Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Oh, yes, Macedonia

They had Parliamentary elections last week. Nobody much noticed, but,

1) The voting was conducted in good order and -- according to international observers -- was, for the most part, fair and without irregularities;

2) The opposition won a fairly clear victory; and,

3) The government promptly acknowledged the opposition victory, and is handing over power forthwith.

This is no small thing in Macedonia, an ethnically divided country with a long and miserable history of political violence. A bit more below the fold.

The new government will consist of the conservatives, VMRO-DPMN (don’t ask), and their Albanian allies. This seems to fit a pattern I commented on last year, in which successful Balkan governments, usually of the center-left, have been punished at the polls for not being successful enough.

You may recall that Macedonia is about 30% Albanian, and that this has caused some problems… most notably a short but vicious civil war in 2001-2. At that time, it seemed like no Parliamentary political solution could easily accomodate such a large minority; if part of a government, they’d dominate it, but if kept out, they’d revolt.

The Albanians, bless their little hearts, neatly solved the problem by splitting into two parties, which look set to alternate in power and opposition. The last government consisted of the Big Albanian Party (it’s called the BPI, did you really need to know that?) and the Socialists. This government will consist of the the Little Albanian Party in coalition with the conservatives.

Of course, this being the Balkans, nothing is entirely easy. The split between the two Albanian parties is no joke. To oversimplify, Big Party claims to be the sole legitimate representative of the Albanians. Little Party, of course, disagrees. The division is not artificial, and the two despise each other with real and passionate sincerity. On election night, both claimed the main square of Tetovo (the major Albanian city) for their victory celebration. Since members of both parties showed up armed, there was serious fear of violence. It didn’t happen, thank goodness, but Big Party has gone into a Homeric sulk and is muttering darkly about refusing to recognize the new government.

Also, while election day went off rather smoothly, the campaign was bumpy, with threats of violence and a great deal of ugly language thrown among the candidates. Particulary (sigh) on the Albanian side.

So there’s still room for improvement. But still: Macedonia has come a very long way in a very short time. Compare and contrast to, say, Albania’s election last year, where Fatos Nano clung to office for nearly two months before finally conceding defeat with as much ill grace as possible. By regional standards, they’re doing very well indeed.

Oh, and Macedonia is an EU candidate. One of just three, along with Croatia and Turkey. That still blows my mind. Macedonia says it wants to join in 2012, which would put it a couple of years behind Croatia but well ahead of any other possible entrant. I’ve always thought that was ridiculously optimistic, but who knows? Macedonia has been surprising us for a little while now.

No comments: