Crisis in Macedonia: What role could/should the EU, Serbia and Albania play?

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1. In your opinion, what could/should the EU do to help solving the political crisis in Macedonia? E. g. I hear many voices that it should be a priority of HighRep Mogherini.

2. Do you think that also the Balkan countries, especially Serbia and Albania, may play some role?


Christian Costamagna, Adjunct Professor, University of Oriental Piedmont

1. Considering that all the Western Balkans should one day join the EU Europe and all of its institutions and representatives, beginning with the High Representative Federica Mogherini, should work closely to find a shared solution not just for the political crisis in Macedonia, but to the whole Balkan region.

When in 1991 the USA delegated to Europe the solution of the Yugoslav crisis, it failed, nothwithstanding the efforts in the Hague conference. This happened because the single European countries were divided between them. The UK, for instance, was scared by the German reunification and its influence on the continent. The USA were already deep involved in observing the fate of USSR and the Gulf crisis.

Then, after years of civil wars, deaths and refugees in former Yugoslavia, the Clinton administration decided that enough was enough and the so called Dayton agreements, in 1995, put an end to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. But in Dayton no solution was found for Kosovo, because at the time it would have been too much to tolerate in Belgrade. Unfortunately the problems remained there to be solved. Then, again, in 1998-1999, the Kosovo war erupted, involving NATO without the support of the UN. Shortly after that, in 2001, the crisis hit Macedonia too.

As we can see, so far, we can find a few insight from the recent past: if the European countries are divided, they can’t prevent a crisis. Secondly, without the support of the USA, Europe seems too weak and uncapable to solve the issues of its own backyard. Third, the Western Balkan region is relatively small, with a small amount of population and weak economies, and all of them are obviously strictly linked one another, in a way that it is not possible to solve a crisis in Macedonia today, without solving the main issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the dispute between Belgrade and Pristina. Moreover, it is not possible to find a solution for Macedonia without finding a compromise about its name with Greece, and it is a shame that after about a quarter of a century this issue is yet to be solved.

At the same time it is vital that all EU countries find a common ground about the recognition of Kosovo, because which future could have Belgrade and Pristina in Europe with such a problem of legitimacy? A few but important EU countries did not recognize Kosovo because they have separatist problems of their own, so they fear one day the same fate of Serbia may happend to them.

This mentality, in the XXI century, in a age of globalization, is quite narrow minded, if we compare our European national countries with America, China, Brazil, India etc.
Then there is another dimension of the problem: EU must not isolate Macedonia. Indeed, back in the 1990s, the UN sanctioned Belgrade with an embargo for almost a decade, giving a free hand to the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. The UN embargo hit the population, made the Serbs feel they were isolated from the rest of the world, creating the proper environment for a mafia like economy and a populist and nationalist political discourse. The level of crime, corruption and shortsighted policies of Belgrade at the time, still are a huge burden for the country. Considering that Macedonia’s EU path is being stopped for a name dispute with Athens, and bearing in mind that even Greece is experiencing a deep crisis itself, the EU must be very close to Macedonian citizens and break the stalemate. Ms. Mogherini, with the green light from all of the EU countries, should facilitate a dialogue between the main Macedonian political parties and, eventually, support a transitory “technical government” with the support of all the parties in the parliament (as in Italy with Mario Monti’s government) and the call for new general elections, monitored by OSCE. Of course, following the example of the 2001 Ohrid’s Agreements, all the national groups of Macedonia must be strictly involved in the process. Finally, EU should be very demanding about the internal reforms and support as much as it can, the civil society, in order to eradicate the corruption, while it is clear that it does take generations to change the mentality. Foreign investments and more perspective for the unemployed and the younger generations could be a good starting point.

2. I believe, according to what I have already stated above, that of course Serbia and Albania should definitely have a primary regional role in order to help Macedonia to solve, at least in part, its issues. The Albanian high level politicians should stop, for instance, to talk about Great Albania and the unification of all the land inhabitated by Albanians. The message should be clear and unequivocable: the boundaries in Europe should not be redrawn, and for sure not by the use of violence. The authorities in Tirana and Pristina should push the citizen to give up their illegal weapons to the police. The political elite in Serbia, it must be said, in the past few years, formally did take distance from its recent past. Nevertheless, it is not yet sufficient. A final agreement between Belgrade and Pristina must be found, otherwise it will be a permanent generator of potential crisis. The minorities, in Presevo, Bujanovac and in all the rest of the country must be strongly protected and enjoy the highest freedom, as in Bolzano, in Italy. The media, especially the Serbian tabloid, should be more responsible, avoiding to pour gasoline on the fire every time an accident occur and a Serb and an Albanian are involved. The media war, at the end of the 1980s, is responsible for having created hate and fear among the citizens of the Yugoslav republics before the real war. Serbian media show they did not learn very well the lesson.
While Albania and Serbia could help Macedonia, it is clear that it must be done, in the whole region, a deep work in the civic society, deconstructing the nationalist myth. Of course it is easy to say, but it is much more hard to put into practice. Also in Italy, the economic crisis is stirring some form of new nationalism, especially directed against immigrants. More in general terms, the crisis is pushing a stronger protest toward this kind of European model and the austerity, as the recent elections, from Spain to Poland are showing us.
The EU may help Macedonia and the Balkans, but Europeans must find before that a compromise between them, between the people and the political elites. Federica Mogherini can’t solve the Macedonian’s issue without a strong support in all the European capitals.

Natasha WunschAssociate Fellow, German Council on Foreign Relations

1. The EU would do well to become very actively involved in a resolution of the ongoing crisis in Macedonia, after too passive an attitude over the past years regarding the backsliding on reforms and growing authoritarian tendencies. The current political crisis has a strong destabilizing potential even beyond Macedonia and should therefore be high on the EU’s agenda. Intervening decisively would allow the EU to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to democratic transition in the Balkans despite the current enlargement break, and could prevent further negative effects of the Macedonian crisis on neighbouring countries. EU mediation should take place at a high level and the EEAS staff, including Mogherini, should remain engaged in handling the crisis until its full resolution, most likely via new elections.

2. I do not see a significant role to be played by neighbouring countries at this point, all the more given they have their own internal and bilateral issues to address. However, the handling of the Macedonian crisis by the EU will send a signal to the other Balkan countries both on the level of importance the EU still accords to the region, and on its willingness to address authoritarian tendencies forcefully. The EU would therefore do well to step up its engagement both in Macedonia, but also in other countries where political leaders overstep their authority at the cost of democratic standards.

Davide DentiPhD student, School of International Studies, University of Trento, Editor for East Journal

1. The crisis in Macedonia is linked to both domestic and international factors, and the EU should take a comprehensive approach to help its resolution.

For sure the current level of involvement (3 MEPs) is inadequate, and the way the EPP has provided cover-up to the actions of government such as Gruevski’s (as for others in the past) is questionable. It is understandable that the HRVP Mogherini may be already busy with the ongoing crises in Ukraine, Libya and Syria, but at least a full involvement of Enlargement Commissioner Hahn is to be expected, eventually with a specific delegation by Mogherini or by the Council. Moreover, the EU Council would do well to re-open the EU Special Representative office that it held in Skopje until few years ago, allowing the EU Delegation to be more involved in the political dealings in the country.

A full involvement of Commissioner Hahn, with a specific mandate by the EU Council, and the ongoing involvement of a Head of Delegation / EUSR in Skopje will allow the EU not to be taken by surprise by the next events in Macedonia.

For what concerns the substance, the EU will need to push the government and the opposition to talk. The extent of mistrust that the two parties have towards each other, after the scandals highlighted by the wires, is remarkable. At the same time, the government is still legitimised by the elections and commands the support of a consistent part of the citizenry, although many others feel disenfranchised. It is unlikely that a snap election may solve the crisis. Rather, the EU would need to put forward an agenda for the entrenchment of the rule of law and democracy in Macedonia, anticipating the contents of the chapters 23/34 of the enlargement negotiations, eventually through the tool of the High Level Accession Dialogue once use by Commissioner Fuele, or through a localised version of the Structured Dialogue on Justice used in Bosnia, in order to include also practitioners and the civil society in the talks. This would need to include also a investigation on the events in Kumanovo as well as on the scandals uncovered by the wiretapping affair.

Finally, it is fundamental that the EU Council removes the veto on Macedonia starting accession negotiations. This is not to say that Macedonia is today in the political situation to start accession negotiations, but rather that the persistence of a 10-year veto has decredibilised the accession perspective for the country, seriously undermining the EU influence. For this aim, a strong effort will be needed to pressure the Greek government on the topic, recalling also the 2010 opinion of the ICJ on the illegality of the veto. It is understood that this will only be possible within a broader package deal with Greece.

2. I do not see much that Serbia, Albania or Kosovo may do at the moment, besides refraining from the instances of inflammatory rhetoric that their leaders have lately fallen prone to. Surely Macedonia does not need any other veto.

A serious effort of research and information, and of dialogue among the peoples of the region, is still in dire need, as shown by the conspiracy theories and stereotypes that have abounded on the popular media and daily newspapers after the events in Kumanovo.



One Response

  1. Reblogged this on dr. costamagna.

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