A man in an incredible hurry – Macedonia PM Zaev pushing through name change of Macedonia and steam rolling all opposition, including by-passing President Ivanov, to satisfy Greek demands.
WELCOME TO THE NEW ‘NORTH’ MACEDONIA
-comment by Sasha Uzunov
After a farcical vote on 11 January that passed by a razor-thin margin in Parliament after days of haggling, the SDSM-led government of Zoran Zaev announced that it has renamed the Republic of Macedonia as ‘North Macedonia’ (or ‘Severna Makedonija’ in the Macedonian language version), thereby fulfilling his part of the deal with the Greeks in the so-called Prespa Agreement of last spring.
The voting was marred by allegations of fraud, bribery, threats and US strong-arming (US Embassy officials were even said to be physically within the parliament during the tumultuous day on unconfirmed social media reports). Although the opposition VMRO-DPMNE of Hristijan Mickoski immediately cried foul, the party has done suspiciously little in recent months to slow the pace of the Zaev train. For instance, the party only joined the call for a boycott of the 30 September referendum at the last moment, when it became clearer that a grassroots initiative to boycott would succeed- and that the supposed nationalist opposition party thus risked being upstaged.
Similarly, in the Parliamentary deliberations in the days before the fatal vote, VMRO-DPMNE also did not join protesters who had been making their presence felt in wintry conditions. When Mickoski did finally show up, he used the impromptu platform more as an opportunity for party campaigning than for announcing any realistic plan to stop the Zaev Express.
Thus on January 15, in his interview for Alfa TV, Mickoski stated that VMRO-DPMNE has proof “that some MPs were bribed or promised many benefits if they vote for the changes of the Constitution.” Nevertheless, Kurir reported, Mickoski told the TV host that the party is “not going to give the evidence to the prosecutor office, because he doesn’t believe the judicial system” is competent. link here
All in all, it looks like just more bark and no bite from the party- which had also called for early parliamentary elections to be held with this spring’s scheduled presidential elections. The fact that VMRO-DPMNE did little to stop the name change, but now claims to be indignant while party luminaries look to increase their influence in Washington, may well prove in future to justify past suspicions in the Macedonian public: that is, that VMRO-DPMNE privately agreed to US demands for renaming the country, in exchange for coming to power in the next elections. In this case, current government officials like Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov will be handsomely ‘taken care of’ by their American handlers, with cushy jobs in NATO, the UN or similar well-paying organizations- while the average Macedonia is left to suffer the consequences of their reckless decisions and disdain for the popular will.
ZAEV TAKES THE HIGH ROAD- AND HITS THE SLOPES IN GERMANY
In statements made after the vote to change the name, PM Zaev tried to present himself as a great statesman who has made a contribution to peace and stability in the Balkans. He clearly does not seem disturbed at all that the country as a whole opposed his innovation- indeed, just three days after renaming his country, PM Zaev was off to Germany for a spot of skiing- stopping on the way to see his Kosovar confrere, political leader and former KLA warlord Ramush Haradinaj. According to Kurir, they met while Zaev was waiting for his holiday flight in Prishtina airport. link here
“Immediately after,” the media reported, “Haradinaj posted on Twitter that he met with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Northern Macedonia. The Government of Macedonia reported that Zaev went on winter vacation in Germany and that his meeting with Haradinaj was a private meeting.” It should be remembered that the Kosovar prime minister is considered a close partner of Zaev, and was indeed mentioned specifically by ethnic Albanian politician Menduh Thaci, who stated during the political crisis that Zaev had sent him a text message stating that they should meet, because foreign powers were planning to overthrow the Gruevski government- with the help of Haradinaj and Sali Berisha in Albania.
ANOTHER REFERENDUM ON THE HORIZON?
Just when you would think that things couldn’t get any more convoluted, the influential World Macedonian Congress (a diaspora nationalist group based in Macedonia) stepped in on 14 January, when longtime leader Todor Petrov petitioned Parliament for a new referendum against the ‘North Macedonia’ name. link here
As is well known the ‘North Macedonia’ name failed at the 30 September referendum, when only 34 to 39 percent of voters turned out. Those who did were widely regarded as being forced to vote by their parties (SDSM and its allies), as well as ethnic Albanians and others with little to no sentiment for the Macedonian cause.
Two things remain puzzling about Mr. Petrov’s intervention. One, considering that the Zaev government steamrollered the official referendum, basically disregarding the low turnout and illegally pushing through the ‘solution’ of ‘North Macedonia,’ it stands to reason that no new referendum would fare better.
The second odd detail about the WMC petition is how fast it went through the bureaucratic hurdles for consideration. According to the Republika report cited above, “a Parliament Committee today approved the WMC request and the organization will be able to begin collecting signatures soon. They will have three months to gather 150,000 signatures, after which, if they are successful, the Parliament will have to hold the referendum.”
Considering that the West and especially US-UK-EU axis have been stubbornly opposed to Macedonia keeping its constitutional name, some pundits are speculating that the WMC’s call for a new referendum is simply smoke and mirrors designed to help VMRO-DPMNE’s next political campaign, but not actually affect facts on the ground.
Regardless of Petrov’s motives, in fairness, it does have to be said that the World Macedonian Congress was the group that successfully initiated the 2004 referendum- which also failed. That pivotal vote was against redrawing and reducing Macedonia’s municipalities (from 120 to 80) and their borders. Ironically enough, the very same SDSM party that urged people to do their democratic duty and vote in the 2018 referendum on name change had urged the population to boycott the 2004 referendum- the hypocrisy stinks to high heaven, but it merely reflects the cynicism of politics in Macedonia.
The 2004 “redistricting” was part of a long term process of rewarding Albanian warlord Ali Ahmeti and the ethnic Albanians in general, by creating new municipalities with ethnic Albanian majorities or populations of over 20 percent. That is how towns like Struga got their first Albanian mayors, how Skopje got over the Ohrid Agreement’s 20-percent threshold to introduce Albanian language usage in the city, and how certain towns occupied predominantly by ethnic Turks and Torbeshi (ethnically Macedonian Muslims) have been Albanized in the last 14 years. – more on the 2004 referendum at this link
A STATEMENT FROM THE RUSSIANS- INTERFERENCE OR DIPLOMATIC OVERTURES?
While the West was clearly delighted by Zaev’s strong-arm tactics to force through the ‘North Macedonia’ name, others like notably Russia were not. On 14 January 14, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement was made, saying that “the position of the Russian Federation on the problem of the Macedonian naming remains the same – a sustainable solution can only be found without foreign interference, without imposing conditions and terms from the outside and with wide public support, both in the Republic of Macedonia and in Greece, and within the framework of the law,” Republika reported. link here
“Therefore we expect that the issue is considered by the UN Security Council, in accordance with Article 3 of the UNSC resolution 845.”
However, the Russian Ministry’s appeal to international law and the UN was instantly and fiercely rejected by not only the Macedonian but also Greek diplomatic headquarters. For its part, the Macedonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied that it feels “assured that our approach will be proven as right. We prefer to show political vision and leadership, and to advance regional stability and prosperity, which will be accepted and appreciated by all sides, including the Russian Federation.”
According to the Macedonian news outlet, the Greek FM met the Russian request thus:
“We call on our international partners to respect the spirit and the content of the agreement, and to welcome the fact that the political leadership of the two countries showed the necessary political courage to reach an agreement on an exceptionally difficult issue, at the same time defending their national interests, the Greek Ministry responded, also asking Russia to begin using “North Macedonia” when it refers to the Republic of Macedonia.”
From this show of stubborn determination in what were practically joint statements, it seems clear that claims of ‘Russian interference’ in Macedonia (as well as Greece) are exaggerated if not completely far-fetched. It’s not coincidental that the controversial American Ambassador, Jess Baily, is going to be replaced soon by a female diplomat coming straight from a posting at the US Embassy in Athens. It seems very clear that the US is calling the shots- in both Athens and Skopje.
But what is most striking in the difference between the two approaches, beside the Russian appeal to international law (usually a favorite talking point of the West), was Moscow’s appeal to find a name compromise supported by the majority of both Greeks and Macedonians, and the latter states’ insistence that a political deal is good enough. The Greek response clearly gives the game away, stating that the agreement was reached between the two governments. This is a tacit admission of the fact that the 30 September referendum was a complete failure and illegal process.
Ironically, the concept of an ‘agreement between two governments’ as legally binding and morally legitimate was made in heated comments for TEAM UZUNOV by the outgoing US Ambassador, in an odd exchange last fall in which Mr. Baily tried to defend the Prespa Agreement which foresaw the ‘North Macedonia’ solution by stating that it had been agreed between the two governments- not, in other words, by the people, who remain adamantly opposed.
That conversation occurred in the context of a question by TEAM UZUNOV which simply asked Mr. Baily whether American academic Amanda Sloat- a former diplomat in the Obama era who is now a think-tank ‘expert’- was involved with writing the Prespa Agreement. Baily blew up at the question, as can be seen on this video. The question remains unanswered to this day, as Ms. Sloat herself has refused to respond to TEAM UZUNOV’s request.
PRESIDENT IVANOV SIDE-LINED
Macedonia’s President George Ivanov has been a staunch opponent of the Prespa Agreement, refusing to sign it into law. Likewise, the new language bill which will elevate Albanian as the second official language of Macedonia.
Parliamentary Speaker Talat Xhaferi of DUI party has by-passed the President and had the language law gazetted (sluzben vesnik in Macedonian). His own election to that position remains murky and precipitated the 27 April 2017 parliamentary attack which led to the arrest of some VMRO-DPMNE MPs who later in exchange for a controversial amnesty offered by PM Zaev voted for the Constitutional changes which have renamed Macedonia and in effect erased Macedonians as an ethnic group
SAM VAKNIN’S DECADE PREDICTION ON NORTH MACEDONIA
In 2008 – Israeli pundit and Balkan Watcher Dr Sam Vaknin correctly predicted name change for Macedonia into North Macedonia because of US pressure. – see link here
The Plan has been hatched in a series of secret meetings between Greek and American officials, culminating in a June 2008 conference held in Washington, involving [US Secretary of State] Rice and Dora Bakoyannis, Greek’s feisty Foreign Minister. The Macedonian government was kept out of the loop and may still be unaware of the existence of the Plan, let alone its contents.
It seems that the Greeks succeeded to convince the Americans that Macedonia is the intransigent party, piling one obstacle after another, in an attempt to avoid a politically unpopular settlement. Lately, the tiny polity’s young Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, sought to enlarge the scope of the protracted negotiations to include other bilateral issues, such as the restoration of property to Macedonians expelled from Greece decades ago and the recognition of the Macedonian Orthodox Church by its Greek counterpart.
1. The Republic of Macedonia will change its constitutional name (probably to Northern Macedonia, although that has not been decided yet). If true, this provision will constitute a major setback for Macedonia. No Macedonian government – let alone the current one – is likely to accept it.
2. Macedonia will be granted a transition period (of up to 10 years, according to some sources) – the time it would need to amend its constitution and to alter its registered name with various international and multilateral institutions.
UPDATE – relying on the Albanian factor – see link here
Greek Parliament vote to ratify the Prespa Agreement – Australian journalist Natasha MacFarlane asked me for my prediction. I wasn’t way too off the mark. (please note this is Australian eastern standard summer time).
UPDATE – The Greek Parliament ratifies the Prespa Agreement – see link here
Supporters of name change of Macedonia, including EU mandarin Eduard Kukan, amongst a host of others, were quick to crow about the Greek Parliament passing the Prespa Agreement.
We reminded Mr Kukan about the sleazy and nasty way the Prespa Agreement was approved in Parliament of Macedonia.
If the EU and US have to rely on Albanian politicians who hold Neo-Nazi views (ie venerate WW2 Nazi collaborators) and Macedonian politicians who are corrupt and were blackmailed into voting for the Prespa Agreement, then Macedonia doesn’t have much of a future whether it joins NATO/EU or stays out.