The real hurdles to FYROM´s NATO and EU membership

Dr. George Voskopoulos in American Chronicle
June 12, 2008

The recent elections in FYROM brought to the surface the issue of the rule of law in terms of electoral practices and democratic consolidation. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and its international election observation mission for the parliamentary elections in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia “key international standards were not met in the elections, as organized attempts to violently disrupt the electoral process in parts of the ethnic Albanian areas made it impossible for voters in many places to freely express their will“.

Although in procedural terms there were no breaches the law was only enforced selectively and the authorities failed to prevent violence and intimidation in ethnically Albanian areas“. OSCE observers noted that the largest opposition party had its campaign manipulated through the activities of a party with similarly named candidates. The media generally enabled voters to make an informed choice, although public broadcasters showed bias in favor of the governing parties“.

According to Mevlut Cavusoglu, Head of the PACE delegationwhile technically the elections were well organized in the greater part of the country, it is most unfortunate that a sizable proportion of the electorate was deprived of the right to express its will in these elections due to the irresponsible, violent and destructive actions of activists of the two major Albanian parties. Such actions are not conducive to the democratic process and the integration of this country in European and transatlantic structures”.

US Ambassador Robert Barry, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission [1] stated that we were concerned from the outset that these elections could be marred by violence in some areas. Unfortunately, the lack of response to the numerous violations reported during the campaign did little to prevent the serious incidents of violence that took place on election day. The OSCE will monitor whether the authorities seriously address the violations and take remedial steps, and we will observe reruns“. Commenting on the electoral process stated that, “the government had offered very little in the way of response or preventive action” while focusing on an “atmosphere of impunity.” [2]

In its turn the head of the delegation of Canada to the OSCE issued a statement on 5 June 2008 with which expressed its disappointment to the “preliminary findings” of the OSCE. As pointed out, “Canada is concerned by the organized violence and in-timidation that prevailed in some ethnic Albanian areas before and during voting day, and which resulted in the death of one person. This has led international election ob-servers to conclude that in many places it was impossible for voters to express freely their will. Other problems identified included the selective enforcement of the law, ballot box stuffing and serious irregularities during vote counting. The international election observation mission has indicated that its overall assessment will depend on whether government authorities will investigate thoroughly the serious violations of the law and take remedial steps. In this context, Canada hopes that a rerun of the vote in areas where irregularities took place will demonstrate the government´s capacity and will to conduct elections that meet international standards and further the country´s EU and NATO aspirations. The expectations for this election were high, given the FYROM´s perspective for greater Euro-Atlantic integration…Canada urges the authorities to take immediate measures to address the concerns raised by interna-tional observers and others, to bring those responsible for acts of violence and other violations to account, and to implement effectively OSCE/ODIHR recommendations“.

In his turn EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn pointed out that holding free and fair elections is an essential part of the political criteria of the EU accession process“. At the same time Erwan Fouere, head of the European Union office in FYROM expressed his deep concern over “the many … corroborated reports of not only acts of intimidation, but also blatant violence, shooting, injuries to innocent people…It would be very important for the country to pass the test if it were to get a recommendation … for opening (EU) negotiations“. [3]. The statement set a framework of democratic evaluation for the country´s mapping process towards NATO and EU accession.

President Branko Crvenkovski was the first to have appealed for calm suggesting that, “the violence blackened Macedonia’s name in the world“. As he underlined, “the first step on the road to the EU and NATO is to have peaceful, fair and democratic elec-tions” [4]. Eventually he was the only one who prioritize the country´s accession criteria yet, the political landscape was not receptive to modesty and compromise.

However, recent electoral violence and nationalistic mood are not the only worrying signs. A second major problem is the suppression and long persecution of Bulgarian-Macedonians in the country, a policy that causes unrest in Bulgaria, although the Bul-garian government has made efforts to keep a low profile with a view to avoiding American reactions.

The coming election reruns will not certainly change the political landscape in the country, since the parliamentary balance of power is given. Yet, the current configuration of power in domestic politics is by far the most unpromising one during the last years, while the mood reminds of Greece in the early 1990s.

It is obvious that the current political situation in Skopje leaves only marginal space for conflict resolution since nationalism is the driving force behind domestic politics. The dominant role of ultra-nationalists led to the political marginalization of those modest voices inside the country that could operate as facilitating factors in the name dispute.

The Greek side has adopted a wait-and-see policy keeping a low profile. At this time and under the circumstances conflict resolution will depend on a number of qualitative criteria. First, the ability of Prime Minister Gruevski to adopt a revised policy accepting the implied by the Greek government offer for a compound name with a geo-graphical definition that includes the term Macedonia. Second the ability of the politi-cal system to accommodate contending views on the issue and third the ability of me-diators to deepen into the roots of the conflict and assist in practice the territorial status quo in the region.

The US government is pushing for a quick solution but this lies in Skopje. Pre-electoral commitments of N. Gruevski and extreme language consist the main hurdles and define in essence the margins of potential policy adjustment and his accommodat-ing capacity. The name dispute is only the tip of the iceberg but its resolution will as-sist the formulation of a positive climate in the process of overall resolution of the issue.

Just a few months ago Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos laid down once again the overall Greek strategy for the region. He emphatically stated that we supported and support the European prospects of all our neighbouring states be-cause we believe that this leads to a future of stability, peace and growth. But, at the same time, in order to build the future on firm foundations there must first be a set-tlement of outstanding issues that create negative repercussions for the region. One of the issues of particular interest to Greece is that of [FYROM´s] name, which has been combined for some time on the part of Skopje – beyond its intransigency during the negotiating process in itself – with a policy of historically inaccurate references and actions with an irredentist mentality“.

Despite acknowledged weaknesses, wrong choices of the past and misunderstandings Greece operates as a systemic stabiliser in the region for a number of reasons not understood by everyone: First, it expresses no irredentist claims against neighbor-ing states. Thus it constitutes a supporter of the territorial status quo that has been challenged diachronically by local actors. Second, it aims at regional cooperation and intra-Balkan cooperation. Yet, this should be realised on the application of clear, un-compromised principles without deadlines set under the impact of diplomatic rush or urgency parameters stemming from Skopje. The post-Cold War Greek-Bulgarian axis of cooperation prior and after Bulgaria´s accession to the EU provides a tangible case of successful healing process.

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[1] The international election observation mission is a joint undertaking of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
[2] «Conservatives win Macedonia vote, EU rues violence», Washington Post, June 2, 2008.
[3] “Macedonia’s prime minister declares victory”, Washington Post, June 1, 2008
[4] “Macedonians vote in shadow of violence”, Washington Post, June 1, 2008

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