The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. On the occasion of the marking of the 31st anniversary of declaration of independence of North Macedonia, IFIMES made an analysis of the current political situation in the country. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis titled “2022 North Macedonia: Country’s Future is Laid Out.”
On 8 September 2022, North Macedonia marked the 31st anniversary of declaration of independence.
Year 2017 was a milestone in the modern Macedonian history. The regime of Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE), who remained in power from 2006 to 2017, collapsed. A new government headed by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (SDSM) was established.
With the signing of the Prespa Agreement Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras defeated the doctrine pursued by Slobodan Milošević and Constantine Mitsotakis, with the assistance of some Macedonian political parties, which did not envisage existence of Macedonia as a state and Macedonians as a people. The full-fledged membership in NATO fulfilled century long dream of Macedonians and other citizens to have their own state whose territorial integrity and sovereignty would be guaranteed by the biggest and strongest politico-military alliance in the world- NATO. This provided for defeat of hegemonic projects that involved or included aspirations with respect to North Macedonia.
The signing of the Prespa Agreement on 17 June 2018 marked the resolution of a multi-year dispute with Greece over the constitutional name of the country. The new constitutional name of the country is the Republic of North Macedonia. The signed agreement reaffirmed the national-legal continuity of the Republic of Macedonia, ethnic affiliation of Macedonians, as well as recognition of the Macedonian language, culture and identity. The statehood of Macedonia was complete and the identity of Macedonians as a people with all its elements was confirmed. The Prespa agreement contains all the necessary elements that guarantee viability of the modern Macedonian state and reaffirm the specificities of Macedonians as a people.
The last century was a tumultuous period for the Macedonians and their state. The Ilinden uprising launched in 1903 is one of the most important dates in the Macedonian history. In World War II, in 1944, at the session of ASNOM /Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia/ the foundations were laid for the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, as an equal federal unit within the framework of federal Yugoslavia. After the fall of Yugoslavia in 1991, a referendum on independence was organized and the Republic of Macedonia declared its independence and sovereignty. Integration into NATO on 27 March 2020 is the fourth important date in the history of Macedonians and the modern Macedonian state. The fifth important event is the recognition of the autocephaly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric (MPC-OA). Opening of the talks on membership in the European Union, seventeen years after the award of the candidate status, is another milestone in the history of the modern Macedonian state.
Due to its geopolitical and geostrategic position, North Macedonia is at a crossroads of regional and international crimes, as well as various interests. As a result, enormous efforts are invested by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and security-intelligence agencies to combat crime and corruption on and through its territory.
The implementation of a secret intelligence operation codenamed “Rösselsprung”, which is aimed to overthrow the existing government with the ultimate goal to have former Prime Minister (VMRO-DPMNE return to North Macedonia, is still a major threat. Efforts are still intensively invested in the destabilization of the country through continuous fabrication of numerous affairs and scandals. More than 160 media portals that generate numerous fake news and affairs have been detected. The company that manages these websites, which support the VMRO-DPMNE opposition party, is linked to the Hungarian public TV network Magyar Televizo (MTV), which support the leading Fidesz party headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Until recently prime minister Zoran Zaev (SDSM) and Minister of Internal Affairs Oliver Spasovski (SDSM) are still the main targets of this intelligence operation.
At the political level, efforts are made to block the functioning of the institutions. In example, the VMRO-DPMNE opposition party filed no less than 2,000 amendments per a specific laws or blocks appointments to vacant positions in institutions, including the Constitutional Court. Namely, for almost a year the VMRO-DPMNE blocked in Sobranie/Macedonian national parliament/ the appointment of new Macedonian ambassadors, as a result of what the state did not have accredited ambassadors in key European capitals and the US at the time when it needed them the most. This caused significant diplomatic damage to the efforts on fulfillment of ambitions with respect to membership in the EU.
In addition to Zoran Zaev, another main target of the attacks is the Minister of Internal Affairs Oliver Spasovski, who managed in a couple of years to organize the Ministry of Internal Affairs as the best one in the region and a professional police, as well as to detect and dismantle networks of some foreign intelligence services on the territory of North Macedonia, particularly the Russian one, which is why the attacks against him are designed as retaliation for his successful work. Minister Spasovski also played a key role in the protection of the constitutional-legal order and police-judicial system in the country. Therefore, it is important to select a competent new director of the National Security Agency (ANB), because the Macedonian security-intelligence and police sector are to face major challenges.
The center of the secret intelligence operation “Rösselsprung” is in Budapest. It includes certain leaders of states, who are allies of Nikola Gruevski, predominantly from the European (radical) right wing, that is the European People's Party (EPP). The plan of Gruevski's return to North Macedonia and his reinstatement in power has been devised after they had assessed that due to a tight parliamentary majority the current government could be swiftly toppled by creating an ambience of chaos. It is incomprehensible why the NATO alliance tolerates such activities of intelligence services of some of its member countries in North Macedonia, which are not just aimed against the national interests of a sovereign member country, but also against the interests of NATO itself.
In February 2015, a scandal broke out after the exposure of secret tapping operation within which the Macedonian secret service (UDK) had secretly and illegally tapped around 26,000 persons – in a country which factually has a population of 1.65 million. It is assessed that Gruevski's regime had syphoned more than five billion Euros out of the country, while the businessmen were force to pay the “racket” to the regime. Interethnic conflicts, which caused the feeling of insecurity and fear among citizens, were constantly produced. Gruevski and members of his inner circle became enormously rich.
In the period of Nikola Gruevski - Sašo Mijalkov - Orce Kamchev regime in North Macedonia, an informal center of power was established. It was a symbiosis of politicians, tycoons and mafia with the support of the intelligence underground and factually ruled the country. After the fall of the regime, Macedonian authorities only partly established their rule in the country because they were not able to completely overpower the informal centers of power or dismantle the Gruevski-Mijalkov-Kamchev regime, which still acts subversively against the government and has enormous resources at its disposal to use to topple the government and return North Macedonia to the old situation.
Degruevization of the Republic of North Macedonia does not imply just facing the causes and consequences of the regime of Nikola Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE, but also a necessary long-term process of dismantling of the remains of that regime and its capillary-presence in all the segments of the Macedonian state and society. This calls not for engagement of just the judicial system but a broader social engagement and activities on elimination of detrimental consequences of the 11-years-long Gruevski’s rule. Gruevski and his associates cannot avoid being held accountability or being tried for everything they did during their rule. Although in exile in Hungary, where he enjoys the protection and logistic support of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Fidesz), Gruevski is still trying to halt the positive political processes. Several final and binding judgments were handed down against Gruevski and his associates sentencing them to long imprisonment. It is not possible to ensure overall progress without dismantling the regime of Nikola Gruevski and Orban's financial-criminal and banking octopus in North Macedonia and the region.
VMRO-DPMNE President Hristijan Mickoski, who succeeded Gruevski in the position, has still not managed to reform the party because of the resistance to reforms within the VMRO-DPMNE, and particularly among Gruevski's men. However, the absence of reform of the party is detrimental and renders Mickoski's position, both at the national and international political scene, rather difficult.
On 9 October 2019 in Novi Sad, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS), Prime Ministers of North Macedonia and Albania, Zoran Zaev (SDSM) and Edi Rama (PS), respectively, signed the Declaration of intent to establish a “small Schengen”, which would include the three countries. The joint declaration encompassed elimination of border controls and other barriers with the aim to facilitate movement in the region, enable citizens to travel using only their identification cards, as well as to find employment in member countries if they have a certificate of their qualifications, that is a uniform work permit. The Declaration also envisages mutual recognition of diplomas, better cooperation in the fight against organized crime and assistance in response to natural disasters.
All the results achieved so far in the area of economy and economic cooperation of countries participating in Open Balkan- i.e. faster flow of people, goods, capital and services, accelerated growth of economic indicators, better and more comprehensive political cooperation, prompt resolution of all mutual problems and disputes through the process of dialogue and agreements- are proof that Western Balkan countries have something to offer to the EU, that they want, can, are able and know how to cooperate with the EU, that they have to, both formally and legally, be a part of the community of European nations, and that for centuries already they have been a part of Europe, regardless of the fact that the current policy and bureaucracy dispute and impede that. Open Balkan is a regional initiative, a regional project. It is not a substitute for membership in the EU, nor is it an “equivalent” or “consolation prize” to the countries-candidates for membership in the EU, and least of all a kind of a “hall” or a “waiting room” for membership in the EU.
Open Balkan is primarily, one more, very strong and quality proof of maturity of Western Balkan countries for full-fledged membership in the EU, which has been promised to them for decades already and every little further conditioned. Open Balkan is also a unique opportunity and a sum of a plethora of opportunities for additional development and progress of all countries in the region in all areas of social, public, economic, cultural, sport and even political life in this region, which has always been and is Europe. Although it is a Balkan project, in its essence it is a far more European model and method of building a common future. Specifically, a European future, regardless of all the obstacles on the path to such a future. If they want to ensure progress and development, the states have to eliminate internal tensions and regulate the relations with their neighbors.
Open Balkan is the single true chance for the region to continue to change itself, to fight for itself, as well as to present and prove itself in the best light with respect to the EU-acceptable criteria and standards. Naturally, there are also challenges and theories of Open Balkan as a variant of “Serb world”. Namely, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and partly Montenegro perceive this project as a project of Serb policy. Others believe that the project is about the so-called Great Albania. The arguments coming from the listed countries are mainly informed by the reactions and activities of the international community, as there are no argument-based analysis and national stances on why Open Balkan would be a “Serb world”, “Great Albania” or Soros project. Therefore, it is important that Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo join the Open Balkan project.
Analyses have shown that had the Open Balkan been established prior to the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic, the states and the entire region would be able to face and respond to the corona virus pandemic much more adequately and successfully, as well as the energy and food crisis, caused by the Russian invasion on Ukraine. Partial solutions for the pandemic, energy and food crisis yield partial results. The importance of cooperation and solidarity is most evident at the time of a crisis and in case of natural disasters, such as fires, earthquakes, floods, etc.
The integration paradigm promoted by of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (SDSM), in combination with the policy of „Zero - problems” with neighbors and strong international engagement, led to the signing of the Treaty of friendship, good-neighbourliness and cooperation cooperation between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, adoption of the law on promotion of the use of languages of other ethnic communities, signing and implementation of the Prespa Agreement with Greece, which allowed for the unblocking of the Euro-Atlantic integration process for the country. Membership in NATO is a testament of the propriety of actions and a historic success, which means peace, security, stability and wellbeing. Zaev has pulled his country out of many years of isolation and conflicts with neighbors. It has been demonstrated in practice that changes are possible and were required. This is the democratic political identification of Zoran Zaev. The Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC-OA) became autocephalous. Talks on membership in the EU have been initiated. Since the arrival of Zoran Zaev in 2017, not a single interethnic incident, which previously were a daily occurrence, has been recorded. According to international indexes, North Macedonia is the safest country in the Western Balkans. Furthermore, building and development of trust and partnership with citizens, which is reflected inter alia through the slogans of the Macedonian Government “Government for citizens” and “One Society for all”, is also of exceptional importance. It is a testimony of a new political culture on the Macedonian political scene, because the new approach perceives and accepts the opposition as a partner, not an opponent. Nevertheless, it is still a novelty and a new political culture on the Macedonian political scene in the circumstances in which key Macedonian national issues and its future, which is primarily related to membership in the EU since the country has become a full-fledged member of NATO, are being decided.
What is of special importance for the Republic of North Macedonia is that all those obstructing or not recognizing the Prespa Agreement, which brought peace, stability and prosperity to North Macedonia, and those who do not respect and accept the constitutional name of the state of North Macedonia be sanctioned and put on the “black list“ of the US administration. That is why the executive order of US President Joseph Biden is a warning and message to all in the Western Balkan region, including Macedonian authorities, to intensify their fight against crime and corruption, confront negative occurrences and individuals that can jeopardize regional peace, stability and prosperity.
Analysts believe that Zoran Zaev, until recently prime minister, had laid out the path of the Republic of North Macedonia for the future. Dreams of generations of Macedonians and other Macedonian citizens have become a reality, because for the first time in modern history North Macedonia celebrates its Independence Day with its strategic goals fulfilled. The process of democratization and progress of North Macedonia is unstoppable. The current government of North Macedonia has a laid out its path for the future. It has to ensure continuity of the current policy, implement the badly needed reforms, but also combat crime and corruption.
Ljubljana/Brussels/Washington/Skopje, 12 September 2022
 IFIMES – The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.
 Source: 2021 Global peace index, link: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/GPI-2021-web.pdf
 Source: Executive Order on Blocking Property And Suspending Entry Into The United States Of Certain Persons Contributing To The Destabilizing Situation In The Western Balkans https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/06/08/executive-order-on-blocking-property-and-suspending-entry-into-the-united-states-of-certain-persons-contributing-to-the-destabilizing-situation-in-the-western-balkans/