The often-brittle Balkan nations are at a crossroads as instability looms large and financial and human resources are stretched to the breaking point. This, partly owing to the refugee crisis emanating from the Middle East and chronic political infighting.
Therefore, to foster stability, it is important for the U.S. and the EU to help the good eggs in the region. Few nations in Southeast Europe, following the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the subsequent Balkan Wars, have made such prodigious political, economic and diplomatic strides as the Republic of Macedonia.
In just the last 10 years and since the election of Nikola Gruevski as prime minister, this parliamentary republic with a population of just more than 2 million, has seen substantial growth economically and in terms of its standing among nations.
The World Bank ranks Macedonia as the 12th best country in the world and 6th in Europe for possessing conditions conducive to doing business. Prior to Gruevski’s tenure, Macedonia was ranked 94th. In addition, unemployment, the economic and political bane of Southeast Europe, stands at roughly 25 percent, down from nearly 40 percent, with more than 150,000 jobs added during Gruevski’s time at the helm.
In these years, Macedonia has also has made pronounced strides toward the establishment of the rule of law, a bona fide democratic system of governance, Euro-Atlantic integration, as well as application and beginning the ascension processes for both European Union and NATO membership. Macedonia has also built a small, yet highly trained and professional military that has stood with NATO-led forces in Afghanistan. During a recent high-level visit to the U.S., PM Gruevski and Vice President Joe Biden met and the vice president emphasized the United States’ continued support for Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
To promote stability and democracy, Gruevski, resigned just days ago, in keeping with a new and peculiar EU-backed agreement that requires a prime minister to resign 100 days prior to elections. Reportedly to keep a prime minister from taking advantage of incumbency, the agreement is also geared to keep opposition parties from disrupting the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The hitch to these upcoming elections comes in the form of the opposition leader, Zoran Zaev, who was reputedly involved in a foreign-led coup d’état attempt last year and suspected and actively investigated for illegally wiretapping and blackmail of government officials, including Gruevski, as well as a laundry list of other crimes. Zaev, seemingly in an attempt to hold the EU-backed elections hostage, again promises to stage a boycott.
Regardless, Gruevski will run, again, for the office of prime minister. He is likely to win, given his exceptional popularity and the fact that he is credited with first-rate leadership. Gruevski should be back in the driver’s seat in less than 100 days.
Although largely a success story, Macedonia, as well as the whole of Southeast Europe teeters on the brink of instability as the refugee crisis rapidly engulfs an unprepared Europe. Although, Macedonia is a small nation with limited resources, it has conveyed and absorbed hundreds of thousands of refugees in the most generous and humane manner, in keeping with European standards.
With refugees steaming across the border from Greece, Macedonia is nearing a point where the needs of the refugees outweigh available resources. While refugees flow unabated from Greece in an unchecked and disorganized manner — even given the fact that Greece holds EU and NATO memberships and has access to the resource of both organizations — Macedonia is left to go it alone.
In past years, Macedonia has ardently sought EU and NATO ascension. While satisfying each of the requirements and making the necessary reforms associated with each membership, Macedonia has been blocked by Greece at every turn. Athens is inordinately and irrationally irate at Macedonia over its name — Macedonia. While the Republic of Macedonia was founded out of the ashes of Yugoslavia, a historic region in northern Greece is also called Macedonia. Again, irrationally, this has caused Greece to block Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and EU and NATO ascension efforts at every turn.
It is time for EU and NATO member states to put pressure on Greece to stop their isolation game against Macedonia. The refugee crisis has proven a massive strain on the resources of Europe as a whole. It has also proven a significant – and surprising — security threat, that the Europeans have not anticipated. Expediting Macedonia’s NATO and EU membership application would bring a stable and responsible actor onto the team: Europe can use all the help it can get.
With the Russian Federation asserting itself from the Balkans to the Middle East, and with escalating the war of terror, NATO needs more reliable members. Macedonia is that reliable and stable partner for both the EU and for NATO. It is time to put aside the rabble over a name and look toward the greater good.
Jason Katz is the principal of TSG, LLC, a consultancy that advises foreign governments, NGOs and corporations in the realms of strategic communications, politics and policy. He is also the former head of Public Affairs and Public Relations for the American Jewish Committee, based in Los Angeles.