Trying Times For Macedonia

Theodore Karasik Security Analyst
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Following years of relative calm, the world is again in flux. It is most evident in the Balkans and Middle East — the two regions now inextricably linked due to the refugee crisis that threatens the stability of both.

Southeast Europe, once embroiled in bloody interethnic and interreligious wars in the 1990’s following the fall and the subsequent dismemberment of Yugoslavia, successfully settled into relative calm, peace and prosperity. Largely, the nations of the former Yugoslavia found their places in the Westphalian order of nation states, many joining NATO and the EU and most enjoying a good degree of political and economic success as a result.  

Leaders such as Macedonia’s Nicola Gruevski, the former, and likely, the future prime minster, emerged and took his nation on a course toward the establishment of a bona-fide democratic system of governance, Euro-Atlantic integration, and a positive economic and political development. Under his leadership, the ascension processes for both European Union and NATO membership for Macedonia has begun.

In addition to the adoption of Western values and norms, while Gruevski served as prime minister, Macedonia, a nation of a mere 2 million, has progressed in the World Bank ranking as the 12th best country in the world and 6th in Europe for doing business. Other economic and political indicators, such as the unemployment and GDP etc. also markedly improved.

Today, in part, due to the instability wrought by radicalism and the refugee crisis, a resurgence of long marginalized voices, those of a decidedly less democratic bent, have gained renewed power.

Gloomily, the resurgent voices from this pre-independence and bygone era are emboldened by the recent instability emanating from the Middle East. They are embodied, at least in the case of Macedonia, in that nation’s main opposition leader and accused criminal, Zoran Zaev.

In a deal understood by most observers as an “odd” compromise brokered by the EU between Gruevski’s ruling party and Zaev’s post-communist Social Democrats, Gruevski, stepped down as prime minister to run again in the nation’s upcoming elections. By all accounts, due to Gruevski’s exceptional popularity, he will win the prime ministry.

Southeast European nations and, in particular Macedonia, are weakened by the economic, political and civil strains caused by the refugee crisis. This, coupled with the post-communists’ obstructionism from within, paints a disturbing picture. But there is more. Foreign obstruction buffets Macedonia as well.  

Greece, Macedonia’s neighbour to the south, is endlessly angry for the choice of Macedonians to name their homeland, “Macedonia.” As punishment, Greece has consistently obstructed Macedonia’s NATO and EU ascension at each and every turn. The leadership of the ruling party, the UN, including the international court of justice, all said that the demands to change the country’s name violate international law. Zoran Zaev and his socialists make no favours to their country by suggesting to accommodate Greece’s position quickly.

While Macedonia can and should be an active, valued and important member of both alliances, today it faces the refugee crisis alone — amid the increasing instability in Southeast Europe.

While Greece has benefited from EU’s lavish economic assistance to handle its own fiscal irresponsibility, and today, the deluge of refugees, it does little to securely convey these refugees back to their native lands, or further into Europe. Conversely, Greece herds the refugees across the country to the border with Macedonia, and leaves the government of Macedonia to deal with the humanitarian, economic and security aspects of such a migrant tsunami.

So, what shall the West do about this?

Perhaps, Greece should not be in such a position of power. Any nation that is the midst of such a deep and self-inflicted economic crisis coupled with the need for sweeping economic and governmental reform should not be allowed to torture and punish its neighbour.  

Second, it is time for the EU, NATO and the U.S. to stand up to forces of instability who are re-emerging in Southeast Europe and threaten the political order of their own, still weak, countries, as Zaev does in Macedonia.

An anti-democratic change in the landscape of the Balkan region in a way most decidedly not in the interests of the West. The free, fair and transparent June 5 parliamentary elections in Macedonia are in the interest of Macedonians, of the region, of Europe and of the West.

It behoves Washington, Brussels and Berlin to act before it is too late.

Dr. Theodore Karasik is UAE-based international security analyst, who specializes in ethnic conflict and terrorism in Europe and the Middle East. He is a former scholar of the RAND Corporation and a prolific writer with articles that can be read in the Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and in numerous academic journals.