Albanians, Russians weigh in on Macedonian political crisis

Albanians, Russians weigh in on Macedonian political crisis
By bne IntelliNews March 2, 2017

Political leaders from Albania and Kosovo reacted angrily on March 2 to Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov’s refusal to give a mandate to Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev to form a new government with the support of ethnic Albanian parties. Meanwhile the Russian foreign ministry accused Tirana of trying to destabilise the region. 

Ivanov said on March 1 that he would not entrust the mandate to Zaev due to his acceptance of the ethnic Albanian platform, which according to the president threatens the unitary character of the country. Ivanov fears that the platform, which envisages wider official use of the Albanian language in Macedonia and other concessions to the Albanian minority, could destroy the country’s sovereignty, integrity and independence.

However, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said in a Facebook post addressed to Ivanov that the Albanian language is not a language of an enemy, but of a constituent nation in Macedonia.

“There is no Macedonia without Albanians,” Rama said in the same post, following the latest developments in Skopje.

The speaker of the Albanian parliament Ilir Meta also expressed concern about the political situation in Macedonia, according to the Albanian parliament's statement published on March 2.

Meta said he regretted the “anti-Albanian nationalistic rhetoric”, which he claimed disrupts the harmony and co-existence as guarantees for the stability of the neighbouring country.

Meta said he hopes Macedonian politicians will “demonstrate commitment to making democratic progress and work for the EU integration of Macedonia.”

For Kosovan President Hashim Thaci, the latest developments in Macedonia are “very disturbing”.

“With the latest decision, President Ivanov has buried the democracy and violated the constitution and the Ohrid agreement,” Thaci said on Facebook, referring to the agreement that ended a serious inter-ethnic conflict in 2001. 

“Finally, Albanians should take the destiny of their rights into their own hands,” Thaci added, without elaborating on what he meant. 

In Macedonia, the leader of the biggest ethnic Albanian political party Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), Ali Ahmeti, denied that the platform of the ethnic Albanian parties is against the unitary character of the country or that it foresees federalisation.

In a Facebook post, he also called on political parties not to raise ethnic tensions in the country, adding that this is a political problem to which parties and institutions will find a solution.

Meanwhile, Macedonians are staging daily protests in the capital and other cities against the ethnic Albanian platform and plans to turn Macedonia into a bilingual state. The fears were fuelled by the reports about possible changes to Macedonian banknotes and coins to include Albanian symbols, as well as a new flag and national anthem. This would raise ethnic tensions in the country, which plunged into deep political crisis in 2015.

Fears for democracy 

The US ambassador in Macedonia, Jess Baily, raised concerns in a tweet saying that Macedonia is moving away from principles of democracy and rule of law, which are the core Nato values.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that parliamentary majorities must be acknowledged “even if one does not like them”.

EU foreign policy chief Federica  Mogherini, who paid a visit to Skopje on March 2, urged Ivanov to revoke the decision and give the mandate to Zaev, who has a majority in the parliament, in line with the constitution. 

Mogherini reiterated that the EU wants Macedonia to become part of the bloc.

At the end of February, Zaev asked for a mandate from Ivanov after securing enough signatures from three ethnic Albanian parties to form a majority in parliament, which was a condition set by Ivanov for entrusting a mandate. The conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, which narrowly won the December 11 election, previously failed to form a government with its former partner the DUI.

The three ethnic Albanian parties supported Zaev after he accepted the platform they adopted on January 7 as a precondition for supporting a new government. One of the main conditions is the use of the Albanian language at all levels of governance and on the whole territory of Macedonia.

Russia claims “interference”

Meanwhile, the Russian ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement on March 2 raising concerns over external interference in the internal affairs of Macedonia and warned that the country and the whole Balkan region could be destabilised.

The ministry said that there have been attempts with the help of the EU and Nato leaders to impose an Albanian platform in Macedonia. The statement claimed the platform dubbed “Greater Albania” had been drafted in the prime minister’s cabinet in Tirana, and set out territorial aspirations towards neighbouring Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. Ethnic Albanians are living in all four countries.

“It is particularly disturbing that the authorities of Kosovo, which unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia, were involved in this deceptive scheme,” the ministry said.

According to the Russian foreign ministry, this strategy is extremely dangerous and could lead to the destruction of Macedonian statehood and the destabilisation of the Balkans as a whole.

The ministry pointed out that the December 11 election was conducted on the EU and US’s insistence, and ended with the victory of the governing VMRO-DPMNE party headed by Nikola Gruevski.

“Now the West with the help of the Albanian minority is trying to bring the defeated opposition (SDSM) to power by accepting the ultimate platform defined by ethnic Albanians, leading to the erosion of the country's constitutional foundations,” the Russian ministry stressed. This can worsen the situation in Macedonia, the ministry warned.

VMRO-DPMNE, which is insisting on a new snap election, reiterated in a party statement on March 2 that it is against the ethnic Albanian platform due to the fears that it can redefine the country.

Zaev again urged Ivanov to reverse his decision and give him a mandate saying that this does not mean that the government will be formed but will be a step towards solving the crisis.     

“As long as I am the president of Macedonia I will not give the mandate to a person or party that promotes programmes for destroying the country’s sovereignty, integrity and independence,” Ivanov said on March 1.

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