Angela Merkel, her Foreign Minister and several other members of the Federal Government, Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Federal Chancellor, James Mattis, US Secretary of Defense, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, as well as numerous prominent personalities from Brussels, including Federica Mogherini, EU Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, and Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations: They have all travelled to Skopje in recent weeks. Others have made long-distance calls as the French President, with a single aim, to call on Macedonian citizens to vote on 30 September.
Skopje, that has never seen so many heads of state, is the capital of Macedonia, more precisely the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the official name of this small Balkan state (2 million inhabitants), created after the disintegration of Yugoslavia – a provisional name for 27 years. Out of national pride and fear of irredentism, Greece has always opposed the idea that its northern neighbour has the same name as its northern province.
But after the Macedonian elections in December 2016, a social democratic government came to power, led by Zoran Zaev. The latter is very close to the Atlantic circles and has set himself the task of resolving the name conflict with Athens in order to make it possible for his country first to join NATO and then the European Union – a double membership against which Athens had vetoed as long as the conflict lasted. On 17 June this year, Zaev and his Greek colleague Alexis Tsipras reached a compromise. The country could be called North Macedonia and thus open the door to a Euro-Atlantic paradise.
However, this requires both parties to ratify this agreement. That was the reason for the referendum on 30 September. Zaev’s friends naturally demanded a Yes, supported by the party that claims to belong to the Albanian minority. The right-wing national party VRMO-DPMNE, which held a contrary opinion, did not – due to Western pressure – say No. But their leaders urged the citizens to ignore the vote. This was also the position of the President of the Republic, Gjorje Ivanov, who himself comes from the national movement.
However, the Macedonian constitution requires that a referendum must mobilise at least half of the registered voters in order to be valid. Hence, the call for a boycott by the opponents of the agreement and also the excitement and pressure from American and European leaders. According to them, Macedonia runs the risk of falling into a false sphere of influence if it is not soon integrated into the EU and NATO area. The Russians (the majority of the population is of Slavic descent), but also the Chinese (who make large investments in the Balkans) are accused of lurking for such an opportunity or even trying to create it.
In any case, the question put to the voters was clear: “Do you agree with EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between the two countries?” With the implicit promise that European money will flow into this particularly poor state, the voters should be seduced. One EU diplomat even dared to say: “You have the choice between North Macedonia and North Korea”, stigmatising the latter as a symbol of international isolation …
The result of the vote was a cold shower for the supporters of the process: It is true that 91% of the voters voted Yes – this was also expected as no political force postulated the No. However, what was eagerly awaited by both, supporters and opponents was, of course, the turnout. With a voter turnout of around 36%, however, this vote has reached an even lower level than feared by the European Heads of State and Government.
While less than a third of Macedonians said Yes, the Euro-American leadership elite reacted with the method of “alternative truth”, for which Donald Trump has recently been criticised in particular. Zoran Zaev said he was pleased that “the vast majority of citizens have opted for a European Macedonia”. The EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy has welcomed the “broad support” for the agreement. And even the Portuguese UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did not hesitate to claim: “The fact that an overwhelming majority of voters supported the agreement is important”.
The NATO Secretary General signed a joint declaration with his EU colleague in which he called on Skopje’s political leaders to “take the decisions that will determine the fate of their country and their people for many generations”. It is difficult to imagine how one could exert even more explicit pressure.
Only the president of neighbouring Montenegro has somewhat nuanced the bureaucratic language: “I have the impression that the pro-European enthusiasm which prevailed after the fall of the Berlin Wall is currently being called into question.” If there were a euphemism competition, Milo Djukanovic would definitely win the World Cup.
Zoran Zaev hurried to point out that the 50% participation rule was not applicable in this case, as the referendum only had a consultative meaning. “And anyway”, he said in the tough Brussels Thatcher-style, “there is no alternative”.
Institutionally, the final decision is now up to the MEPs. They have to ratify the agreement with a two-thirds majority – and this time the vote is not “consultative”. However, the Social Democrats and their allies lack ten seats to overcome this hurdle. And their opponents of the VRMO-DPMNE will, of course, feel encouraged through the result determined by the population to reject the request.
Zaev threatened to call early elections by the end of the year in the event of failure, which is currently quite likely.
It should be borne in mind, however, that the enactment of the agreement also requires the consent of the Greek Parliament. There are many forces in this country – from the right wing, but also from many citizens of the left wing – who believe that the agreement negotiated by Tsipras is a betrayal of Greek interests. Syriza‘s government partner, the Party of Independent Greeks, is also opposed to the compromise. All these opponents feel strengthened by the Macedonian vote.
As soon as the results were known, the Greek head of government called his counterpart and neighbour to tell him that he “should continue to implement the agreement”.
In July 2015, Alexis Tsipras himself had called for an anti-poverty referendum, which he clearly won. Only a few weeks later, however, he capitulated in a memorable way when he accepted all the austerity conditions imposed by the EU. •
Source: https://ruptures-presse.fr/actu/macedoine-referendum-zaev-tsipras-otan from 3 October 2018
(Translation Current Concerns)
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