Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gruevski, the bad boxer from Skopje

These were the words on todays Front Page on Greek Daily "Ta Nea".

The paper analyzes Gruevski, back to his 'boxing days'. It states, -Prime Minister Gruevski in his professional boxing career, has one victory and one loss.

"Five years ago Prime Minister Gruevski 'knocked out' his competition in getting to VMRO's throne. However on the NATO Summit, Greek Prime Minister knocked out Gruevski by issuing veto to his country's NATO admission", says 'Ta Nea'

The Greek Daly went deep into Gruevski biography, saying his family's roots hail from Aegean Macedonia, from Lerin, to be precise.

"Ta Nea" admits Gruevski as a Prime Minister would be the worst choice for Greece. The Greek Daily concludes the article by saying he is a formidable foe because -he is very unpredictable and Greece's Government aren't sure how far he can go.

Greece's Government had hoped that Macedonia would not go to early elections, hence the disappointing reactions from Athens. Early elections, according to numerous Macedonian and foreign analysts would mean strengthening of Gruevski Government. The first choice for Greece had always been the SDSM party, due to their close business and family ties.

Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Ljubisha Georgievski wished all the parties luck at the forthcoming vote, on June 1st.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Macedonia's future in EU, NATO

The electoral campaign gets under way in Macedonia today.

“We’ve had well-organized elections up to now, and we’ve shown that we can do it. So, it’s not a question of if we can, but whether we sincerely want to, and whether the political will and a sense of responsibility for the future of our country exist,” said Crvenkovski.

The Macedonian president added that irregular elections would be a retrograde step to the only real option for Macedonia—NATO and the EU--and called on citizens to protect their vote, and thus the state.

The former leader of the biggest opposition party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), claimed that, as at the previous elections, he would remain impartial.

“It’s good and important for the SDSM that this young leadership faces up to its own responsibility and this test of political maturity,” he said.

Regarding the talks with Greece over the “name” dispute, Crvenkovski reiterated that the elections would hamper the negotiating process, and that the status quo played into Greece’s hands.

The president added that “Macedonia cannot afford to err or give in to pressure and provocation from the Greek side, by responding with unreasonable moves that will primarily exacerbate economic relations.”

He said that the document on strategic cooperation with the U.S., recently signed in Washington, was further confirmation of the consolidation of mutual trust, but should not be viewed as an alternative to NATO membership.

One Dead in Macedonia Pre-Election Violence

A person was killed in one of several incidents in Macedonia over the weekend, amid ongoing rivalries between the country’s two main ethnic Albanian parties.

Baskim Rustemi, 42, from the village of Gajre, near the western town of Tetovo, died from stab wounds on Saturday night, after being involved in a quarrel with another man, police said. The identity of the killer is apparently known to police.

The Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA said Rustemi was a long standing member of the party.

Earlier on Friday, five activists from the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI , were beaten in the village of Kondovo near Skopje after trying to display party flags ahead of the election campaign which officially kicked off on Sunday.

The activists, who needed hospital treatment, claim they were beaten by members from the ruling DPA.

In a separate incident, a night club owned by a former DPA member, Fadil Arslani was torched in Tetovo. A club security guard was previously kidnapped and released shortly afterwards with his head covered and hands tied.

Arslani claimed his club was torched due to his recent association with the DUI.

Meanwhile the DUI party headquarters in the villages of Golema Recica and Kamenjane around Tetovo and Gostivar were shot at on Saturday night.

DUI accused the DPA for the incidents but the ruling party denied any connection.

The police have said the incidents are being probed. So far there have been no arrests.

Prior to the start of the campaign, all major parties signed a code pledging free and democratic elections.

European Union and NATO officials have said that the snap polls set for June 1 must be fair, so Macedonia can continue to deepen its Euro-Atlantic integration

During parliamentary elections in 2006, there were several incidents between the rival Albanian parties but international monitors assessed the procedure on a whole as fair and democratic.

NATO Slams 'Immature' Macedonia Appeal

NATO says a letter sent by Macedonia urging alliance members not to block the country's NATO membership because of the ‘name’ dispute is 'immature.'

An official from NATO headquarters told Balkan Insight that the alliance’s stance is the same as last week.

“We have clearly stated that Macedonia and Greece have to resolve the name issue and as we concluded at the Bucharest summit, as soon as Skopje and Athens resolve this dispute, Macedonia’s can count on a NATO invitation,” this official said.

“So far, it is up to Skopje now to start immediately negotiations on name dispute”, he added.

Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki sent the letters to his counterparts in 25 NATO countries, except Greece, on Wednesday, the Associated press agency reported.

“I am confident that you and your country will not allow an imposed bilateral issue to become an additional criteria and a precondition for Macedonia’s membership of NATO” Milososki wrote.

He said Macedonians had been hugely disappointed by the outcome of NATO’s Bucharest summit.

Last week NATO agreed to issue a membership invitation to Croatia and Albania but Macedonia’s bid stumble because of a Greek veto since the ‘name’ row between the two countries remains unresolved.

NATO officials say the fact Macedonia's appeal ignored Athens was 'immature.'
“It was not wise to bypass an ally,” warned the NATO official. “However, the name dispute should remain a bilateral issue and should be resolved under auspices of the United Nations.”

Athens opposes Skopje’s use of the name “Republic of Macedonia” saying it might lead Skopje to make territorial claims over Greece’s own northern province of Macedonia.

Milososki noted his country has already made several concessions to please Greece, including constitutional amendments and changing its national flag. Milososki accused Athens of denying Macedonia its “national identity, language and cultural heritage.”

The increased United States and UN-backed push for finding a compromise to the 17 year-long dispute has so far been in vain. Follow-up talks are expected soon.

Macedonia dissolves parliament, paving the way for early polls

Macedonian deputies voted on Saturday to dissolve the parliament, thus paving the way for early elections to be called in coming days in a bid to avoid further political crises following Greece's blockade of Skopje's integration into NATO over a name dispute.

After a two-day marathon session, 70 deputies voted for the 120-seat parliament to be dissolved, parliament speaker Ljubisa Georgievski said. Opposition parties did not take part in the vote, although they were present during the session.

"I have noted that the parliament voted its dissolution and I wish you all the best in coming elections," Georgievski said.

Georgievski was expected to call early parliamentary elections by Monday, parliament officials said earlier.

The elections could be held in mid-June, less than two years after the tiny Balkan country's previous legislative polls.

But Zoran Tanevski, State electoral commission spokesman, told AFP that the legal deadline for the polls to be held "sixty days after they are called could be shortened as these will be early polls."

The session was scheduled after the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski backed the request of the opposition ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).

The motion was submitted to parliament a week after Macedonia's bid to join NATO was blocked by Greece in a long-running row over the right to the name Macedonia, which is shared by a northern Greek province.

Gruevski said on Friday that the opposition parties "have been blocking the work of the parliament."

"We remain committed to our goals to join NATO and the European Union... But the necessary reforms are halted with a blockade of parliamentary procedures," he said.

Despite disappointment for not being invited to join NATO, Macedonia's officials have pledged to continue talks with Greece over the disputed name issue.

Greece refuses to recognise the former Yugoslav republic's name because it is the same as that of the northern Greek province of Macedonia and Athens worries that this could imply a claim on its territory.

Macedonia's constitutional name is the Republic of Macedonia, and Skopje wants this used in international relations, except with Athens, where a name acceptable to both parties would be found.

Gruevski's government had already been in crisis after another ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Party for Albanians (DPA), left the coalition for 10 days in mid-March before deciding to return.

The DPA's decision to withdraw from the government had been made in protest at Skopje's failure to recognise Kosovo, a disputed ethnic Albanian-majority province of neighbouring Serbia that declared independence in February.

Macedonia, a former republic of the communist Yugoslavia, has an ethnic Albanian minority that makes up around 25 percent of its population of two million.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Balkan Fix

NATO's summit in Bucharest last week provided limited blessings for the Balkans. Although Albania and Croatia were invited into the alliance, Macedonia was shunted into the waiting room, Serbia remained on the sidelines, and Russia's persistent threats of renewed regional conflict over Kosovo went unchallenged.

Every NATO success in the Balkans seems to unearth a new problem and the Bucharest gathering was no exception. Positive decisions were reached with unanimous support for Croatia's and Albania's accession, as both countries have achieved the standards necessary for membership. In other favorable moves, Montenegro and Bosnia obtained Individual Partnership Action Plans and Intensified Dialogues to prepare them for future NATO entry.

Alliance leaders indicated a readiness to develop closer relations with Serbia after the parliamentary elections in mid-May. But with pro-Western forces divided and losing support, and the Radical Party likely to be included in the next Serbian government, Belgrade is more likely to edge closer to Russia than to NATO after the national ballot.

The most glaring summit negative was the postponed decision on Macedonia's NATO membership. The country's entry was blocked by Greece after years of stalled negotiations over the country's name and the formal usage of that name. The Macedonian appellation without a geographic or political qualifier is viewed in Athens as a direct challenge to Hellenic patrimony and identity, making it impossible for the Greek parliament to ratify Macedonia's NATO entry.

Unfortunately, the Macedonian authorities became overconfident that Washington would prevail as a mediator in the dispute with Athens and failed to adopt an acceptable compromise position. The country's invitation to NATO depends solely on an agreement with Greece – a prospect that may now prove even more elusive than before the summit.

In the wake of NATO's postponement, Macedonian politics is likely to radicalize. The fragile government, already abandoned by its Albanian coalition partners, could be forced to resign if it agrees to a new name that would entail a constitutional amendment. One can expect a flurry of accusations against Athens and a resurgence of nationalist passions. But this would only diminish Macedonia's reputation as a reliable NATO candidate.

Unless a sound strategy is devised in negotiations with Greece, with high-level U.S. involvement, the ensuing political turmoil may encourage leaders of the Albanian minority to push for territorial autonomy in a swath of territory bordering Kosova and Albania. This would capsize the Ohrid agreement painstakingly devised to ensure interethnic co-existence in a unitary state following the Albanian insurgency in the summer of 2001.

The broader regional consequences of not resolving Macedonia could also prove destabilizing. If Skopje does not promptly recognize Kosovo's statehood and fails to conclude a border agreement with Pristina, it could encourage some Albanian militants inside Macedonia to push for territorial adjustments. The militants might also conclude, in the absence of NATO membership, that Macedonia is merely a "temporary state."

Russia will also seek to benefit from Macedonian uncertainties by prodding for closer economic, political and security ties with Skopje and claiming to be a stalwart protector against pan-Albanianism and "Islamic terrorism." The objective will be to add another property on Moscow's expanding Monopoly board and construct a chain of Balkan dependencies stretching toward Central and Western Europe.

Following the summit declaration that NATO was committed to eventual membership for Ukraine and Georgia – though the alliance stopped short of offering them Membership Action Plans – Moscow issued its customary admonitions against expansion and threatened impending insecurity if Kiev and Tbilisi were invited into NATO. Less noticed but certainly more pressing was a statement from the Kremlin claiming that developments in Kosovo had yet to reach their "hottest phase," indicating that NATO and EU operations would be challenged by Serbian resistance and a push toward partition of Kosovo.

Moscow will continue to capitalize on Kosovo's limited international recognition by creating headaches for NATO and forestalling the further expansion of Western influence. Conflicts, frozen or otherwise, provide opportunities for promoting Russia's interests in a region that has still to be fully secured within Western institutions.

If nationalists form the next Serbian government, NATO should expect closer coordination between Belgrade and Moscow in provoking unrest in Kosovo. They may even precipitate the declaration of a separate Serbian administrative entity in the northern municipalities of Kosovo.

The post-Communist elites throughout Southeast Europe remain susceptible to Moscow's financial enticements and stand to benefit personally from opening up their economies to more substantial Russian penetration. Economic entrapment through an expanding Russian-controlled energy network could also entail political acquiescence to the Kremlin's pan-European objectives.

Moscow is pursuing a dual-track strategy toward the West: widening fissures inside Europe in order to expand its influence, and rolling back the American presence to prevent the permanent detachment of Eastern Europe from the Russian orbit. Seen in this broader strategic context, the Bucharest summit registered some successes in the Balkans, but more extensive and enduring commitments are needed in a still volatile and contested region.

Macedonia Looks to Early Election After NATO Snub

The party of Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said on Wednesday it had agreed to hold an early parliamentary election, after Greece last week blocked the country's bid to join NATO.

A session of parliament was called for Thursday to discuss the initiative, originally tabled by the main ethnic Albanian opposition party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).

Parliament has to first vote to dissolve itself for the country to hold early elections, which must then follow within two months.

The end of Gruevski's ruling coalition, less than two years since it took power, would spell a fresh period of political uncertainty in the Balkan republic. It borders newly independent Kosovo, and was rescued from all-out ethnic civil war in 2001 by NATO and European Union mediation.

"Considering developments in the dispute Greece has with us, our Euro-Atlantic integration, the inefficiency of parliament and events in Bucharest, right now there is no better solution than for the nation to hold early elections," Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki of the VMRO-DPMNE told reporters.

"There will be a new mandate, and greater capacity to carry out reforms for faster Euro-Atlantic integration," he said.


Greece blocked an invitation at NATO's Bucharest summit last week for Macedonia to join the alliance in a dispute over the country's name, which is the same as that of Greece's northern province, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

The two have been unable to agree on a name change since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

The VMRO-DPMNE executive committee said it had accepted the DUI initiative to hold an early parliamentary election, which would likely be held in June.

Anti-Greek feelings are riding high, and analysts say the conservative VMRO-DPMNE hopes to capitalise on the nationalist sentiment and secure a new, stronger four-year mandate.

Gruevski's main coalition partner, the Democratic Party of Albanians, indicated it would support dissolving parliament.

Albanians form a 25 percent minority in the country of 2 million people.

They were offered greater rights and representation under a 2001 peace accord, brokered by the West to end a six-month ethnic Albanian insurgency that followed Kosovo's 1999 ethnic Albanian guerrilla war for independence.

But the country continues to suffer from high unemployment and lack of economic development that has fuelled fears of renewed ethnic tension.

EU hopes to start negotiations on Macedonian membership bid in '08

The European Union said Wednesday it hopes accession talks with Macedonia can start this year but said the Balkan nation needs to make further reforms.

Janez Lenarcic, State Secretary for European Affairs from Slovenia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, told the European Parliament that administrative reform and minority rights issues had to be resolved first. Macedonia has been a candidate for membership since 2005.

"Stability is a decisive factor in this region," said Lenarcic.

His comments came as Macedonia's ruling conservative party said Wednesday it would support a motion to dissolve parliament, signaling an early general election.

"The political crisis, early elections, perhaps these are things that will slow down the reform process," Lenarcic said. He said he counted on the country's citizens to "remain united and work toward a common future within the EU and trans-Atlantic organizations."

The earliest Macedonia could start negotiating with the EU is at the end of the year, after the EU's executive Commission reports on the country's progress.

Lenarcic said Macedonia's name dispute with Greece, which cost it an invitation to join NATO at a summit last week, had to be resolved as soon as possible.

Greece blocked Macedonia's invitation to NATO on the grounds that the country's name implies a territorial claim to a northern Greek province called Macedonia.

Lenarcic said the EU would like to see Macedonia as a NATO member alongside Albania and Croatia, who were both invited.

Dutch lawmaker Erik Meijer, who drafted a separate report for the European Parliament on Macedonia's progress, called on Skopje to grant ethnic Albanians full language rights.

In the report, he said discrimination against the Roma — another large ethnic minority in the country — continued in education, health care, employment and housing.

To join the bloc, EU candidates must be democracies, have functioning market economies and a clean human rights record.