Macedonia’s deadlock continues despite US pressure

President softens tone after talks, but breakthrough remains elusive

Protesters demonstrate in front of the Macedonian parliament in Skopje on Tuesday. Photograph:  Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

Protesters demonstrate in front of the Macedonian parliament in Skopje on Tuesday. Photograph: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

 

There was no immediate breakthrough in Macedonia’s political crisis after the United States called on the country’s political leaders to find a peaceful end to a standoff that saw a mob storm parliament and beat deputies last week.

More than 100 people were hurt in the attack by nationalist protesters, who were among thousands of people demonstrating against a proposed coalition government of Macedonia’s Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties.

The populist VMRO-DPMNE party leader Nikola Gruevski has urged Macedonians to take to the streets to “defend” the country against the coalition, in what his critics call a desperate bid to halt major corruption investigations.

The European Union warns that the crisis could derail Macedonia’s badly faltering progress towards membership, and could threaten to spark violence in a country where about a quarter of the population is ethnic Albanian.

“We feel that it is very important for the leaders to find a way to allow the majority in parliament . . . to propose a government and a government programme,” said Hoyt Yee, a senior US state department official, after meeting party chiefs on Monday in Skopje, Macedonia’s capital.

After the talks, Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov had appeared to soften his previous staunch refusal to give a mandate to the coalition, which he, Mr Gruevski and the protesters claim could destroy the country with its “pro-Albanian” policies.

“If there is a true leadership by the heads of the parliamentary parties, the legal and political obstacles towards determining the mandate to form the government can be overcome,” Mr Ivanov’s office said in a statement.

He asked Zoran Zaev – the Social Democrat leader who was injured in the storming of parliament – to “fulfil what he publicly stated, that ‘together with the coalition partners they will come and provide guarantees to strengthen the unity of the state and that everything will be in accordance with the constitution’”.

Mr Zaev and the leaders of the ethnic Albanian parties deny claims from opponents – including Russia – that they are doing the bidding of Albania and western powers in pursuing the creation of a “greater Albania” in the Balkans.

Critics accuse Mr Gruevski and allies of stoking a crisis to avoid going into opposition and facing major corruption allegations after a decade in power.

Erwan Fouéré, a former Irish diplomat who served as EU envoy to Macedonia, called the violence in parliament “further evidence that (Macedonia) . . . with its institutions still firmly in the hands of Nikola Gruevski and his ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, has sunk into lawlessness.”

“If the EU is serious about avoiding further bloodshed . . . it must adopt a clear strategy aimed at imposing targeted sanctions against those VMRO-DPMNE officials who continue to prevent the handover [of power],” Mr Fouéré wrote for the Balkan Insight news service.