Macedonia – time to contemplate genuine coexistence

With incumbent prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, having secured his third consecutive election, thereby confirming his and his party’s hegemony over Macedonia’s politics, it is now time to contemplate how a genuine system of coexistence can be built.

By Spyros A. Sofos

After months of a bitter confrontation between Macedonia’s ruling coalition and the opposition, and a protracted boycott of the Sobranie by the opposition SDSM (Social Democratic Union of Macedonia) as well as the smaller NDP (National Democratic Party), NSDP (New Social Democratic Party), ND (Liberal Party) and LPD (Liberal Democratic Party), voters in the Republic of Macedonia (and the diaspora, where for the first time three representatives were to be elected) have gone to the polls.

Despite declarations of success by political leaders from the major parties, the results are characterized by considerable complexity. The incumbent Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, has managed to win his third consecutive election, confirming his and his party’s hegemony over Macedonia’s politics. This achievement cannot be underestimated; under Gruevski, VMRO-DMPNE has indisputably become hegemonic in Macedonian politics, almost impervious to criticisms of its often authoritarian style of government. His majority however is much more reduced and a VMRO-DMPNE government is likely to have a less easy ride in the Sobranie.

The opposition SDSM has seen its share of the vote increasing substantially but still falling short of seriously challenging the VMRO-DMPNE-led coalition. With their share of the vote and seats in the Sobranie increased, SDSM and its allies are now a more formidable opponent of the government and can have in theory the potential of challenging VMRO-DMPNE initiatives by forging parliamentary alliances around specific issues.

SDSM has not managed to capitalise on the public unease with the style and substance of the Gruevski government and to convince of its ability to provide a viable alternative. Whereas it is clear that opposition to the VMRO-DMPNE government both within and outside the Sobranie is becoming more vociferous, it is evident that the latter has managed to present itself as a credible force that has the ability and the will to withstand international and Greek pressures on the name issue and the capacity to overcome the potential isolation the name dispute might bring about. Despite the lack of an impressive record in managing the economy or enhancing democracy, VMRO-DMPNE, has yet another term in office ahead of it.

The poll has probably further entrenched the polarised political arena that has been in evidence over the past two decades as alternative voices and political forces have not managed to effectively challenge the duopoly of the VMRO-DMPNE and SDSM.

The Albanian parties have seen their share of the vote fall considerably, partly because the very low turnout of Albanian voters. Having attracted just over 16% of the total vote, they are now much weaker potential partners in a government coalition. More importantly, their poor performance has provided the opportunity to critics of the established power-sharing system to doubt the usefulness, necessity or practicality the various power-sharing institutions and practices. The electoral showing of the Albanian parties has reopened the debate over the actual size of the country’s Albanian population and has cast observers’ eyes on the forthcoming 2012 census which will seek to provide answers to such questions that are crucial for the continued ‘success’ of the Ohrid agreement and the consociational arrangements it has put in place.

However, the poor record of the Albanian parties in the 5 June election needs to be carefully read. It definitely reflects a degree of loss of faith on the part of the Albanian electorate; loss of faith in the Albanian elites and their ability to deliver but also loss of faith in the Macedonian political system. It may suggest that the consociational model of the Ohrid Agreement has not got the capacity to integrate the Albanian community to the Macedonian body politic as it has perpetuated a parallel society system whereby Macedonians and Albanians do not share spaces of interaction, deliberation and meaningful daily coexistence.

Despite the reasons for celebration the election has brought to the two major Macedonian parties, this may not be time for jubilation but rather a call for contemplation of how a genuine system of coexistence can be built.

Spyros A. Sofos is a Senior Research Fellow in International Politics at the Helen Bamber Centre for the Study of Rights, Conflict and Mass Violence of Kingston University, London. Editor of the ‘Journal of Contemporary European Studies’ and of ‘Southeastern Europe: Charting an Emerging European region’, his publications include ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’ (with Brian Jenkins – 1997), ‘Tormented by History: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey’ (with Umut Özkırımlı -2007) and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks’ (with Roza Tsagarousianou, 2010). He has been director of Kingston’s MSc in International Conflict Programme and is currently teaching Conflict Management and Resolution.

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0 Response

  1. Laze Pejoski

    Spyros A. Sofos has written a typically biased piece. Perhaps unsurprising. For example, I could comment that Greece might learn to contemplate genuine coexistence by recognising the Macedonian minority in Greece and allowing those Macedonians who fled Greek government persecution the right to return and claim back their properties. Perhaps this would be biased? Or perhaps factual? The point is that Macedonia has a stronger track record of integrating minorities compared to the supposed home of democracy, Greece. And that’s just on the Macedonians, never mind about coexistence with the sizeable Turk and Albanian minorities…

  2. Demetri

    Mr. Sofos. sounds much like Greek communists during the Greek civil war. (who also called the former self-identifying ethnic Bulgarians of the former Yugoslavia “Macedonians”)

    People like you have destroyed our country Spiro (see debt, see out of control illegals, see problems with FYROM over the name… all things Greeks like you supported). You live in some alternate universe of post-nationalism. Go back to reading Derrida and please stop harassing Greeks. (in particular Macedonians) We’ve heard your type of pseudo-intellectualism before.

  3. Demetri

    @Laze Pejoski

    I would suggest you the current FYROM government stop oppressing evidence of its ethnic Bulgarian past before lecturing neighbours about oppression.

    “The creation of the Macedonian nation, for almost half of a century, was done in a condition of single-party dictatorship. In those times, there was no difference between science and ideology, so the “Macedonian” historiography, unopposed by anybody, comfortably performed a selection of the historic material from which the “Macedonian” identity was created. There is nothing atypical here for the process of the creation of any modern nation, except when falsification from the type of substitution of the word “Bulgarian” with the word “Macedonian” were made.” -former FYROM foreign minister Denko Maleski

  4. Laze Pejoski

    Since we are trading links here is one from a more authoritative source and an excerpt:

    The UN independent expert on minority issues, in a March 2009 report, urged the government to withdraw from the dispute over whether there is a “Macedonian” or a “Turkish” ethnic minority in the country. He advised focusing instead on protecting the rights to self-identification, freedom of expression, and freedom of association of those communities and on complying fully with the rulings of the ECHR that associations should be allowed to use the words “Macedonian” and “Turkish” in their names and to express their ethnic identities freely. The independent expert found that those identifying themselves as ethnic Macedonians continued to report discrimination and harassment. Representatives of this minority claimed they were denied the right to freedom of association, citing unsuccessful efforts since 1990 to register the organization “Home of Macedonian Culture” in Florina.

    Anyway doubt it will make much difference to your insulting and incorrect views. The point is that I am of Macedonian ethnicity, I exist, and am free to voice my views. There’s really nothing practical you can do about it.

  5. Macedonian

    @Laze Pejoski

    No one claims you don’t exist. We (aka the Macedonians of Macedonia Greece aka THE Macedonia not Paeonia where you live)… just object to your attempts to usurp our history and use it to threaten our territory once again (like you did as communists). Anyone objective with half a brain stem knows ancient Macedonians had nothing to do with you former self-identifying ethnic Bulgarians.

    Perhaps if fanatics like you didn’t hide your ethnic Bulgarian past and build giant Alexander statues we might take you (and your apologists) more seriously.

    If you want an expert 3rd party source on your ethnic Bulgarian past feel free to use long time FYROM supporter antrhopologist Loring Danforth. He can’t be accused of being pro-greek (which is the norm for FYROM nationalists) as Danforth is currently listed on one of your own “human rights” websites (MHRMI) as an expert! (who’s looking pretty dumb this days for trusting your government’s past assurances)

    “The history of the construction of a Macedonian national identity does not begin with Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. or with Saints Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century A.D. as Macedonian nationalist historians often claim.”

    “Krste Misirkov, who had clearly developed a strong sense of his own personal national identity as a Macedonian and who outspokenly and unambiguously called for Macedonian linguistic and national separatism, acknowledged that a Macedonian national identity was a relatively recent historical development.”

    “The political and military leaders of the Slavs of Macedonia at the turn of the century seem not to have heard Misirkov’s call for a separate Macedonian national identity; they continued to identify themselves in a national sense as Bulgarians rather than Macedonians.” “The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World”, Princeton Univ Press, December 1995

    Or how about quotes by your own national heros that Gruevski regime hides from FYROM schoolchildren? Take for example Krste Misirkov.

    ‘And, anyway, what sort of new Macedonian nation can this be when we and our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers have always been called Bulgarians?”

    “The first objection — that a Macedonian Slav nationality has NEVER EXISTED — may be very simply answered as follows: what has not existed in the past may still be brought into existence later, provided that the appropriate historical circumstances arise.”

    “No matter whether we call ourselves Bulgarians or Macedonians we shall always feel as a nationality with a Bulgarian national consciousness,”

    “We are Bulgarian more than the Bulgarians in Bulgaria. The population of Skopje is pure Bulgarian.”

  6. Spyros Sofos

    Mr Pejoski permit me to point out that you indulge in the logical fallacy of considering that two evils cancel each other. I do not dispute that Greece has a terrible track record in terms of it’s recognition of its minorities and indeed I have written time and again about this. The Greek government human rights record is not at issue here. What is at issue is the fact that the Republic of Macedonia has not managed to integrate its Albanian minority after its brief yet serious civil conflict. Anyone who is concerned about Macedonian and regional stability should pay attention to the writing on the wall that the June election has uncovered and start thinking of the successes and shortcomings of the Ohrid agreement.

  7. Spyros Sofos

    The fact that Macedonian identity has emerged relatively recently does not invalidate it or make it less significant for those who subscribe to it. I think that a lot of the problems in Southeastern Europe have to do with this obsession of ‘having been there first’, of ‘having the correct DNA’, of ‘owning history’, all simplistic yet potentially lethal propositions.
    I will, of course, not address your personal comments about me as these do not relate to the arguments contained in my note and, frankly, do not merit wasting space or time.

  8. Pingback : Spyros A. Sofos « spyrossofos

  9. SimonTheDiamond

    Glad this problem is now over. No idea how I ended up here but it was interesting. I am English but I do have a business in Macedonia. I personally couldnt care less about the past but I do think its time the bickering was over to the good of all. The EU has legal precedent for a neighbouring country to be named for a region within an adjacent territory, nation or jurisdiction. If one wants to be in Europe (and lets be honest, right now in the case of Greece I am not sure it can be afforded ) then the law should be applied equally for all members. Job done, end of story. Ancient history is mutable and can be adjusted to suit a position. Lets look to the currently legal position of the EU. On the other hand. If I was Greece right now I would be moving away from the EU experiment as fast as possible, there has never been such a timely opportunity. A default is inevitable. Why kill yourself to pay the unpayable. Get out while the going is good I would say. The one things are going. It wont be long before the British electorate force the issue too.

  10. Demetri

    @Spyros Sofos

    You write: “The fact that Macedonian identity has emerged relatively recently does not invalidate it”

    Don’t be ridiculous comrade Sofos. Of course it invalidates it… not to mention “recent” isn’t what the FYROM government teaches its schoolchildren today (directly contradicting past claims of its identity). Tomorrow they might claim to be the real ethnic Athenians”.

    No Greek claims FYROM doesn’t have a right to identity and a country (a manipulative straw man by FYROM nationalists and its apologists). It’s common sense they do not have right to someone else’s identity and someone else’s territory. State symbols are supposed to be protected under international law. When the (mostly) former self-identifying ethnic Bulgarians now living in ancient Paeonia stopped respecting our identity we had every moral right to defend ourselves.

    Greece it to blame for its fiances. It is not our fault oppressive Yugoslav communists erased the Bulgarian ethnic context of their identity though. Nor our fault Gruevski re-enforces historical propaganda by building giant Alexander statues and encouraging his citizens to see Greece as occupied territory. Nor is it Greece’s fault some have forgotten their own countries claimed not so long ago there was no such things as an ethnic Macedonian. Nor Greece’s fault some have forgotten FYROM’s identity didn’t include ancient Macedonians only a few short years ago. Nor that that some of that claim to support human rights groups dishonestly now pretend they don’t know these things.

    How seriously do you think people in Israel would take Palestinians if they suddenly claimed Arabic is the “ethnic Hasamonian language’ and that they are the “real Jews”? How do think China would react is Russia one day claimed Confucious as Russian and taught its schoolchildren 1/3 of China is “Chinese occupied Russia”?

    Your defense of disrespectful and blatantly obvious state propaganda makes a mockery of both human history and human rights (and imo amounts to dangerously close to being morally complicit in FYROM’s attempts to ethnically erase Macedonians and substitute themselves)

    No one asks simple questions like if they are now “macedonian” why wouldn’t FYROM natioanlist want to speak some dialect of Greek like Macedonians do? Why don’t they give their cities Greek names? Why don’t self-identify as Greeks as Macedonians do? Frankly, they are not only not “ethnic Macedonians” their extreme anti-Hellenic views marks them as “anti-Macedonian”

    I know exactly what your ideological problem is Spyro. Your resume screams of an obsession with extreme anti-nationalism. (which is common among leftists much like extreme nationalism is common on the right)

    You (and FYROM apologists) willfully confuse geographic with ethnological/cultural space. You patronizingly use any ambiguities or impurities whatsoever of Greeks as evidence we aren’t really connected to ancient Greeks (while meanwhile linguistic, cultural, and even our very DNA indicate we are connected to ancient Greeks).

    So some Rum millet Christian without a clear Greek ethnic consciousness in an Avrite speaking community under Ottoman ruled Greece will be framed as an “ethnic Albanian”… yet someone who identifies with Greek culture and language from the exact same period and region will be framed a “Greek speaking Christian” or “Christian Turk”. You are a modern day Fallaymeyer except you’ve substitute Albanians and Turks for Slavs

    Any ethnicity whatsoever could face ethnic erasure using the lunatic “imagined community” approach to identity and history (as no ethnicity is pure). A middle German could equally be reframed as a German-speaking Christian Roman. The Holy Roman empire renamed the “Hamburg empire” (and “Byzantine” renamed back into Roman), Germans referenced as “neo Germanic” and “modern Germans”.

    FYROM apologists claim to respect minorities and identities but all ancient history aside, I don’t believe them for as long as they offensively cherry pick “Greeks” like you as front men (because they lack the courage to take moral responsibility for their mistake in referencing FYROM as Macedonia) while they ignoring obvious state propaganda and irredentism in FYROM.

    Herodotus once wrote we never step into the same river twice. Anti-Hellenists like you would examine the changing water and claim the river does not exist. If your perceptions of Hellenism leads you believe you are not related to ancient Greeks (despite that many of our Greco-Roman Byzantine ancestors believed just that) that’s perfectly acceptable Spyro.

    Historically (including during the Roman period) we’ve tried to be inclusive and tolerant to those willing to become part of the common Greek derived culture. Some Greeks do not understand that Greek culture isn’t only about being Greek. We are also the children of friends of Hellenic culture.

    Given your extreme intolerance for Greeks perhaps it is best if in the 21st century this issue be finally put to a rest though ethnic separation. Anti-Hellenic “Greeks” like you could move to FYROM (like far leftists did during the Greek civil war), and the Greeks who do see ancient Macedonians as part of their cultural patrimony would be left in peace. (i.e. the Greekss that wish to maintain legitimate Greek culture and language for the future)

    Since you yourself claim you are not a “real” Greek, if you stopped confusing yourself and others by referencing yourself as one it would certainly help facilitate this. Albanian? Turkish? Turko-Albanian? An ethnic Bulgarians like FYROM nationalists? Give us a name to call your ethnicity because any Greek citizen that references FYROM as “Macedonians” clearly is not part of the same ethnic consciousness as millions of ethnic Greeks nor a spokesman for them.

    If any of comments offend you, imagine how Greeks feel when non-ethnic Greeks “generously” hand over our very ethnic identity to our Slavic neighbours.

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