Sunday, April 17, 2016


By Sasha Uzunov 
Dr Sam Vaknin, Israeli writer, analyst, pundit, Balkanologist, former economics advisor and confidante to Macedonian Prime Nikola Gruevski offers an insight into Macedonia’s political crisis, which was triggered last year by the Opposition party SDSM leader Zoran Zaev who confronted Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of the VMRO-DPMNE party with secretly taped recordings showing corrupt government dealings.

Gruevski resigned in early 2016 to make way for a caretaker government and for elections sometime this year as directed by European Union intervention known as the Przino Agreement -link

1. Dr Vaknin - Can recently resigned Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski survive and make a comeback?

Survive what? VMRO-DPMNE party will win the elections in June 5 by a landslide and Gruevski will again serve as Prime Minister. Both the Special Public Prosecutor and Opposition Leader (SDSM party) Zoran Zaev are in a precarious position.

2. Dr Vaknin - your views / analysis on the crisis? Causes?

All three sides involved in the crisis made serious mistakes.

In his attempt to dislodge the current government, opposition leader Zoran Zaev committed five faux-pas errors:

By releasing his bombs over an extended period of time, Zaev fostered a chronic, prolonged, and extended crisis. Experience shows that in order to induce a regime change, Zaev should have opted for an acute crisis: overwhelming (“shock and awe”), strictly limited in time, and immediately escalated. Chronic, protracted crises alienate the suffering population and backfire against the initiator of the crisis: they resent him for disrupting their lives unnecessarily and begin to suspect his motives;

Zaev (and the international community which egged him on) completely misjudged and misread the psychology of their adversary, Nikola Gruevski. The Prime Minister is a man of principles, stubborn, convinced of his own values, considers himself omniscient and infallible, and regards the opposition as self-interested and destructive. He reacts to blackmail and threats with a stiffening of his resolve. The more he is backed into a corner, the less likely he is to surrender, especially to people whom he considers to be long arms of foreign powers, acting against the national interest;

Instead of relying on people power, street demonstrations, strikes, and other populist and popular expressions of discontent, Zaev chose to secretly negotiate with Gruevski, tete-a-tete, like two elitist conspirators about to divide the spoils of a successful bank heist. This made him look like a dishonest control freak, out to secure sinecures, jobs, money and power for himself and his acolytes. Hardly the profile of a national, selfless hero-whistleblower. People even began to speculate that he has embarked on this adventure merely to avoid a possible prison sentence in one of several investigations and cases against him;

Convinced that Gruevski was a dangerously delusional, authoritarian, and anti-Western strongman (not unlike Erdogan, Putin, and the late but not lamented Chavez), the international community decide to dispose of him. They trusted Zaev to do the job, but he failed. His failure engendered growing domestic and regional instability which threatened both the Balkans and the West’s fight against ISIS. The West always prefers stability to democracy. The tide has turned: now Zaev and his attempts to destabilize Macedonia have become the immediate threat, the clear and present danger to the interests of the international community.

By targeting only Macedonian politicians in his bombs, Zaev appeared to be increasingly pro-Albanian, letting this restless and vociferous ethnic minority become the natural arbiters of power between the warring internecine and immature Macedonian political factions. This bias did not endear him to a big segment of the increasingly more nationalistic and anti-Albanian Macedonian public.

Nikola Gruevski, the longest-serving Prime Minister of Macedonia, came to power on a platform of economic reforms. In less than a decade he has transformed the Macedonian business scene, passed numerous laws in various spheres of public and private life, and, for better or for worse, altered the aesthetics of Skopje, the capital. But he failed to tackle the pervasive culture of nepotism and cronyism and the vast informal social networks that undermine the rule of law and foster corruption as a way of life throughout Macedonia. His deep-felt need to exert and maintain control over everyone and everything led Gruevski to aid and abet the rent-seeking conduct of Macedonian businessmen and the media, rendering them vassals of the state.

Gruevski surrounded himself with loyal, obedient, but inexperienced functionaries and Ministers. Their tender age and inexperience would have disqualified them from office anywhere else in Europe. The hubris, contemptuous arrogance, and lack of self-discipline of the Prime Minister’s inner circle is evident in Zaev’s illicit recordings. But Gruevski felt that he had no choice: he could not rely on or trust the former elites of the country (affiliated with the opposition) whom he justly regarded as kleptocratic, venal, mendacious, and disloyal to the interests and priorities of the nation.

But Gruevski underestimated the groundswell of focused ill-will toward his regime. His populism and Narodnik, anti-elitist, anti-intellectual revolution alienated many constituencies: the urban middle-class, the country’s intellectuals, self-appointed elites, erstwhile managers and politicians, journalists, and even bona fide social and political reformers. The backlash against him reflected the pent-up resentment of these excluded and ignored constituencies. The release of Zaev’s bombs was the latest skirmish after they had lost the battles over Skopje 2014 (the interminable reconstruction and beautification of the capital) and the Name Issue (the conflict with Greece over the country’s official name and, therefore, its historical roots and identity). With Zaev’s bombs, these disgruntled leftovers of previous regimes felt that their time has finally come and that this may be their last chance to wrest power from Gruevski, who is still by far the most popular politician in Macedonia. Hence their panicky reaction to his adamant refusal to step down.

Gruevski should have been magnanimous in victory. He should have been less insecure. He should have adopted a more tolerant and inclusive policy towards the opposition and its journalists. He should have leveraged the human capital of the SDSM – its professors, intellectuals, and managers – to the benefit of the state. Given that Macedonia is a small country with a dire shortage of qualified and skilled people, permanently blacklisting half the population is a bad idea. In the United Kingdom, the opposition participates in decision-making in the form of a shadow government. In other countries, there are permanent consultative bodies which incorporate the opposition. Macedonia would do well to emulate these models. The civil service, the administration, should be strictly separated, with a Chinese wall, from the political parties. There are tried and true methods of accomplishing this separation in short order. The first step should be the introduction of term limits: a Prime Minister should never serve more than 2 mandates in a row. Even Putin had to resign when he served two terms in office as President!

When it comes to the European Union and, more generally, the West, Gruevski is understandably disappointed. As a country, Macedonia has been consistently lied to, manipulated, promises were broken, and rogue members (Greece and Bulgaria) allowed to subvert the accession process. But Gruevski should ease up on the rabid nationalistic, conspiratorial, and anti-Western propaganda. Even more importantly: he should stop acting or appear to be acting against the vital interests of the West. Allowing Iran to open an embassy and operate freely in Macedonia was not a good idea. Allowing Turkey a free hand here with regards to its Middle-Eastern allies is an even worse idea. Getting too friendly with Russia is definitely bad thinking. In a small and impoverished country, the national interest is identical to the national interests of its greatest benefactors, export markets, and hosts to its Gastarbeiter. As Gruevski found out the hard way, you cross the West (USA and EU) at your peril.

Gruevski should have been more attuned to the lessons of the Arab Spring and Ukraine. He underestimated technology and how it empowers the hitherto disenfranchised and impotent. With minimal or no investment, blogs and social media, YouTube and Facebook, helped to amplify and magnify the voices and opinions of his adversaries. Inconvenient truths found home and distribution networks where none had existed when he first became Prime Minister.

Finally, Gruevski’s obsession with foreign direct investment (FDI) prevented him from realizing his economic agenda. Macedonia may be the second fastest growing economy in Europe, but, in terms of developing countries, its growth is lacklustre and driven mainly by non-productive investment such as construction and government largesse. It is still way too dependent on remittances and, therefore, on the ups and downs of the global economy. He should have emphasized domestic investment and family firms and not link his and the country’s future to the whims and caprices of multinationals who regard Macedonia as just another fringe statistic in their enormous portfolios.

As Gruevski’s nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-Western rhetoric grew shriller and as he cosied up to the likes of Iran, Russia, and Turkey, the West decided that he should “step down”. As usual, the inept, corrupt, and none-too-intelligent functionaries of the European Union teamed up with arrogant, ignorant, and incompetent US intelligence operators to bungle it all up and make a godawful mess of things. There was no overt conspiracy to change Macedonia’s regime. Rather, the West switched its allegiance to the opposition and provided it with invaluable information, moral support, and an avalanche of reports which damned the government and its high-handed, authoritarian misconduct.

- What about the foreign takeover of the protectorate known as the Republic of Macedonia? What about the "putsch or coup of foreigners"?

The West overestimated Zaev, misjudged Gruevski, and misread the national character of the Macedonians. We have analyzed Zaev’s mistakes in the first part of this triptych. He failed to deliver. Blackmail and threats only rendered Gruevski even more intransigent and entrenched in his conviction that, chosen by the people, he should never surrender to a clique of criminals (as he regarded them). The Macedonians are a peace-loving, conflict-averse, and submissive lot. They avoid trouble even at a great personal cost. No matter what he did and what revelations he showered on them, Zaev did not succeed to mobilize the people’s power. His biweekly appearances fast degenerated into a perverse form of prurient entertainment.

The International “Community” steadfastly ignored the risks that an increasingly unstable Macedonia posed not only to its immediate neighbors, but to more global interests. Macedonia is the main gateway to Middle-Eastern refugees crossing into Europe and to European jihadists flocking into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. It also features as an important junction in Europe-wide several gas pipeline schemes. Its restive Albanian minority has close kinship and business links with unsavoury characters across two borders: Kosovo and Albania. Crime is a way of life to many young, unemployed, uneducated, and destitute members of these communities. Some of them smuggle refugees across borders – a lucrative vocation. Others joined the fray in the Middle-East and returned home, well-trained in urban guerrilla. It is an explosive mix. Thus, the “regime change operation” could not have been more ill-timed.

The West’s overt and heavy-handed interference in the internal affairs of Macedonia (as if it were a colony or a protectorate) tarnished the opposition as a traitorous fifth column. This bout of Western arm-twisting and threats was only the latest round in a long series of lies, deceptions, and abuse heaped over Macedonia in the past two decades: a mountain ridge of broken promises, humiliating surrenders to Greek and Bulgarian (and now Albanian) vetoes, and blatantly unfair exclusion from NATO and the EU. The West’s policy consists of only sticks, no carrots – the Greek took all the carrots away.

The EU’s mismanaged public relations, haughty statements by pompous officials, and its typically bumbling and obscure way of managing the crisis as well as the esoteric secrecy that shrouded the whole affair led ineluctably to the proliferation of conspiracy theories and to a metastasizing paranoid xenophobia. These are the long-term legacies of this engineered crisis, regardless of its outcomes.

3. Dr Vaknin - Any impact on the name issue?

None. Both Macedonia and Greece are reaping the benefits of the stalemate over the name issue. Macedonian political parties leverage the name issue to their advantage by fostering chauvinistic nationalism. The Greeks wish to prevent Macedonia's accession to the EU because they believe that Macedonia is an artificial polity that, left to its own devices will disintegrate, thus allowing Greece both terorritorial and geopolitical gains.

4. Dr Vaknin - Macedonian President George Ivanov's pardons are they not a bad look for Macedonia and rule of law? And will it have an adverse effect ? link

President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon to avoid a protracted and ruinous period of legal tangles and civil unrest in a difficult period in the USA. The crisis in Macedonia spiralled out of control. The very sovereignty and integrity of Macedonia were being compromised. Ivanov was right and brave to have put a much-needed stop to it. But, he should have conditioned such amnesty on a full and public disclosure of wrongdoing by the culprits and a restitution to the coffers of the state of ill-gotten gains in return for immunity from prosecution;

Macedonia is a society traumatized by multiple catastrophes in a short period of time. This post-traumatic condition leads to dysfunctional and self-destructive behaviors and traits. National healing of these wounds and traumas should be a top priority. This could be achieved via Truth and Reconciliation Committees (such as in South Africa or Latin America) or even by implementing a "national healing" program that will apply to individuals and institutions which have been affected by these mishaps and disasters.

 Like in many other countries (including the USA and Russia), there should be an upper limit on the number of terms the Prime Minister can serve and be re-elected. This limitation will prevent power from becoming entrenched and concentrated in the hands of a single individual. Macedonia should remove the political parties from the business of running the country. Like in the United Kingdom, a civil service should take care of day to day activities. Policy-making will, of course, be left to politicians, but not implementation, procurement, and employment. Non-partisan expert bodies with multiple checks and balances and oversight should regulate, govern, oversee, and execute policies - not politicians. Party members should not be allowed to serve in certain critical functions of the state.

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