Nowadays, the political opponent, instead of being an interlocutor, became a fierce and implacable enemy, more than ever before. In this country’s context, political crisis inevitably leads to an ethnic tension, completing the picture of a turbulent society in which the political parties have hijacked the institutions, and diminished democracy. Human rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and the media, are severely violated on a daily basis
Fear and insecurity are on a rise in the Republic of Macedonia. Again. Less than three weeks before the local elections in the country, ethnic violence sparked. Again.
After a two months long political crisis, a deal to ensure that all sides participate in the elections was reached under huge diplomatic pressure from the EU. The deal was preceded by a series of events that illustrated that the country’s democracy has fallen seriously ill.
The opposition MPs and journalists were forcefully thrown out of the Parliament’s plenary hall and the ruling party voted on the 2013 budget on its own on December 24, 2012. People were beaten by riot police on the street in front of the parliament.
Opposition leader Branko Crvenkovski, country’s former president, was one of those hit by police’s truncheons. Another group of people got out on the streets protesting against the protesters. People versus people images have become rather frequent in the past several years.
The ruling party of VMRO-DPMNE has taken control of the media in the country, spewing out hate speech, promoting nationalistic and masculine supremacy, and putting the blame for all that’s wrong on the shoulders of the opposition and particularly its leader Crvenkovski.
Ethnic Macedonian opposition parties boycotted the parliament after the events on December 24 and resolutely called for a boycott of the local elections. “People’s parliament” sessions were held on the streets throughout the country.
The deal that was struck by the EU mediators included the return of the opposition to parliament, participation in the local elections, formation of a commission on the December 24 events, and talks about early parliamentary elections.
The latest clause was set out in a vague diplomatic vocabulary, which enabled both sides claim political victory, with the ruling party saying that early elections were not scheduled and the opposition stating that they will be held on September 28. Politics as usual in Macedonia…
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski went for a mini governmental reshuffle, appointing Talat Xhaferi as a Defense Minister, which immediately provoked a loud reaction by nationalists, claiming that a former UCK (National Liberation Army) commander cannot be the defense minister.
Almost 12 years after the ethnically driven six-month war in Macedonia, and the Ohrid peace accord which included an amnesty for UCK fighters; after Xhaferi working as a Deputy Defense Minister right after the war and being a longtime member of parliament - now his newest appointment became a huge problem.
It was expected. Namely, the country’s leadership has practiced a highly nationalistic politics for a number of years now, boosting militant nationalism through its policies. Hundreds of millions of euro were thrown into projects and propaganda that nurtured national-chauvinism and discrimination. Unquestionably, a different reaction was not an option.
A group of about hundred hooligans, ethnic Macedonians, violently protested against Xhaferi’s appointment a week ago, on March 1. After clashing with the riot police, they went on the rampage in the streets, attacking ethnic Albanians, including women and children. EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele was probably still in the air when this unrest broke out, flying back from Macedonia after brokering the compromise deal between the opposition and the ruling party.
The response came on Saturday. A couple of thousand ethnic Albanians, including their own hooligans, went violent on the streets. More violence and more riot police... and more victims of violence. No lives were claimed yet at the point of writing this article, fortunately.
A friend and colleague from a peace organization called me last night eager to explain that the counter-protests of the Albanians last week were not to defend the new defense minister’s position, but “to protest against the rampage of the ethnic Macedonian fascists”, as he said.
I had no other answer, but to invite him to think of nonviolent answers to violence. He promised he will, but also said that bitterness and revolt are overwhelming. The number of reports on violence and intimidation against ethnic Macedonians is also growing.
In this country’s context, political crisis inevitably leads to an ethnic tension, completing the picture of a turbulent society in which the political parties have hijacked the institutions, and diminished democracy. Human rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and the media, are severely violated on a daily basis.
Nowadays, the political opponent, instead of being an interlocutor, became a fierce and implacable enemy, more than ever before.
How come interethnic relations always suffer always the most? Well, interethnic relations have seriously been damaged for years. Moreover, it has been done in a systematic way by the most responsible ones – those who have the instruments to prevent erosions; who else?
Problems arising from dissatisfaction with inefficient policies are usually dealt with by instigating hatred and tensions mainly between the two largest communities in the country, the Macedonians and Albanians.
In the midst of that longstanding tension, the smaller communities and those who don’t feel like belonging to an ethnic tribe suffer even more. Consequently, discrimination and violation of the human and minority rights escalate. This all reflects the determination of the political elites to stay or win power by instilling prejudices and hatred on an ethnic basis. We could only expect worsening of the situation after all - even those most absurd - excuses will be exploited.
Accusations against political opponents for treason became a common place in the communication between rival political elites within the same ethnic political block. Consequently, the nationalist rhetoric is in the core of the political behaviour between the political representatives of different ethnic communities. One extreme feeds the other.
It’s Thursday morning, 9.30h. My office is already like a hive, vibrating from my wonderful colleagues. In a few hours, we will be on the Macedonia street, at the Mother Theresa’s monument, taking part in the event called Press4Peace, led by my organization and about 15 other organizations and civic initiatives.
This will happen ahead of the next protests of ethnic Albanians after the Friday djuma prayers. We learn of plans by ethnic Macedonian groups to take to the streets, too, on Saturday. The madness is far from at its end. Tragedy hangs in the air, while elites sharpen their claws to take their dirty, bloody winnings.