just rain, but great globules of liquid dropped like sacks of marbles from the sky. It looked for a time like the whole thing might have to be called off. Under such conditions it is hard to be angry at anyone but the clouds, and who ever heard of clouds moved by peaceful protest? But, with half an hour to spare, the heavens granted a reprieve.

Clouds are not renowned for their political convictions, they tend to blow where the wind takes them. So it is safe to assume that the prevailing wind blows in favour of the protesters; a sentiment which seems to be held on earth as it is in the heavens, among the protesters at least.

The consensus is that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his cohorts’ departure is now an inevitability. Two questions remain, how long will it take for them to go and how cruelly their desperation to cling to power will manifest itself.

While the rain beat down outside I sat in the office of Ljubomir Frckovski. Frckovski helped draft Macedonia’s constitution in 1991, went on to serve as the country’s interior minister later that decade, and is now a professor of international law. He does not think the government will go without a fight. “Losing power means going to jail for them, so they will keep raising the stakes to the end,” he told me. “They will threaten police aggression, civil war, and then they will try to blame the situation on ethnic tensions.”

Ethnicity has been the recurring feature of Macedonian politics for almost as long as Macedonia has been a country. The government the protesters are hoping to bring down is formed of a coalition of parties claiming to represent the country’s two largest ethnic groupings: junior coalition partners DUI for Albanians and Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE for Macedonians. Despite this apparent ethnic concord, political issues have always been framed as being either Albanian concerns or Macedonian concerns, or a conflict between the two.

Frckovski believes that these protests, whose members are drawn from across Macedonia’s demographic spectrum, represent a shift in the status quo. He said that this gives them a special momentum. By ignoring the ethnic lines politics have traditionally been defined by, it renders the narratives which have been the lifeblood of the ruling parties obsolete.

Later I met activist and teacher of political philosophy Artan Sadiku for a beer in Macedonia’s old town. Like Frckovski, Sadiku believes the government will dangle the threat of violence and chaos over the country in an effort to delay its demise. “They are no longer able to claim they are the legitimate representatives of the people, so now they will try to show they hold power through physical force,” he said. The use of force against protesters will be limited though, he believes, the threat of violence being a far more powerful psychological weapon than its actual application.

If last night’s protests were anything to go by then he is right. The police, of whom there were many, were careful to avoid confrontation. Their tactics did, however, give hints of an official nervousness. A solid line of riot-shield bearing police kept protesters at least one hundred yards from the government building. Later, the prosecutor’s office, the walls of which are nearly all window, was cordoned off at a considerable distance, jittery groups of special force police peeking anxiously from well behind the perimeter, as though expecting a surge attack at any moment.

The government is circling its wagons. The corrosion of its hold on power appears beyond repair, the question now is how long will it take to crumble completely?


Cover photo credit: Jack Davies in Skopje. 

For a primer on the security situation in the country, read Miki Trajkovski’s “Wiretapping, Police Brutality, and Growing Security Fears in Macedonia

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Jack Davies

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