Tuesday, May 26, 2015

'Something Needs to Give': Macedonian Leaders Meet Over Political Crisis

Macedonia protest

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Anti-Government Protests in Macedonia (30)
There is increasing speculation over the political future of Macedonia and its Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, as the country’s four main political party leaders meet for EU-US brokered talks in Skopje to try and break the impasse that has resulted in calls for Gruevski to resign.
In the third round of talks between Macedonian leaders, Gruevski will join main opposition chief Zoran Zaev, head of the junior ruling coalition party, Ali Ahmeti and Menduh Thaci, leader of the country’s ethnic Albanian party, to discuss what actions to take over the country’s volatile political situation.
There have been calls for Gruevski to resign from his position following ongoing criticism from political opponents.
These protests culminated in tens of thousands of people taking to the streets of the country’s capital of Skopje earlier this month to protest against the prime minister, who is alleged to be involved in the widespread surveillance of over 20,000 people.
Based on recorded conversations, which were released by opposition leader Zoran Zaev, the Gruevski government has been accused of spying on large parts of the Macedonian population, instigating electoral fraud and even covering up the killing of a young man by a police officer.
However Gruevski has hit back at the claims, saying the recordings had been tampered with as part of an attempt by foreign intelligence agencies to undermine his government and destabilize the country.
'Don’t Hold Breath for Progress' — Analyst
However despite the recent pressure on the government and marathon talks between the PM and Zaev in Strasbourg last week, Gruevski has refused to step down.
Dr James Ker-Lindsay, researcher in Balkan studies at the London School of Economics (LSE) told Sputnik he doesn’t believe the talks will achieve anything significant, if anything at all.
"I don’t think anyone is holding their breath for any progress, which is a great shame. There’s no doubt that something needs to give in the country. This is not a healthy situation at the moment. It’s highly damaging on all sorts of levels."
Dr Ker-Lindsay said he didn’t believe Gruevski would stand down from his position, but was hopeful some progress on reforms to the country’s electoral voting system would be made and proposals for greater transparency for the media would be established.
Concern Over US-EU Influence
The talks are to be overseen by US ambassador Jess Baily and EU representative Aivo Orav, which has also sparked concern from some about the potential impact that outside influences may have had on the recent Macedonian protests.
Some, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have suggested the recent political discontent has been being stoked by Western actors as part of a wider geopolitical game, aimed at destabilizing the country, and subsequently scuppering any plans for Russia's Turkish stream gas line to pass through Macedonia.
"There are attempts to pressure Gruevski's government for refusing to join in on sanctions against Russia and for backing the Turkish Stream [gas] pipeline [construction]," he said.
"The Macedonian events are quite brutal and are being orchestrated from outside."
These concerns were heightened following reports that Western-backed activist groups were offering Macedonian students $1,500 come up with their best protest ideas against Gruevski’s government.
Despite these claims, James Ker-Lindsay disagrees the West is playing a destabilizing role in the country for geopolitical reasons.
"I certainly don’t see any reason for that [West stirring protests]. The fact of the matter is that the EU and NATO have invested a lot of time into trying to stabilize the Balkans and it just wouldn’t make sense to suppose that they’re going to act as some sort of destabilizing factor, partly because you just don’t know what the spin-off outcomes of that might be," he said.
"Political instability is not good, it raises the possibility – however small – of ethnic instability creeping in and nobody wants to see that happen."
West 'Arm-Twisting' Over Reforms
However, Dr Ker-Lindsay also told Sputnik that the West would certainly be acting to push the country further towards EU and NATO membership.
He pointed out that joining the groups was still part of official Macedonian government policy, but the recent Gruevski government — which has seen plans to join both the EU and NATO hindered by Greek a veto – has moved away from reforms required to by Brussels to join the bloc.
"I think what we’re seeing now is quite interesting, because we’ve got Gruevski, who came to power as a reformer and was very dynamic and very forward-thinking, but because Greece blocked EU accession talks and Greece has stood in the way of NATO accession, over the past few years, he has become more and more comfortable and he’s not had to make any of these reforms for the EU. So he’s been able to hide behind this Greece veto and strengthen his position," he said.
"So what we’ve seen sadly is Gruevski, who started off as a reformer, as a positive figure, is now turning against EU and NATO membership. However this does still remain official government policy. So any form of arm-twisting that is coming in from the West is urging Macedonia to keep making reforms. However, now I think we are facing up to the fact that there’s a discrepancy between official rhetoric and official action."

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