Since the elections in December 2016, which produced a hung parliament, Macedonia is in political deadlock. The nationalist party -VMRO-DPMNE - which has ruled the country since 2006, failed to form a coalition with the parties representing the Albanians, the largest ethnic minority in Macedonia (which makes up around 25 percent of the Macedonia's 2.1 million population).
The second main Macedonian party – the socialist SDSM – managed to reach an agreement with the Albanian parties. However, President Gjorgje Ivanov, from the nationalist party, refused to form a government with opposition leader Zoran Zaev. He said this alliance poses a threat to the country's integrity.
Skopje, March 08, 2017 - Leaders of nationalist movement Civil initiative for United Macedonia, Bogdan Ilievski (L) and Boris Damovski (R), open a march to the parliament during a rally backed by ruling party VMRO-DPMNE. © Pierre Crom
The relations between the country's largest minority and the Slavic Macedonian majority are often used as a divisive political tool. The ethnic Albanian parties want Albanian to become an official language and are calling for a fairer distribution of national resources. They also want the guarantee of an independent justice system, and a public investigation of high-ranking politicians.
While the international community supports the new coalition, Russia and Serbia have stayed on VMRO's side. Leaked intel documents obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reveal Moscow’s involvement in “strong subversive propaganda and intelligence activity” since 2008. These activities are allegedly directed by the Russian embassy in Macedonia, and aim at preventing the country from forming closer ties with the West.
In the most recent crisis, VMRO's officials repeatedly disregarded calls from the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. Refusing to resolve this extended crisis is harming Macedonia’s efforts to deepen integration with the West. This political dispute has thrown the landlocked Balkan Republic into political paralysis amid daily protests coordinated by the VMRO-backed nationalist movement, the Civil Initiative for United Macedonia.
This situation is the result of a two-year-long crisis that started when the opposition revealed a massive surveillance scandal. Tapes implicating high-ranking VMRO-DPMNE officials in criminal activities were released. Among them was the Prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who was forced to resign resulting in early parliamentary elections. A special prosecution office was set up to investigate those alleged crimes.
The crisis is the most substantial since 2001, when the nation teetered on the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian insurgency. Tensions culminated when hundreds of nationalist protesters stormed the parliament building and violently attacked the opposition lawmakers who had just elected a new speaker, the ethnic Albanian Talat Xhaferi.
Videos show that VMRO MPs opened the doors and let the protesters in. The police, still controlled by the VMRO-DPMNE, delayed its intervention. A Serbian diplomat was also spotted in the building in footage captured by surveillance cameras.
Fear was high that the crisis would turn into an inter-ethnic conflict after Albanian MP Zijadin Sela, one of the kingmakers of the coalition, was severely injured. “If I was not alive today, Macedonia would be at war”, he told Balkan-based news outlet BIRN.
Skopje, December 2016 - Workers cover a € 500,- Chinese palm tree for the winter. Only 10% of the 130 palm trees will survive the winter. © Pierre Crom
The pressure of the foreign community has been decisive in ending the crisis. US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affair, Hoyt Brian Yee, moved forward his official visit after the parliament incident. Along with the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, he continued lobbying the Macedonian president to hand over the mandate and allow a peaceful democratic, process.
A new opposition-led government has since then been appointed, but a heated atmosphere persists. The State, entirely captured by the nationalist party, is in need of deep reforms.
Whether the politicians implicated in the corruption scandal will face justice or not, will determine the trust of the Macedonian people in their new leaders. The new prime minister Zoran Zaev, has vowed to open negotiations for a faster integration into the European Union and NATO.
Skopje, December 2016 - Skopje is seen under construction, a project designed by ruling nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE to give the city a Macedonian appeal. The cost have risen above the 500 millions Euros. © Pierre Crom
Skopje, March 2017 - Members of nationalist movement Civil initiative for United Macedonia backed by nationalist ruling party VMRO-DPMNE attend a rally against the parlementary majority. © Pierre Crom
Skopje, May 1, 2017 - SDSM Zoran Zaev (2nd right), injured by nationalists in the parliament, and newly elected speaker of the parliament Talat Xhaferi (right), walk to a restaurant after a meeting with US envoy Hoyt Brian Yee. © Pierre Crom