Macedonia: Between self-isolation and Euro-Atlantic integration

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 analysed the current political situation in the Republic of Macedonia in view of the regular report published by the European Commission on the progress of that country. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis entitled “MACEDONIA: BETWEEN SELF-ISOLATION AND EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION” are given below.


Between self-isolation and Euro-Atlantic integration

Nikola Gruevski and his VMRO-DPMNE formed the government after having won the 2006 parliamentary election. At the announcement of his election victory in 2006 Gruevski gave a mature and statemenly speech, promising he would be the prime minister of all Macedonian citizens regardless of their ethnic, religious or political background. The main topics of VMRO-DPMNE's election campaign were fighting against poverty, organised crime, corruption and unemployment. The general perception at that time was that Gruevski had successfully transformed VMRO-DPMNE into a reformed political party.

However, Gruevski's term of office as Prime Minister since 2006 till today has been marked with self-isolation, nepotism, impoverishment, unemployment, devastation of almost all segments of society, non-transparency, the merely formal existence of the multiparty system, corruption and a “special” role played by the Administration for Security and Counter-Intelligence (UBK) headed by Gruevski's close relative Sašo Mijalkov.

The official unemployment rate currently stands at 29%, but that does not reflect the reality of the situation in which the government has failed to create the conditions for opening new jobs in the real sector. The illusory decrease of the unemployment rate results from the increase of the number of newly employed in the public administration, which has grown from 90.000 to about 170.000 during the last seven years. Moreover, the methodology of calculating the unemployment rate has been changed so that persons who do not find employment within one year are deleted from the list of unemployed kept by the Employment Service. The average monthly wage is around EUR 400 – this increase is again not due to a real growth of wages but results from a change in the calculation method.

According to the 2012 corruption index from Transparency International Macedonia is ranked 69th of all together 174 countries which were included in the survey on corruption, thus occupying the same position as Brazil and South Africa (Source: Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2012).

According to the Freedom House assessment of media freedom Macedonia ranks 116th and belongs to countries with partly free media. Macedonia's neighbouring countries are ranked as follows: Bulgaria 87th, Croatia 64th, Montenegro 113th, Serbia 63rd, Romania 42nd, Kosovo 85th, Bosnia and Herzegovina 68th, Albania 102nd and Slovenia 35th (Source: Press Freedom Index 2013).


The Republic of Macedonia is going through the usual autumn political fever after the European Commission published its regular report on the (non)progress of Macedonia on 16 October 2013. The intensification of political situation has also been caused by the sudden foreign-political activities undertaken by Ali Ahmeti, President of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) which is currently the strongest parliamentary political party of Albanians living in Macedonia and the coalition partner of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE. Ahmeti's diplomatic offensive has so far covered Washington, Athens, Sofia, Berlin, Paris, The Hague and Brussels. However, the illustrious names of those capitals do not reflect the success of his tour.

Despite the boisterous announcement of the “agreed” meeting with US Vice President Joseph Biden, during his visit to the US Ahmeti only managed to meet Deputy Assistant Secretary and former US ambassador to Macedonia (2008-2011) Philip Reeker. The reason for such reception in the US lies in the inveterate scepticism about the usefulness of meeting a politician who has a relatively modest political influence in the Macedonian Government. Another reason is the lack of lobbyist support from the Albanian and Kosovo lobby community in the US and their overt scepticism and mistrust towards Ahmeti triggered by his political party's approach to corruption and crime. We should not forget the role played by the leaders of the Macedonian Diaspora in Washington who openly lobbied in the Congress against the possibility for US officials to meet Ahmeti.

The unpleasant impression from the US was improved during Ahmeti's visit to Athens and Sofia. During his mission to Greece (2 September 2013) Ahmeti was received by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Evangelos Venizelos, while in Sofia (9 July 2013) he was hosted by Bulgaria's Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kristian Vigenin. Nevertheless, the high level of those meetings had another hidden motive, namely the official Athens and Sofia used meetings with Ahmeti to send a message to Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski that they have an interlocutor in Skopje and to alleviate eventual criticism of Greece's and Bulgaria's unpreparedness to cooperate with Macedonia in the light of pending disagreement on the country's name and relations of Bulgaria towards Macedonian authorities. Analysts believe it would be too optimistic to understand Ahmeti's visit to Greece as an intention to open the debate on the name issue in Skopje and thus finally move the country from the standstill position.

During his visit to Berlin (14 June 2013) Ahmeti was received by political director of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while in Paris he had talks with junior advisers from the Office of the President Francoise Hollande. In The Hague he was hosted by Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans and in Brussels he met EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle and NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow.


Despite the apparently high diplomatic level of official meetings during Ahmeti's tour, the political public in Macedonia remains uncertain as to the motive of his hasty diplomatic activities. Macedonia's largest political parties have mostly tried to act neutrally, stressing the “private”, i.e. informal character of the visits (VMRO-DPMNE) despite the fact that in Washington, Athens and Sofia Ahmeti was joined by Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Musa Xhaferi, while in Paris, Brussels and The Hague he was escorted by Deputy Prime Minister in charge of European Affairs Fatmir Besimi. Macedonian opposition (SDSM) have stuck to its position that “any initiative that contributes to the integration process is welcome”, while analysts believe it would be illusory to expect Ahmeti to resolve the name dispute with Greece or disagreements with Bulgaria.

Ahmeti's initiatives have only contributed to strengthening Prime Minister Gruevski's political position and deepening the mistrust of Macedonians towards ethnic Albanians. Only a few months ago Ahmeti was directly informed of the real situation regarding the name issue by the UN negotiator for the Macedonian name dispute Mathew Nimitz, so he was well aware of the outcome of his tour before he even started it. However, his voters are not aware of those facts.

The Albanian opposition Democratic Party (PDSh-DPA) has remained loyal to its unusual policy of using “silence as a form of criticism”, while Albanian political commentators share the view that Ahmeti's visits simply represent a part of his pre-election campaign for the presidential election scheduled for next year that will quite probably be held together with early parliamentary election.

Athens and Sofia have openly coordinated their position that the European Commission should postpone the initiation of negotiations with Skopje, which further explains why Ahmeti's mission in the neighbouring countries ended in a fiasco. Moreover, Brussels’ decision to share NATO's official view that resolving the name dispute is a precondition for further integration processes as well as their enhanced criticism of media freedom, corruption, party-biased judicial system and public administration show that Ahmeti failed in its mission to persuade his European interlocutors to open Macedonia's road to Brussels.

The question is whether it was necessary for one of Albanian leaders to go on a US and EU tour to realise what was obvious to every connoisseur of Macedonia's foreign affairs? The silence from official Washington, pre-election messages from German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the necessary pause in taking new members to the EU, obvious avoidance of European politicians and EU officials to mention Macedonia in relation to future integration processes – all these should be sufficiently clear signs for every politician to realise in which direction the winds are blowing. The situation is even clearer in Macedonia where Prime Minister Gruevski insists on his firm policy towards Greece and introduces increasing pro-eastern tendencies accompanied with intensified national(istic) and patriotic language, rude treatment of the opposition and repression against the opposition media.


These developments in Macedonia and abroad support the thesis that the main aim of Ahmeti's diplomatic tour was to impress his Albanian electorate. Albanian voters are increasingly louder in their demands, expecting Ahmeti to fulfil his pre-election promises and to improve the situation of Albanians in Macedonia, especially as regards their economic rights, rather than to resolve the dispute with Greece and the national identity of their Macedonian fellow citizens. Ahmeti should focus his attention to the most socially disadvantaged members of his electorate, especially in the Skopje and Kumanovo regions which are traditional crisis areas of interethnic tensions and therefore mark the highest emigration rate among the Albanian population, notably among young and educated people.

Certain leaders of DUI share the view that Ahmeti's foreign-political initiative was motivated by domestic purposes, among other due to DUI's decreasing popularity among the Albanian population. Ahmeti has not realised his promises despite the fact that his political party has been in the government for nine years (2002-2006 and 2008-2013) and has held power in most municipalities with predominantly ethnic Albanian population.

During the insurgency in 2001 Albanians expressed three fully justified demands:

-official use of the Albanian language,

-appropriate representation in state administration and institutions, and

-application of the consensus democracy model that would prevent ethnic majorisation.

Ahmeti has only partly fulfilled those three demands. However, he failed to stop the emigration of Albanians, to attract investments and to open new work places, his party is involved in crime and corruption at all levels and the quality of his staff is below expectations. Moreover, DUI has become a synonym of violence and crime, especially during the pre-election campaign and the elections. To a certain degree they have become even more negative than Menduh Thaçi's DPA, although they have managed to hide that thanks to their dominance over the media, especially through their newspaper, the MRTV2 national television house and the Alsat-M private television house which is the Albanian equivalent of the Macedonian government propaganda machine.


Nevertheless, there are also other explanations for Ahmeti's activities. According to one of them the reasons for Ahmeti's unusual foreign political activities are of purely private nature. He is facing the possibility that the current wave of apprehensions for corruption may also reach high officials and his close collaborators. Moreover, Prime Minister Gruevski enjoys much more influence on certain circles within DUI than Ahmeti, especially through UBK, which is mostly due to their involvement in illegal activities – notably DUI leaders from Skopje and Kumanovo are believed to be deeply involved in organised crime and collaborating with local radical islamists. In this kind of situation Ahmeti is hoping to get the support from the international community in order to obtain Gruevski's approval to run for the first Macedonian president of Albanian nationality. Presidential election will be held in March 2014. That would actually represent a perfect way for Ahmeti to resign from his party which is about to disintegrate, leaving space for the return of DPA to government. The latter has been Gruevski's plan for quite some time although he promised already in 2006 that DPA will be his Albanian coalition party. Current events in the Albanian political scene point to the vacuum that has been present since the charismatic leader and former DPA President Arbën Xhaferi passed away in August last year. None of the present Albanian politicians have the potential nor the capacity to fill in this emptiness.

The scenario drawn up by Ahmeti would ensure him together with Musa Xhaferi and Fatmir Besimi full immunity from eventual criminal investigations that would be initiated in case of opening the negotiations for EU membership. This scenario would also suit Gruevski – with Ahmeti as Macedonia's president and Thaçi as government coalition partner he would be able to fully neutralise Albanian political parties and thus gradually block the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the whole opposition in the country.

Ahmeti's aspirations might be undermined because of similar ambitions of his party's Vice-President Teuta Arifi, former Minister for European Integration, who was forced to leave the government and was “degraded” to the position of Tetovo's Mayor. While not very popular among the Albanian population, Arifi enjoys unhidden sympathy from the international circles and the Macedonian population where she would surely be better accepted as the first lady president who is also of Albanian nationality than the controversial and unstable Ali Ahmeti.

DUI's behaving as a “satellite” party for many years had worn out DPA, is wearing out DUI and will surely wear out the Republic of Macedonia. Teuta Arifi pointed to DUI's behaviour at the beginning of its coalition union with VMRO-DPMNE, but went silent afterwards. It has been clear from the very beginning what role DUI plays in the incumbent government. The fact is that DUI has not taken any action for the concrete implementation of the Ohrid Agreement and that it is still a military organisation established during the war (2001) which has not developed into a mature political party.


Internal disintegration of the state is the most complex and enigmatic phenomenon. Despite great internal and external antagonism, economic problems and various collapses in the functioning of state administration, many states still manage to survive. On the other hand, despite the positive signs of development some states experience implosion and eventually disintegrate and disappear as if they never existed. It is these kinds of challenges and hazards that Macedonia is facing in the opinion of the IFIMES International Institute.

The IFIMES International Institute draws attention to the difference between the concepts of multiethnic society and multiethnic state. The problems arise when the mechanisms that reflect the multiethnic character of the society in the state authorities are being established, which means that the problem lies in the functioning of the multiethnic society. Macedonia as a state is not ready to function according to the multiethnic society principle. Instead of striving to resolve those problems, the state of Macedonia is not changing the reality – the concept of ethnocentrism – but only the rhetoric it uses. By its structure Macedonia is not a national state but a multiethnic society and as such it has to establish the national balance.

The IFIMES International Institute believes there is still very little possibility for Macedonia to start negotiations with the EU despite the positive opinion expressed by the European Commission. Following the Belgrade-Pristina model of negotiations the EU is ready to mediate also in the negotiations on the name dispute between Skopje and Athens should the agreements be respected by both sides – notably by Prime Minister Gruevski who has so far had solo performances and failed to respect the reached agreements. It is up to Gruevski to decide whether Macedonia will continue its self-isolation or turn towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

Ljubljana, 08 November 2013