Macedonia’s biggest opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, is gearing up to launch major protests in May with the aim of forcing an early general election and overthrowing the government led by Social Democrat Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
The shocking announcement came after the parliament adopted the controversial language law that makes Albanian the second official language in the country.
VMRO-DPMNE strongly opposes the law, which was adopted for the second time on March 14. The party was also angered when the parliament failed to discuss amendments filed by the opposition, saying the procedure was far from being regular. President Gjorge Ivanov immediately refused to sign the bill into law, after previously vetoing the law when it was adopted for the first time in January.
“Protests will last until we overthrow this anti-national government in early parliamentary elections. We call on all citizens to join us,” VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski said in an interview with broadcaster Alfa on March 16. Mickoski was elected the party’s new leader a few months ago to replace Nikola Gruevski, who served as prime minister from 2006 until 2016.
Mickoski said that the party is undergoing a process of transformation to defeat the government led by Zaev,”whose catastrophic policies in all areas are pushing the country toward a disaster.”
He reiterated that the language law was unconstitutional and was adopted by breaching all procedures in the parliament, and announced an interpellation against parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi.
On March 18, VMRO-DPMNE issued a statement saying that Mickoski and other party members will continue their meetings with citizens across the country with the aim of getting support to overthrow the government.
“We are preparing the best programme ever, with a team of domestic and foreign experts. Many new people are joining us on a daily basis. We are working to offer citizens an alternative,” Mickoski said in a statement.
“I will also continue with field visits. I will go from house to house in cities and villages, and will talk to the people. The voice of the people must be heard, we will discuss and offer solutions,” Mickoski said.
Meanwhile, on March 18, hundreds of Macedonians gathered in front of the government building in protest against the adoption of the language law. The protest was organised by the All-Macedonian National Congress — Makedonium. Protesters urged Ivanov to keep its promise and not to sign the bill into law.
Meanwhile, police officers are still protecting homes of MPs from the governing SDSM after the adoption of the language law was followed by threats and protests in front of their homes. MPs from the SDSM have been called traitors.
On the night of March 17, a small protest organised by VMRO-DPMNE supporters was held in front of the house of SDSM MP Dalibor Bogdanovski in the municipality of Sopiste, and in front of the home of MP Dime Velkovski in Skopje.
Hopes start to fade
Macedonia only recovered from a major and long-lasting political crisis in mid-2017. This resulted in the SDSM coming to power in coalition with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) after a decade of rule by VMRO-DPMNE. Adoption of the language law was one of the conditions for the DUI and other ethnic Albanian parties to support Zaev’s government.
After coming to power, the new government warmed ties with its neighbours and pledged reforms aimed at bringing the country closer to EU and Nato membership.
Now, however, the optimism about the country’s EU prospects are fading away in view of the new political landscape. Macedonia is not only heading for a constitutional crisis, but the discontent with the language law could also push the country into another political crisis.
VMRO-DPMNE is not the only critic of the language law, as many within Macedonia have questioned the procedure by which it was adopted. Experts also say that the country’s highest court should give an opinion on the constitutionality of the law.
Issues concerning the constitution also extend to attempts to resolve the name dispute with Greece. The Greek government is seeking changes to Macedonia's constitution to incorporate the potential change of the country’s name, even though the Macedonian government has repeatedly said that there would be no constitutional alternations.
Macedonia and Greece are involved in an intense process of negotiations to find a solution to the long-standing name dispute; Greece objects to the name “Macedonia” as it has province with the same name.
Mickoski also said that regarding the name dispute, VMRO will not accept a solution that will goes against the country’s national interests.