West calls for dialogue as Macedonia crisis deepens

Amid fresh scandals, high-profile resignations fail to blunt drive to oust government

The resignation of three senior officials and calls for urgent dialogue from western powers have failed to defuse a spiralling political crisis in Macedonia, where opponents of the scandal-hit government are intent on forcing it from power.

Prime minister Nikola Gruevski is under huge pressure after secretly recorded conversations implicated his allies in abuses of power ranging from manipulation of judges, elections and media to the apparent cover-up of a police killing.

Parliament yesterday accepted the resignation of interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, transport minister Mile Janakieski and state security chief Saso Mijalkov, who is a cousin of Mr Gruevski.

Their departure comes amid the continuing wiretap scandal, and in the wake of a 36-hour gun battle last weekend in the town of Kumanovo, which killed eight police officers and 14 members of what officials called an ethnic-Albanian-led terror group.


Political crisis

“In these tough days, when Macedonia is in deep political crisis, it is time for me to resign, which I hope will help in resolving it,” Ms Jankuloska wrote in her resignation note.

In his parting letter, Mr Mijalkov said the centre-left opposition, led by Zoran Zaev, had caused the crisis with its "anti-state behaviour".

Mr Zaev, whose party has boycotted parliament for a year following elections he claims were fixed, says he received the wiretaps from whistle-blowers in the intelligence services.

The government claims that an unnamed foreign state gave Mr Zaev the recordings, however, and prosecutors accuse him of plotting a coup.

His Social Democrat party says Mr Gruevski and allies are unfit to govern, and Mr Zaev and many fellow Macedonians suspect last week’s police operation could have been a government bid to divert attention from its travails.

As well as approving the three resignations, the ruling party also offered to create a parliamentary investigation into the wiretap scandal, in an apparent attempt to defuse public anger ahead of a planned protest march on Sunday.

Skopje rally

But the opposition vowed to hold the rally in the capital, Skopje, despite fears that it could turn violent and further destabilise a state that endured a brief insurgency by ethnic-Albanian militants in 2001.

“This is no time for triumphalism. The resignations of Jankuloska, Janakieski and Mijalkov are not our ultimate goal,” Mr Zaev wrote yesterday.

“This is just a step towards the end of Nikola Gruevski.”

Ambassadors from the US, EU, Germany, France, Britain and Italy this week urged Mr Gruevski to investigate the allegations to remove “serious doubt [about] the government of Macedonia’s commitment to the democratic principles and values of the Euro-Atlantic community.” They also met Mr Zaev, and pressed him to end his party’s boycott of parliament and “help resolve the political impasse”.

There was no sign of a rapprochement last night, however: after the release of a leaked tape suggesting procurement rules were bent to spend €575,000 of public money on a Mercedes for Mr Gruevski, a video appeared that allegedly showed Mr Zaev requesting a bribe.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe