In the last two and a half years, Macedonia has been in a deep political crisis. Since 2006, we have witnessed a constant wholesale erosion of state institutions.
Supporters of VMRO-DPMNE, the conservative ruling party of Macedonia,
at a rally in Skopje. Credit: Boris Grdanoski/Associated Press
In the last two and a half years, Macedonia has been in a deep political crisis. Since 2006, when the coalition between the Christian democratic VMRO-DPMNE (the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity) and the Albanian DUI (Democratic Union for Integration) came to power, we have witnessed a constant wholesale erosion of state institutions.
Before we begin listing statistics highlighting the level of decay within society and the political system, we must first acknowledge that Macedonia has not held a census since 2002. This fact has an enormous influence on the situation with regard to the electoral register because the absence of an up-to-date census means we do not have a clear idea of who has a right to vote and where. This situation has created an environment in which several incidents of electoral fraud have been committed by the ruling coalition. From 2006 to 2016, we had three early parliamentary elections (in 2008, 2011 and 2014). The most recent is now the fourth in a row.
By the end of 2014, high school students had started to protest against an imposed and utterly pointless external testing process justified as a means of gaining a clear picture of the quality of education in the country. This external testing includes students from fourth grade in elementary school to those in their last year of high school and is held at the end of the year. The results of this test have an impact not only on the pupils’ official grades but on the grading of their teachers’ performance. A marginal difference between grades awarded by the teachers and those achieved through testing can result in enormous financial penalties for teaching staff. It is publicly known that those teachers who are not members of the ruling party (DPMNE) and who display slight discrepancies in their grades are at greater risk of losing their jobs. The next protest in this growing movement to stand up against and raise awareness of the situation saw students occupy the buildings of a university in the capital Skopje in February 2015. By amending the law on university education, the government attempted to interfere directly in the autonomy of the universities and their budgets. The occupation of the faculties lasted for two weeks and erupted in mass protests in Skopje that involved more than 4,000 people. The protestors were not only students, but ordinary people who joined to express their support and solidarity. Fortunately, the government withdrew its intentions to amend the law. But this was only the beginning of a period of mass protest and rioting.
Following the student occupations, the opposition party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), started to publish wiretapped conversations between serving politicians which confirmed almost all existing rumors concerning electoral fraud, widespread partisanship within the state administration, and the involvement of the ruling party (the DPMNE) in measures to control and intimidate members of the judicial council and attempts made by the former Minister of the Interior to cover up the murder of a young man. The Social Democrats stated that approximately 20,000 people were wiretapped and that they chose to publish 25 of the most explosive stories that uncovered how the baroquisation of Skopje has been undertaken through a project called “Skopje 2014”. Through this project, 74 monuments were erected, several buildings were built in baroque style – and approximately €820 m was laundered. The center of Skopje underwent a complete face-lift; it is now full of baroque statues and buildings, all made with facades of plastic, gypsum and Styrofoam. What initially triggered the mass protest on May 5, 2015, was the publication of a wiretapped conversation between two former politicians, Gordana Jankulovska (once Minister of the Interior) and Zoran Stavrevski (previously Minister of Finance), in which the former openly talked about how she attempted to cover up the murder of a 20-year-old man in 2011 during events to celebrate another election victory. The man was beaten to death by a member of the special police force who was later sentenced to 14 years in prison. Continued protests have led to a heightened political crisis in which external actors, such as the EU and the USA, have been forced to intervene. Overseen by EU commissioner Johannes Hahn, political negotiations to resolve the crisis were held in Skopje during the summer of 2015. The resulting final agreement was called the “Przhino Agreement” after the Skopje suburb where negotiations were held. This agreement was signed by four political parties: the SDSM, the VMRO-DPMNE, the DUI and a second large Albanian party, the DPA (Democratic Party of Albanians). This agreement stipulated the creation of a base to develop a Special Prosecutor’s Office which will be responsible for the investigation and raising of charges for criminal wrongdoing uncovered by wiretapped conversations.
At the beginning of 2016, the ruling coalition between the VMRO-DPMNE and the DUI came under pressure from investigators alleging electoral fraud. The Special Prosecutor’s Office submitted a request to the Constitutional Court to deliberate upon a law which included several articles banning any kind of pardon for criminals convicted for pedophilia, drug dealing and electoral fraud. Under pressure from the DPMNE, the court decided that those articles were in violation of the constitution. Less than a month later, in the middle of April, the president, Gorgi Ivanov, pardoned all politicians who were under investigation for electoral fraud. People reacted to the president’s decision by staging mass protests which culminated in the burning down of the president’s office in the center of Skopje. The protests continued, with activists daubing all the buildings newly erected as part of the “Skopje 2014” project in different colors; for the people, these structures stand as a symbol of the fraud and crimes committed by the government. This action became known as the “Colorful Revolution”.
During the years of protest, but mainly between 2006 and 2016, approximately 650 specialist doctors left Macedonia permanently. In the last 6 months of 2016 alone, 90 babies have died and the mortality rate of expectant mothers has increased. Statistics provided by the World Bank claim that in the last 15 years, 600,000 Macedonian citizens have emigrated. And yet Macedonia was the only state to close its borders to migrants from Syria under instruction from the European Union.
As a result of pressure caused by daily protests, the government has agreed, without an up-to-date electoral register, to organize early parliamentary elections. The campaign was so laden with accusations and scaremongering that if the SDSM were to win, Macedonia would be federalized and the Albanian language would become the second official language. For the first time since independence, one openly left political party ran in the elections: Levica. They ran in five electoral units (Macedonia is divided into seven electoral units: six within the state itself and one for diaspora). Polling day went smoothly and there was no violence or major irregularities in the voting process, yet the state election commission took more than 24 hours to announce the preliminary results. Close to midnight on December 11, leader of the opposition, Zoran Zaev, was the first to make an appearance in Skopje, announcing victory with only one parliamentary seat more than the VMRO-DPMNE. After one more seat was called, the spokesman of the DPMNE then announced that they had won the elections. On the electoral website on Tuesday morning, the full result was released as follows: 38% for DPMNE (51 MPs), 36% for SDSM (49 MPs), the DUI secured 7% and 10 MPs, and the major surprise was an Albanian movement called BESA, who won 4% of the vote. The difference between the SDSM and the DPMNE in terms of the number of votes was 16,000. Levica did not win a parliamentary seat, but it did reach the limit of a minimum of 1% of the vote needed to secure financial support from the state budget. The SDSM and BESA have submitted complaints to the state election commission regarding the election results but a decision from the commission regarding this complaint has yet to be made.
15 December 2016