Dilemma for Orban as Macedonia's fugitive ex-PM flees to Budapest
Unclear how Nikola Gruevski entered tightly guarded, anti-immigration Hungary
Former Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski (left) and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. Mr Gruevski is reported to have said on his Facebook page that he was in Hungary, seeking political asylum. Photograph: Aleksandar Kovacevski/EPA
Hungarian leader Viktor Orban’s migration policy and choice of allies are under fresh scrutiny after fugitive former Macedonian premier Nikola Gruevski fled a jail term in his homeland and sought asylum in Budapest.
The pair share nationalist views, autocratic tendencies and a hard line against immigration, but it is not clear if that will save Mr Gruevski from being sent back to serve a two-year sentence for graft and face several other charges.
He went missing in Macedonia last week after being ordered to report to jail, and resurfaced in Budapest on Tuesday claiming to have “received countless threats to my life in the last few days”.
“I am in Budapest now, and I have asked for political asylum from the Hungarian authorities. I will always remain faithful to the cause of Macedonia. I will never give up,” he added.
Mr Gruevski is believed to have handed over his passport to the Macedonian authorities, so it is not clear how he reached Hungary, which prides itself on tight border security.
If he entered Hungary without valid documents it would be particularly embarrassing for Mr Orban, whose political mantra for several years has been that illegal migration must be stopped and that Hungary’s Balkan neighbours – including Macedonia – are safe states that refugees and migrants have no reason to leave.
“Given that he was prime minister of his country for 10 years, for security reasons the Hungarian authorities have allowed Mr Gruevski to have his asylum request submitted and heard at the headquarters of the immigration and asylum office in Budapest,” Mr Orban’s office said on Wednesday.
“Macedonia is a strategic partner and an important ally of Hungary. Good co-operation between the two countries is an important cornerstone for the development of the Balkans region and the security of Europe, ” it added.
“The Macedonian government of the day is a partner of Hungary . . . therefore we in no way wish to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign countries, and we consider the assessment of [Mr Gruevski’s] asylum request to be solely a legal issue.”
Marta Pardavi of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee noted: “Under Hungarian asylum law, asylum application must be submitted exclusively in the border transit zone and applicants are detained there until final decision on their claim,” referring to a grim holding area beside Hungary’s border fence with Serbia.
Mr Gruevski and numerous allies from his 2006-2016 rule now face prosecution for alleged crimes ranging from corruption to vote rigging to mass eavesdropping; most of the accused complain of political persecution.
“What a coward he is, for always saying he was ready to go to jail for Macedonia so others would not be targeted. And when the moment comes to take responsibility, he runs away,” said Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev.
“We have already acted according to the law, an international warrant has been issued,” he added.
“We are requesting the extradition of Gruevski from Hungary and expect a country like Hungary to serve as an example, and not to protect criminals who harmed the citizens of Macedonia.”