Preserving the peace in Macedonia

Recent political violence in Macedonia sparks the need to respond to its root causes in order to reach peace.

On 27th April 2017, around 200 Macedonian protesters broke through a police cordon and rushed into the parliament, using violence against the Members of the Parliament in dissatisfaction with the election of Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian, as speaker of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia. Among the victims was also the Social Democratic leader – Zoran Zaev who suffered a head injury. In sum, 102 people were injured, including 25 police officers, as clashes between police and protesters spilled onto the streets outside the building.

The election of the new speaker was conducted outside the normal procedure, thus violating the Constitution of Macedonia.  Nonetheless, the EU and NATO have recognized the election of Mr. Xhaferi as legitimate and in accordance with the State’s Constitution. Moreover, they condemned the attacks on the Members of the Parliament in Skopje and asked for ‘calm and restraint’.

The bloody event in Skopje delivered another indication of the political crisis in Macedonia which is sliding into an ethnic dispute, with nationalists taking to the streets in objection to the demands addressed by the country’s Albanians. It seems as though, the issue after 2001, when a seven-month ethnic Albanian insurgency in Macedonia left more than 100 people dead, followed by a peace accord which provided more rights for the minority, was not solved but frozen. The reemergence of this dispute might have devastating consequences for the stability of the region.

The root causes for the reemergence of this dispute are nothing more than the perceptions of injustice linked to the ruling elites – the divergence between the people’s demands and the government’s capability to achieve these expected demands. The first root cause of the political violence in Macedonia is the corruption. The perception of injustice goes back to 2015 when the Social Democrats began releasing tapes of conversations (tapped by the intelligence services) which implicated Nikola Gruevski, the leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and a prime minister at the time, in corruption. These events have caused protests throughout the State as the political dissatisfaction increased while the support and legitimacy for the VMRO DPMNE decreased.

The lack of support was proven when Gruevski’s party VMRO-DPMNE won the elections last December but did not earn enough votes to form a government alone. After talks with the VMRO DPMNE failed, the leading Albanian party, headed by Ali Ahmeti, opted for a political alliance with the Social Democrats who promised that certain Albanian demands will be granted. Consequently, Macedonia’s president Gjorge Ivanov refused to ask the Social Democrats to form a government, thus violating the Constitution of the State and causing tensions and political crisis. The arguments of the president were regarding the Albanians’ demands which might ‘endanger Macedonia’s sovereignty and independence…and the unitary character of the State’. These demands would have been considered and granted by the Social Democrats if they had been in power. The refusal of the president led to the second root cause which is the political dissatisfaction of failing to meet the expectations of certain factions (the Albanians) of the State for the establishment of the new government and for the adherence to the constitutional rules of law.

In light of the foregoing, the third root cause is identity based on ethnic grouping which demolishes the sense of State unity. VMRO DPMNE supporters back the president even though he has violated the Constitution by refusing to give the opportunity to the Social Democrats to form a government, effectively blocking the constitutional demands of the Albanians from being met. On the other hand, the leading Albanian party and its supporters perceive this refusal as unfair and unjust. Albanians form about a quarter of the population of Macedonia and are demanding the greater official use of the Albanian language as well as a fairer distribution of national resources to each region – i.e. economic and social development parity through the equal progress of all of Macedonia’s regions.

These three root causes, if not addressed accordingly, will lead to increased divisiveness due to the lack of a common sense of national unity and a common sense of origin, purpose and shared values. Further divisiveness could potentially result in another insurgency or a full-scale civil war which will destabilize the Balkans if certain measures are not taken in accordance with the perception of positive and negative peace strategies. Therefore, the Macedonian peace strategy should contribute to avoiding the ethnic separation and the political violence between the groups and addressing the root causes, including one of identities being based on ethnic groupings, thus creating harmonious relationships, a sense of unity, origin, purpose and shared values.

In this light, peace should be secured and based on the concept of common justice, the fair state of affairs and reasonable concessions on both sides. If this is achieved, new habits of peace will be created which will oppose the tendency of societal divisiveness. And when people establish a model or habit of acting peacefully in relations to each other, resorting to violence is less likely. Thus, the sense of unity will be achieved.

Furthermore, the legal procedures – be it for the election of a new speaker of the Parliament or for the establishment of a new government, must be followed in order to be in accordance with the Constitution since violating the primary source of law, in the case of Macedonia on two different occasions, is a prerequisite for reasonable protests, irrational violence and undesirable political crisis.

The responsibility to preserve the peace must be in accordance with both a short-term and a long-term peace strategy based on the creation of a sense of societal unity. This is the only way to preserve the balance of the conditions of peace over the conditions of violence in the long run. Furthermore, the ethical desirability of reducing the level of violence means that every individual has the responsibility to promote and maintain the conditions of peace in his society and further, there is a responsibility for every individual and every group to preserve and not to erode the peace for others in other parts of the world for political or any other purposes.

Therefore, the international community, including the Balkan States, has the responsibility not to undermine but to assist the Macedonian State to preserve the peace and to escape the political crisis. Maintaining the peace and resolving peacefully the ongoing crisis in the light of the democratic process, the rule of law and the engagement in a political dialogue must be the top priority for the State of Macedonia and every other State which is affected, including the Balkan States.

Preserving the peace in Macedonia
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International Affairs
Zhuliyan Zhelezov

Zhuliyan is a student at the University of Southern Denmark, currently enrolled in the Master’s program: ‘International Security and Law’. He has obtained a ‘Master of Laws’ degree from the University of Sofia ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’. He has specializations in international law and international relations. His main interests are in the field of contemporary conflicts: terrorism, counter-terrorism, insurgency, counter-insurgency, and hybrid warfare. His thesis is going to be related to the case of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He is also interested in the connection between law and contemporary conflicts and in particular jus ad bellum.
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