Supporters of the "Civil Initiative for United Macedonia" protest in Skopje while European Commissioner for Enlargement and Negotiations, Johannes Hahn (not pictured), is meeting political leaders on March 21, 2017. (AFP/TOMISLAV GOERGIEV)
March 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of ethnic Macedonians took to the streets this week, outraged by the opposition Social Democrats attempt to form a parliamentary coalition with ethnic Albanian parties. At issue is the parties’ so-called “Tirana Platform,” negotiated in neighbouring Albania.
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov has sided with the protesters in the latest chapter of the Balkan country’s long running political crisis. Objecting to perceived foreign influence, he is refusing to allow the Social Democrats to form a coalition government that gives a platform to Albanian demands. This means Macedonia is at a political standstill.
At the heart of what ethnic Albanians are asking for is the official recognition of their language. Their platform also calls for greater social and political inclusion and recognition, including a debate on changes to the name of the country and national emblems, veto rights over public spending and an apology for what they call the genocide of Albanians in the first half of the 20th century.
They say they face discrimination, and are underrepresented in the country’s institutions. The Albanian minority, which makes up about a quarter of the population, has accused the government of stirring up ethnic tensions to stay in power and avoid a corruption probe that could see top party leaders investigated.
Nikola Gruevski, the former prime minister, was forced to resign early this year after 10 years in power in the wake of a massive wiretapping and corruption scandal. No single party won a clear majority in elections called after the scandal, leading to the current political impasse.
Protesters are demanding the platform be dropped before any government is formed. President Ivanov and his supporters say making Albanian Macedonia’s second official language would "undermine Macedonia's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence."
Ivanov has accused Albania of being the guiding force behind the document, and other foreign powers of meddling in its domestic affairs. On Tuesday, he declined to meet with the European Union envoy dispatched to help negotiate an end to the standoff between the ruling conservative party and the opposition. The EU is urging Macedonia to accept the coalition and form a new government as soon as possible.
The Stream takes a look at the divisions in Macedonia and what’s behind the current protests.