The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Following the first 100 days of the new Government of the Republic of Macedonia, IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in this country. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis entitled “Republic of Macedonia: The new Government – new hope for Macedonia“ are given below.
After several years of political crisis, the Republic of Macedonia (RM) got the new Government led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (SDSM) on 31 May 2017, although the early parliamentary election was held already on 11 December 2016. The leading coalition comprises the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia(SDSM), the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI) and the Alliance of Albanians (DR-ADP, UNITETI, NDP).
The new Macedonian Government inherited the grave situation across all sectors. Nevertheless, it is aware of the need to ensure prosperity, peace and stability of the country and the region. It offered an ambitious "3-6-9" reform plan based on the Government Reform Programme (2017-2020) which takes into account the Pržina Agreement (2015) and follows the recommendations of meetings with the highest representatives of EU institutions, guidelines from the European Commission's Urgent Reform Priorities (2015), senior experts' recommendations on systemic rule of law issues in connection with illegal wiretapping (2015), as well as a series of past recommendations to the Macedonian Government from the Council of Europe standing bodies (Venice Commission, GRECO), OSCE/ODIHR, findings and recommendations of European Commission's annual reports including the high level accession dialogue, conclusions of the ministerial dialogue on the economic reforms programme, conclusions of the regular meetings of various SAA (Stabilisation and Association Agreement) bodies, the Proposal for urgent democratic reforms prepared by an NGO group and numerous consultations with the civil society representatives.
It is therefore of vital importance to implement the proposed "3-6-9" plan. The first group of measures from the plan is to be implemented during the first three months, i.e. until the local election takes place. The second group of measures is to be implemented during the six-month period until the European Council summit in December 2017. The third group of measures is to be implemented during the nine-month period until March 2018, i.e. by the time the European Commission issues the regular report on the Republic of Macedonia. The "3-6-9" reform plan represents the new Government's first step to taking Macedonia on a serious path to the Euro-Atlantic integration after several years of stagnation.
The new measures are focused on ensuring a fair and credible election process based on OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission recommendations which will be implemented on the short-, medium- and long-term basis. The issues of vital importance include the electoral list, regulation of the media and media coverage, updating the election list and ensuring undisturbed and transparent work of the State Electoral Commission (DIK).
The "3-6-9" plan lays down the obligation to restore the democratic atmosphere in the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia (Sobranie). An important task shall be to establish parliamentary control over the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence (UBK) and the Intelligence Agency of the Republic of Macedonia, as well as over the secret monitoring of communications.
One of the Government's priority tasks is the promotion of the Ohrid Agreement and adoption of the law on languages in consultation with the Venice Commission.
The new Government lays stress on the continuous transparent and inclusive cooperation with the civil sector and its participation in the decision-making process.
Another key issue is regulation of the media and empowerment of the civil society, as well as the reform of public administration in the interest of the citizens and the public.
Judicial reform represent one of the main goals of the new Government, which it should pursue taking into account the recommendations of the European Commission and the Council of Europe (Venice Commission, GRECO) in order to build a strong, independent, credible, impartial, transparent, professional and efficient judicial system. Special attention should be paid to the 2017 recommendations of the Senior Experts' Group on systemic Rule of Law issues, which was led by Reinhard Priebe.
Reform of the security and intelligence services represents a demanding and challenging task. The new Government will have to deal with numerous barriers and obstructions on its way to fight against organised crime and corruption and to establish the rule of law. Migration will represent a special challenge and require cooperation with states in the region, the European Commission and FRONTEX.
The "3-6-9" reform plan is carried out in line with the envisaged dynamics despite the ongoing campaign for local election and constant obstructions by some members of the recent regime led by Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE) who still cannot accept the general practice of NATO and EU candidate states. Namely, the process of NATO and EU accession requires mobilisation of all actors in Macedonian political and social scene: the government, the opposition and the civil society.
Economic recovery represents the top priority of the new Macedonian Government with the ambitious programme of economic reforms and the planned 5-7% growth, which should contribute to the reduction of enormous unemployment rate and poverty. It is also important to take a new approach to cooperation with the large diaspora and to involve it in terms of human and material resources and investments in the economic and social recovery of Macedonia.
The new Macedonian Government has made significant efforts to develop neighbourhood relations which are of key importance for peace, stability and cooperation in the region. Promotion and development of friendly relations with all of its neighbouring countries is therefore one of the Government's priorities. Since Macedonia's accession to NATO membership has been blocked by Greece due to the name dispute, the new Government is trying to restore the hampered relations with Greece and create a new positive atmosphere between the two countries.
Zoran Zaev's Government has signed the intergovernmental agreement on neighbourhood cooperation between Macedonia and Bulgaria without external assistance, which can be compared with the historical Germany-France agreement after World War II.
As his first visit to the countries in the region Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev decided to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Chairman of BiH Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdić.
Analysts believe that it was not a coincidence that Zaev decided to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina as the first destination in the region after he took over the Prime Minister office. The visit sent a series of geopolitical messages and signs of positive future political processes in the region, which will give Macedonia and BiH a new impetus and support from the international community on their way to accelerated NATO and EU membership. Analysts have noted that the new Macedonian Government is one of the few governments in the West Balkan region that are fully dedicated to the rule of law and pro-European reforms.
Support to the new Macedonian Government was also expressed at the Adriatic Charter Summit in Podgorica which was hosted by Zoran Zaev and where the Vice President of the United States of America Michael Pence confirmed Washington's support to Macedonia and the region stating that they would strive to strengthen cooperation between the USA, the European Union and the Balkans in the framework of the Adriatic Charter. This support has further strengthened Macedonia's position on the international map.
Although the new Macedonian Government has shown sincere readiness for cooperation with the neighbouring states, it had to deal with the alleged wiretapping affair in which Macedonian security services were accused of allegedly wiretapping the Embassy of Serbia in Skopje and some Serbian officials, while forgetting the fact that Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) actually supported Nikola Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE regime which illegally wiretapped over 25,000 Macedonian citizens.
Analysts have noted that the attacks at Macedonia and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev staged by Vučić and Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić (SPS) were among other used to conceal and eventually prevent the publication of information on the alleged illegal wiretapping by Vičić's regime in Serbia and to support VMRO-DPMNE at the forthcoming local election in Macedonia scheduled for 15 October 2017. Intelligence information shows that for quite some time Vučić has been issuing orders to help VMRO-DPMNE remain in power in Macedonia.
The new Macedonian Government did not react to the staged wiretapping affair, and so Vučić and Dačić experienced a complete debacle in Macedonia and lost all their credibility as factors of peace and stability in the region, which they had previously enjoyed. Analysts believe that Serbia should withdraw as soon as possible its widespread security and intelligence apparatus from Macedonia and stop its intelligence activities in Macedonia for the account of a third country.
National security experts have noted that the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre in Niš, Serbia, which is located in the immediate vicinity of Macedonia, represents a threat to Macedonian national security. Increased Russian presence and activity have been noticed in Macedonia while the representatives of the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre in Niš have already offered services and cooperation to certain Macedonian institutions.
The end of Nikola Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE regime in Macedonia represents a strong impetus for democratic forces in the region where most of the countries still have autocratic and in many aspects non-democratic governments that are dominated by crime, corruption, nepotism, intimidation and unfree media.
Analysts have estimated that Prime Minister Zaev and the new Macedonian Government represent a political threat to autocratic regimes and leaders in the region. Efficient leadership requires responsible actions towards the state and the citizens and acceptance not only by the Macedonian ethnic community but also by other ethnic communities and minorities in Macedonia (Albanians, Serbs, Turks, Roma, Bosniaks, Torbesi etc.). Zaev has achieved that kind of leadership, and this represents a new quality in the regional political scene and gives a new dimension and hope for a better future not only in Macedonia but also in the wider region.
The IFIMES International Institute believes that the West has made a mistake to tolerate non-democratic and authoritarian regimes in the Western Balkan region. In their relations with that region, the Western states have put security before democracy. Macedonia can serve as an instructive example of how past mistakes can be corrected. Democracy must be before and above everything else. Unlike the economically devastated and collapsed Western Balkan states which were destroyed by their political and criminal structures, the developed Western states are primarily democratic and have a highly developed notion of private property and initiative. That is why the regimes in the Balkan region dread the “The Truth for Macedonia” civil movement which will inevitably lead to the civil revolt against the hated regimes and their holders.
Analysts believe that it is of vital importance that the Republic of Macedonia soon becomes the 30th full member of NATO. Until then Serbia and Russia will continue their intensive efforts to destabilise this country which has slowly become the hope and the locomotive of positive processes in the West Balkan region.
Ljubljana, 4 October 2017