Everyone was surprised after the vote on the ‘name’ issue in the Macedonian parliament last Friday.
Some opposition VMRO-DPMNE MPs decided not to go with the party’s stance on this issue and instead voted in favour of changing the country’s name as part of a deal to normalise relations with Greece and thus open the way to EU and NATO membership.
It isn’t surprising though that these MPs received threats after the vote, and that police are giving them protection.
The majority of Macedonians didn’t vote in the referendum that was held on September 30 about the possible name change.
We know that many didn’t vote because of the former governing VMRO-DPMNE party’s stance on the issue. The nationalist party is too proud to end the name dispute with Greece. VMRO-DPMNE’s sympathisers even celebrated the results of the referendum.
But the people decided − despite Western interference during the campaign. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, NATO General-Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and US Secretary of State Jim Mattis tried to convince Macedonian voters that they must change the country’s name to join the EU and NATO.
They failed, but just like the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, SDSM-led Macedonian government, the Western elite can’t handle the result and now wants to push the name change through in a different way, via Macedonia’s political and judicial systems. Hence the parliamentary vote last Friday.
The West is worried about the growing influence of Russia, Turkey and China in the region, and that’s why it has been doing everything it can to show the potential of Euro-Atlantic integration. Even if that means it has to ignore how democracies work.
“We have been disappointed with the positions of VMRO-DPMNE’s leadership regarding both the referendum and steps in parliament to amend the constitution,” Wess Mitchell, the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, wrote last week.
Well, this statement shows us that a country that claims to spread democracy, the US, can’t accept the democratic decision of the Macedonian people.
The situation is similar to the fallout that followed the Brexit referendum in Britain. The decision was given to the people, but when the voters didn’t decide as the Western elite wanted, it protested the result.
Do not get me wrong - I also didn’t like the results of these referendums, but I accept them because they are the consequences of deeply democratic processes.
But as Mitchell’s words show us, the West can’t accept the principle of popular sovereignty. In the letter he wrote to VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski, Mitchell said that VMRO-DPMNE is moved by “partisan interests”.
Well, I can’t argue with this, but we must see that the current SDSM-led government also used the referendum for political profit.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s cabinet wants to hide its lack of reforms with a proactive foreign policy. It made an agreement with former ‘enemies’ Bulgaria and Greece. But in the meantime, it hasn’t done much for the young people of Macedonia, or to raise the standard of living. Neither has it made necessary judicial reforms yet.
People feel these missed opportunities − that’s what we can see in a public opinion survey conducted by the International Republican Institute, IRI in the summer of 2018.
In the IRI survey, Macedonian people mentioned the economy, the name issue, unemployment, the low standard of living, and the low or non-payment of salaries and pensions as the most serious problems facing the country.
More than half of the population thinks that the economic situation will be the same or worse in the next two years, according to the survey. Just 17 percent of the citizens feel that their overall quality of life is getting better, while 59 percent feel their quality of life will stay the same.
The same survey found that someone has emigrated in 44 percent of all Macedonian families in the past three years, and that 62 percent of the population feel that the government is doing nothing for younger people. Two-thirds of Macedonians said that they don’t trust the judicial system.
All in all, 49 percent of the population thinks that the performance of the current SDSM government is the same or worse than that of the former VMRO-DPMNE government, according to the survey.
These are the huge problems which the government wants to hide with its foreign policy decisions. It wants to push through a constitutional change to alter the country’s name with international help to gain the political power it needs because every poll shows that the majority of the people want to join NATO and the EU.
But in this democratic referendum, they didn’t articulate this. That is the West’s and the government’s failure.
And that’s why it is a problem that the SDSM-led government and the West are trying to change the name of the country by force – which won’t happen easily, even after the results of Friday’s vote in parliament.
Bence Földi is a political scientist and a freelance journalist covering the Balkans and other topics in various Hungarian media outlets.
Source: Balkan insight