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After Kumanovo, growing fears for Macedonia's stability

In the former Yugoslav Republic political crisis deepens

10 May, 12:41

by Stefano Giantin


(ANSA) - TRIESTE - Endless months of political crisis. The Social Democrats (opposition party) continues to accuse the Conservative government of having created a police state and of having illegally wiretapped for years thousands of journalists, diplomats, religious, politicians, and, moreover, of committing electoral fraud. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski replied accusing the Social Democrat leader, Zoran Zaev, of planning a "coup d'etat". But anger is growing in street protests and incidents occurred in Skopje during the ongoing demonstrations against the government, with stones and bottles thrown into the air, while the police responded with tear gas and water cannons. And now, even the clashes between police, special forces, and a mysterious group of armed men in Kumanovo, northern Macedonia, an area affected by the Albanian insurgency in 2001.

These are days and weeks of growing tension in Macedonia, facing what seems to be the most serious 'domestic' crisis in its recent history. But how unstable is the Balkan country? What can happen in the small former Yugoslav republic in the light of recent events? "The situation is alarming, because on the one hand we have the opposition protests, and on the other hand the anti-terror operation in Kumanovo. If we take into account the dangers of Albanian nationalism and the protests of civil society, then we are to face a dangerous cocktail", professor Zhidas Daskalovski, political scientist at the Center for Research and Policy Making in Skopje explains to ANSA New Europe. According to Daskalovski, the only viable solution at the moment could be "a truce in the opposition protests" and Kosovo's and Serbia's governments "constructive attitude" (both have expressed concern about the recent events). Daskalovski is then hoping "that at the end of the anti-terror operations in Kumanovo, the tensions will be easing and there will be a resumption of political negotiations". For sure today "it is impossible for the government to resign, because this would complicate the situation. We need a peaceful transition, an agreement on the next steps to take in order to overcome the crisis", including institutional reforms, towards "general election, even early voting".

"We are facing the most serious crisis since Macedonia independence", political analyst Biljana Vankovska says. "This time - Vankovska adds - there are serious clashes within single ethnic groups", not between different ethnic groups as it happened in 2001, and the "two major political parties are blaming each other" all the time, thus increasing tensions. "At the moment, the most important political parties - the Social Democrats led by Zoran Zaev and the conservatives of Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE - show no signs of working to come to an agreement", the analyst continues. "None of these parties seems ready to sit down at the table, in the right place, the parliament, where the opposition should return instead of accusing the government of being behind the incidents in Kumanovo". Even "the international community and the EU underlined, on several occasions in the past few weeks, that the country's institutions are the right place to resolve the ongoing crisis and that the opposition's isolation does not help at all", Vankovska says.

Meanwhile, the chaos in Kumanovo, explosions and gunfire threaten to plunge the situation into fresh crisis, and concerns are growing about the big street demonstration planned by the Social Democrats and scheduled for May 17, in Skopje. And there's something else going on. Political tension in the near future could reverberate on the delicate political balance between ethnic groups in the Balkan country - two million inhabitants, Albanian minority makes up 30% of the population - thus increasing the risk of a 'worst-case scenario'. Moreover, Macedonia is suffering from 'frozen' Euro-Atlantic integration, due to the name dispute with neighbouring Greece, and the whole country is still threatened by internal political conflicts.

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