The Balkans was best known for minority problems. Today, the most bitter conflicts are between parties that appeal to majority ethnic communities. As recent turbulence in Macedonia shows, Eastern Europe could face new dangers if majority populism ends the current stigma against separatism for oppressed small groups.
EU leaders gave North Macedonia long-awaited green light to start formal EU accession talks and it joined NATO. Following French President Macron’s Feb announcement that France was ready to lift opposition to opening of EU accession negotiations, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi 2 March confirmed his recommendation that EU open talks with North Macedonia, stating govt had taken “significant steps to strengthen the independence of the judiciary”, including recent adoption of EU-sought Law on Prosecution. EU leaders 26 March gave approval for North Macedonia (and Albania) to start formal membership talks. President Pendarovski 20 March signed NATO accession agreement after Spain 17 March ratified accession protocol, final NATO member state to do so. Party leaders 17 March agreed to postpone 12 April elections over concerns about COVID-19, without setting new date for polls. Pendarovski 19 March declared state of emergency over outbreak.
Macedonia is being shaken by twin political and security crises, both of which could escalate into violent confrontation or worse. While another civil war in the Western Balkans is not imminent, there is a serious threat to regional stability that the country’s leaders and international partners need to contain.
Ten years after the Ohrid Agreement ended fighting between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, Macedonia is more stable and inclusive, but political party and ethnic tensions are growing, and the new government needs to reverse the negative trends.
Macedonia is a relative success story in a region scarred by unresolved statehood and territory issues. International engagement has, since the 2001 conflict with an ethnic Albanian insurgency, brought progress in integrating Albanians into political life. This has been underpinned by the promise of European Union (EU) and NATO integration, goals that unite ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. But the main NATO/EU strategy for stabilising Macedonia and the region via enlargement was derailed in 2008 by the dispute with Greece over the country’s name.
The European Union summit’s December 2005 decision to grant EU candidacy status is a significant milestone on Macedonia’s path to European integration. However, its open-ended nature, with no start date for accession talks, indicates the practical and policy challenges the country still faces to become a stable post-conflict democracy.
The EU’s present visa regime with the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro including Kosovo) is fostering resentment, inhibiting progress on trade, business, education and more open civil societies, and as a result contributing negatively to regional stability.
Political instability keeps growing in the Western Balkans amid geopolitical contests and increased tensions with Russia. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to engage intensively to ensure the political space for avoiding more serious crisis does nto entirely vanish in the Western Balkans.
Originally published in NovaTV
Originally published in The Riga Conference
Just two years ago it appeared that deadly conflict in Macedonia was no longer a serious risk. Recent events have revived the threat.
Originally published in POLITICO