Macedonia’s captured state, which has been denounced for years now by the international community and civil society activists, came into full view last night when police essentially allowed protesters to enter the Assembly and violently attack journalists and MPs, demolishing the interior of the building in the process.
The images of violence that shocked the Macedonian public last night and were broadcast by international media, followed the proclamation of Talat Xhaferi — former Minister of Defence and MP from the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) — as president of the Assembly.
This escalation in the political crisis in Macedonia should be viewed as the latest episode in a long-term crisis, that shows the country’s descent into consociational feudalism; a system of governance defined by two ethnic groups’ elites sharing power that has eroded the judiciary and the institutions of the state, and generated systemic corruption and political instability.
Special police units entered the parliament building later to restore order, making it clear that the Ministry of Interior is not acting as a unified institution with a single line of command. On the contrary, the basis on which consociational feudalism has been thriving in the past decade or so is accountability to party leaders.
The Constitution, legal order and the independence of the judiciary have all been repeatedly violated by state officials, not least by President Gjorge Ivanov himself. By refusing to give a mandate to the new parliamentary majority composed of the social-democrats and the alliance of Albanian parties, Ivanov has been directly responsible for the escalation of the crisis.
The rule of Ivanov’s party, the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, has been marred by violence since they first formed a government in 1998, but even in the early post-independence years of the 1990s, the Macedonian parliament has never been a scene for violent confrontations.
Adopting the mentality of an all-Macedonian national movement, VMRO has never managed to transform itself into a truly democratic, modern center-right political party. The lack of internal party democracy is a feature of all Macedonian political parties, and this undoubtedly reflects on the larger political scene once they form a parliamentary majority.
Crucially, the nexus formed by two powerful nationalisms is determining the overall dynamics of escalation and conflict. In the same way that Croatian and Serbian nationalisms were feeding on each other in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, VMRO and the DUI have been maintaining a marriage of interests of sorts, where artificially produced conflicts have been generated to maintain a perpetual sense of instability and a role for themselves as factors of stability.
It is here that the responsibility of the European Union, or, rather, some of its member-states, should be factored in. VMRO is a member of the European People’s Party, a transnational alliance of center-right political parties, and Austria has proved to be a supporter of the VMRO government as a guarantor of stability following the stemming of the flow of refugees from Greece via Macedonia to Western Europe.
The reluctance of the EU to engage in more straightforward critique (and impose sanctions) towards Hungary (and Turkey for that matter) has encouraged Balkan leaders to persist in the suppression of democratic procedures and rule of law, and nourish alliances with Erdogan and Viktor Orban.
During the crises in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, Slobodan Milosevic often posed as a peacemaker in front of the international community. So it is not at all surprising that a new generation of Balkan leaders like Nikola Gruevski and Ivanov also pose as factors of stability, all the while being directly responsible for generating further instability in order to preserve their positions of power.
As in 2001, when the conflict had all the preconditions to escalate into full-blown carnage and ethnic cleansing, the majority of Macedonian citizens can again see through the mirage of feudal consociationalism and will not be so easily drawn into another armed conflict that would not solve anything.
Macedonia currently tops the European charts for income inequality, emigration and lack of freedom of the media. Perhaps these are underlying causes of the protesters’ anger, as when Vulnet Starova, a professor and medical doctor of Albanian origin, presided over the Macedonian Assembly from 1986-91, hardly anyone took note of his origin or opposed his appointment on an ethnic basis.
Macedonia should ideally recover the positive practices from its political past and build upon them to forge a new, inclusive, truly democratic and equitable society.