International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East and the Balkans. On the occasion of the early parliamentary elections to be held on 15 July 2020, IFIMES has analyzed the current political situation in the Republic of North Macedonia. We bring the most important and interesting excerpts from a comprehensive analysis titled “Parliamentary elections in North Macedonia: Membership in NATO is a historic success”.
The early parliamentary elections in the Republic of North Macedonia will be held on 15 July 2020.
Based on the system of proportionality, a little less than 1.8 million voters will have the right to vote for the Macedonian parliament (Sobranie), which has 120 seats. The leading parties at the upcoming elections will be the SDSM (the ruling social-democrat party), VMRO-DPMNE (conservative opposition), the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI – ethnic Albanian party in the ruling coalition), the Alliance for Albanians (ASH – ethnic Albanian opposition party), and political parties of ethnic minorities such as Turks, Roma, Bosniaks, Serbs and others, which are traditionally represented in the Macedonian parliament.
A novelty on the Macedonian political stage is the Coalition of the SDSM and the Albanian political party BESA, which is an indicator of progress in the Macedonian society. The current government of the Republic of North Macedonia bases its work on association through the paradigm “One Society for All” and “A Government for Citizens”. The formation of the pre-electoral SDSM and BESA coalition is one consequence of such policy and of the civic concept of the state.
The upcoming parliamentary elections in the Republic of North Macedonia are important for the both sides of the political spectrum (SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE), because what is underway is a political struggle between democracy and authoritarianism, i.e. between the civic and/or ethnic (even nationalistic and exclusionary) character of North Macedonia.
Once again, things boil down to the choice between the West and the East, even though everyone is nominally in favor of the West. These parliamentary elections are not just garden-variety elections: this is a continuation of the parliamentary elections and political changes and processes initiated on 11 December 2016, the day of the early parliamentary elections that brought about the overthrow of Nikola Gruevski’s regime (VMRO-DPMNE) and the formation of the new ruling coalition led by the Social-Democrat Union of Macedonia (SDSM).
In the past century, Macedonians and their state went through a turbulent history. The Ilinden Uprising, one of the most significant events in Macedonian history, happened in 1903. The year 1944, during World War II, was the year of the ASNOM session at which the cornerstone of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia was laid, as an equal federal component of the federative Yugoslavia. Upon the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991 a referendum on independence was organized and an independent and sovereign Republic of Macedonia declared. Under that name, the country was recognized by a majority of countries in the world. The accession to NATO on 27 March 2020 is the fourth important date in the history of Macedonians and the modern Macedonian state.
NATO membership has rounded out Macedonian statehood, as it guarantees the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the modern Macedonian state. Now the country has joined NATO, no one can count on North Macedonia for their expansionist state projects. As citizens, Albanians have demonstrated their relationship with their state, and helped with the country’s name issue and membership in NATO.
Membership in NATO is primarily a great recognition of North Macedonia’s democratic changes and results achieved over the past three years. It turns out that changes are possible and doable, and that North Macedonia – as well as the region of the Western Balkans – has a potential to make it happen. This sends a powerful message and incentive to other countries still in the EU’s and NATO’s waiting rooms. What is also important is that the official Brussels has recognized the progression of changes in North Macedonia and responded to it in a positive and constructive manner.
The change of the political, diplomatic and broader social paradigm in Macedonia started three years back, when SDSM leader Zoran Zaev initiated a series of democratic changes and processes, which have ultimately lead to a new, positive image of this, on many levels specific Balkan country.
The current ruling political establishment has managed to achieve a peaceful succession of government/regime, the same regime that unlawfully surveilled more than 26,000 citizens and, according to some estimates, syphoned out of the country at least 5 billion EUR. Zoran Zaev’s integrational paradigm and strong international engagement led to the signing of the Treaty on Good Neighborly Relations with Bulgaria, and the passage of the law on the use of minority languages. The Prespa Agreement with Greece was signed and implemented, which enabled the unlocking of the Euro-Atlantic integration processes.
Analysts were of the opinion that, following major structural changes in Macedonian politics, essential and positive steps forward were inevitable in the integration process, and that is what happened.
A little over three years back, North Macedonia was still a „problem country“, and now is an example of a country that has completed multiple reforms and unlocked its Euro-Atlantic path, which was crowned with the country’s full-fledged NATO membership. The Government of North Macedonia enjoys strongest international support like no other government in the region since the dissolution of the SFRY. This is a crucial fact, one that needs to be used in the following period for North Macedonia and the region to finally move forward.
Once the situation in North Macedonia had been resolved the focus moved to the finalization of the dialogue between official Belgrade and Pristina. This process is entering its final phase, and it should be followed by addressing the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Analysts believe that the success of North Macedonia has annoyed some political circles in the country and the region, but even some international circles, those that are not comfortable with the finalization of the dialogue between official Belgrade and Pristina and the subsequent solution for the situation in BiH. This is why the upcoming parliamentary elections are so important, not only for North Macedonia but for the region as such, since one segment of the political forces wishes to return to the previous state of affairs.
North Macedonia has demonstrated that it is capable of achieving change. That is the democratic political legitimation of the current government. Membership in NATO is a confirmation of correct action.
Membership in NATO means security, stability and wellbeing. It strengthens the reliability and safety of a country for foreign investment. At the same time, NATO membership is a huge step forward towards EU membership. This has been the immediate experience of all new member countries since the end of the Cold War. Without NATO membership, none of the 30 countries would be as successful as they are now. The membership means co-deciding on the key issues of international politics. North Macedonia will no longer be the subject of debates and agendas of international fora; instead, together with other member countries, it will discuss and contribute to resolution of crucial international issues and challenges. This is a quantum shift in the functioning of a state that has become a full-fledged NATO member.
The membership means more than just a gain for the defense, military and security structures or the functioning of the state. With its many different boards, NATO also addresses issues such as education and environment, innovation, scientific research, companies that, once they get certified by NATO, may bid for jobs within the Alliance, which was not possible before.
Of course, all that depends on the extent to which the state practices a proactive approach in that prestigious club of countries.
The turbulent political scene in North Macedonia is not merely a consequence of its political life, which is intensive. There is an incessant “hybrid war” going on in that country, and it mainly targets the key political figure of the country – Zoran Zaev (SDSM).
The intelligence services have identified and located at least 150 web portals that churn out “fake news” on regular or daily basis. This is why no one should be surprised at the assembly line of scandals in North Macedonia.
A research has revealed that four separate Facebook pages posted content that was then carried by ten Macedonian webpages. This is linked to Adinamic Media, a company administrating websites supportive of the VMRO-DPMNE, the opposition party. Adinamic Media is linked to Hungarian public television network Magyar Televizo (MTV), which is aligned with Fidesz, the party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Analysts believe that the authorities in North Macedonia will need international assistance to regulate this area, without limiting the freedom of speech and/or violating fundamental civil rights and freedoms. New manufactured affairs are to be anticipated in the final stretch of the election campaign, but they will not affect the final results of the elections, because the citizens value peace, stability and prosperity of their country first and foremost.
The upcoming parliamentary elections in North Macedonia, which will be taking place during the Covid-19 pandemics, present a great challenge for the National Election Commission (DIK) and all the participants in the election process, because the results of the elections will depend on their regularity.
Analysts are of the opinion that it is necessary to ensure fair and regular elections, with strong presence of national and foreign observers, while participants in the elections must run a fair election campaign and avoid smearing their political rivals, placing the focus of their activities on political programs and their presentation to the citizens instead. The fact is, the Macedonian society is maturing and developing inter-ethnic tolerance, which is confirmed by the fact that over the last three years no new inter-ethnic incidents have been recorded, and they used to be an almost daily occurrence. This gives rise to the hope in the overall progress, which is certainly what all citizens want, and political leaders need to subordinate their missions to the interests of the citizens and the state.
President of the Republic of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski in his written statement issued at the onset of the campaign emphasized: „The electoral process and the elections must be conducted in keeping with high standards and criteria, bearing in mind our Euro-Atlantic perspective. I appeal to all participants in the electoral process to contribute to fair, free and democratic elections“.
Analysts believe that the upcoming parliamentary elections are very important because, after six months, the country will again have fully functional democratic institutions with full mandate, which has not been the case so far due to the specific objective situation. The new parliament and the new executive government will immediately embark on the preparations for the beginning of negotiations with the EU, which is the most important task. That will be the completion of the process of great changes of the last several years. NATO membership was the key step forward in that direction. North Macedonia is a successful and proven model of democratic transformation of a country in the 21st century.
Ljubljana/Skopje, 6 July 2020