Macedonia 2018 referendum: Who fears the successful referendum in Macedonia?


The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in Macedonia which has entered the final part of the campaign for the referendum on Macedonia-Greece ‘name’ agreement that will be held on 30 September 2018.The most interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “Macedonia 2018 referendum: Who fears the successful referendum in Macedonia?” are published below 

Macedonia 2018 referendum:


Who fears the successful referendum in Macedonia?


On17 June 2018 the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece signed the final agreement in Prespa to resolve the name dispute between the two states and form strategic partnership.  According to the agreement the name of the Republic of Macedonia will be changed to the Republic of North Macedonia or, short, North Macedonia.


The IFIMES International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies has recently published a detailed analysis and public opinion poll concerning the referendum (“Macedonia 2018 referendum: Macedonia to choose between (self)isolation and Euro-Atlantic future?”(link:  (13 September 2018).


Article 1(4) of the name agreement provides the possibility to hold a referendum on the agreement. The Republic of Macedonia decided to call a consultative referendum to be held on 30 September 2018. The referendum question will be: “Are you in favour of EU and NATO membership, and thereby accepting the name agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?”


There are in total 2,736,886 registered voters in Macedonia.


No one can abolish Macedonian nation, identity and language


The referendum campaign is taking place in a heated atmosphere and with strong international support. Both the opponents and the supporters have dedicated a lot of attention to the question of recognition of Macedonian nation, identity, culture and language.  They have often presented different interpretations of the Prespa Agreement.


The signed agreement undoubtedly confirms the continuity of Macedonia's statehood and the ethnic nationality of its people and recognises its language, culture and identity. The country will thus consolidate its statehood and confirm the identity of Macedonians as a nation. The signed agreement contains all the necessary elements that guarantee the existence of the modern Macedonian state and confirm Macedonians as its nation.


It is therefore of utmost importance that the upcoming referendum is not exploited for political party interests and politicking. It should be regarded as a general national issue, since its success will project the future of Macedonia through EU and NATO membership and guarantee its territorial integrity which has been jeopardised so many times. The citizens of Macedonia have to be presented the true meaning of the name agreement and its importance for their country and its future. However, the largest opposition party VMRO-DPMNE has not clearly expressed its position regarding the referendum, but instead called its members to decide freely whether they would participate and how they would vote. It is surprising for the largest opposition party to have no clear position on the key  national issue. However, a large part of the leaders, founders and members of VMRO-DPMNE are well aware of their historical responsibility and have called their members to turn out at the referendum, thus showing their democratic capacity to respect the referendum as a form of democratic expression, especially when it concerns the future of Macedonia and its people. It is difficult to understand why VMRO-DPMNE leaders, who publicly advocate EU and NATO membership, in this critical moment of Macedonian modern history do not wish to clearly support the Euro-Atlantic path at the forthcoming referendum. This leads to suspicion that there are some foreign actors behind VMRO-DPMNE's position, notably Serbia and Russia.


For whom and in whose interest does Macedonian President Ivanov work?


President of the Republic of Macedonia Gjorge Ivanov has explicitly violated the Constitution and abused his position three times during the period of two years. Macedonian parliament (Sobranie) did not initiate his impeachment, since he enjoys the protection of VMRO-DPMNE whose votes are needed for two-thirds majority support of the impeachment. According to the constitutional procedure the vote for impeachment in the Sobranie is followed by the final decision taken by the Constitutional Court of Macedonia which also decides by two-thirds majority. Therefore, despite obvious violations of the Constitution no impeachment has been initiated against Ivanov.


Ivanov's first attempt to violate the Constitution was during his task to grant a mandate to Zoran Zaev (SDSM) pursuant to Article 84 of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, according to which the President of the state is to grant mandate to the MP who has majority in the parliament (following the procedure of establishing whether the candidate has the majority in the parliament or not). The second procedure – establishing whether the candidate and his political programme enjoy sympathies – does not fall within the competence of the President of the state. Despite this constitutional obligation President Ivanov required Zaev to “swear” to him that in his programme he would not realise the so called Tirana platform and that he would fulfil other Ivanov's unconstitutional demands. However, even after that Ivanov rejected to grant the mandate to Zaev, until he was faced with strong international pressure and a general blockade in Macedonia.


The second and third attempts to violate the Constitution concerned the same issue. According to Article 75(2) of the Constitution the President has a suspensory veto, i.e. the right not to sign the order on the proclamation of an act after its adoption by the first voting in the parliament. With his veto the President postpones the adoption of the act.  However, if the same act is supported by absolute majority of 51% of all MPs in the second voting in the parliament, the President is obliged to sign it.


President Ivanov wilfully rejected to do that, triggering a “minor constitutional crisis” in two cases: when adopting the law on the use of Albanian language and the languages of ethnic minorities and the law on the ratification of the Final Agreement between Macedonia and Greece. It should be noted that Macedonian constitutional system does not vest powers in the President of the state that would enable him or her to block the work of the Sobranie.


This points to the question of who Macedonian President Ivanov works for and what he will do after his term of office expires. Information has spread in the public that after his term of office as President, Ivanov will leave Macedonia and emigrate to one of the autocratic states. But before that, he will have to face Macedonian judicial authorities to justify his unconstitutional acts. Clearly it is in the interest of certain states, especially Serbia and Russia, to prevent the successful referendum. The question is for whom and in whose interests President Ivanov works? Serbia and Russia do not want to see Macedonia as a full member of NATO and they want to prevent canonical recognition of  autocephaly  of Macedonian Orthodox Church.


Psychoanalysts believe that Ivanov's irrational behaviour – bearing in mind that he is a university professor of law – could be explained either as arising from his problems with personal identity, or from his being blackmailed. In the latter case he is not a free person, which puts under question his ability to perform the duties of the President of the state and opens the possibility for his resignation or dismissal.


Who fears the successful referendum in Macedonia?


Macedonia is about to take the most important decision in its modern history. It is exposed to strong pressures from external factors and collaboration by a part of domestic forces who would like to prevent Macedonia's path to full membership in EU and NATO at any price. The referendum campaign is thus full of false information and distorted interpretations of the Final Agreement between Macedonia and Greece.


If the referendum in Macedonia succeeds, it will change the geopolitical picture not only of Macedonia but of the whole region.


In the situation when Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) has initiated the idea on changing the borders, the forthcoming referendum has all the greater importance since NATO membership will guarantee the territorial integrity of the state[1]. Macedonia's accession to Euro-Atlantic integration with the assistance of its neighbouring states that are already EU and NATO members does not suit Russia and Serbia which hope that the referendum fails so that they could set out to divide Macedonia with the support of greater-state nationalistic and separatist circles in the neighbouring states. Macedonia has only two options: to join the western civilised/democratic states or to become a part of the greater Russian plot with the final goal to divide and annihilate Macedonia.  Macedonia is already experiencing hacker attacks which will even intensify as the referendum approaches. Hacker attacks are targeted at state institutions and State Election Commission, while false information and disinformation is spread through social networks in order to influence the will of the citizens of Macedonia and prevent the success of the referendum. A network of agents has been deployed throughout the territory of Macedonia, especially among ethnic Macedonians, in order to dissuade them from turning out at the referendum or persuade them to vote against the proposal. This is confirmed by the fact that Serbia has appointed the controversial diplomat and former BIA (Serbian Security Information Agency) director Rade Bulatović as its new ambassador to Macedonia. Former security adviser at Serbia's Embassy in Skopje and BIA's deputy director Goran Živaljević was present in numerous violent incidents in Macedonia, notably during the attack in Macedonian Parliament on 27 April 2017 when Zoran Zaev and some of his colleagues were attacked in an assassination attempt. The Belgrade regime had tight connections with the regime of Nikola Gruevski and Saša Mijalkov, and those connections are still strong today.


Besides the prevention of EU and NATO membership, the key reason for fearing the successful referendum arises from the act that will follow the referendum: the long-expected canonical recognition of  Macedonian Orthodox Church, which is another key reason why Serbia and Russia are trying to prevent the successful referendum.


Analysts believe that the referendum held on 30 September 2018, if successful, will definitely open the road to Macedonia's full membership in the elite clubs of states such as NATO and the EU, which will ensure the country's territorial integrity and create the conditions for its general prosperity. Another historical milestone for Macedonians will be the canonical recognition of Macedonian Orthodox Church, bearing in mind that this year the Archbishopric of Ohrid celebrates the 1000th anniversary of its founding.


Ljubljana, 28 September 2018   


[1] Artcle 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states:The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.“            

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