The World Today for April 24, 2024

NEED TO KNOW

Finding a Foothold

NORTH MACEDONIA

A symbol of international solidarity, University Hall, recently burned down in the North Macedonian capital of Skopje. The hall was built after a major earthquake in 1963 using donations from 35 countries, Euronews explained.

The incident was ironic given how many North Macedonians could be running out of patience with their country’s foreign relations – frustration that could affect the upcoming first round of presidential elections on April 24.

North Macedonia, a tiny Balkan nation and former Yugoslav republic, joined NATO in 2020 after the country – formerly called just “Macedonia” – changed its name, resolving a diplomatic dispute with Greece.

Now North Macedonia is negotiating with European leaders over its pending membership of the European Union. It is without question one of the country’s most important diplomatic goals.

Late last year, for instance, North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said EU accession has helped suppress tensions between ethnic Macedonians, who are Slavs, ethnic Albanians, and other minorities. These tensions fueled some of the worst atrocities in Europe in the wars of Yugoslav secession in the 1990s.

“North Macedonia is multi-ethnic, multicultural … The only narrative that has subordinated these conflicting narratives and has become a glue for all these narratives is the European Union,” Osmani told Politico.

At present, for example, an ethnic Albanian, Talat Xhaferi, is now serving as prime minister in a caretaker government, Reuters wrote.

Incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski is seeking a second term with the support of the governing Social Democratic Union coalition, reported the Associated Press. Pendarovski is considered pro-EU. He is running against Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova of the center-right opposition coalition, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE).

VMRO-DPMNE seems content to delay EU membership. They opposed Xhaferi’s premiership, too. “Talat Xhaferi is a man who comes from a party in which all the leaders’ mouths are full of European values, but whose actions only show how they are violated,” said a VMRO-DPMNE statement issued early this year.

Neighboring Bulgaria, an EU member, has blocked North Macedonia’s EU application for a year because VMRO-DPMNE lawmakers have refused to grant rights to the Bulgarian minority community in North Macedonia’s constitution, explained Euractiv. Bulgaria has also refused to acknowledge the existence of the Macedonian language, which is similar to Bulgarian. As a result of these issues, North Macedonia has not begun formal membership talks.

VMRO-DPMNE is now leading in the polls. In addition to stopping accession to the EU by refusing to satisfy Bulgaria’s demands, the party would likely scrap ethnic quotas in North Macedonian public sector jobs that Balkan Insight described as a “balancer” mechanism that helped smooth out relations between the country’s ethnic communities.

As a result, the publication added, officials in Brussels are watching the elections closely.

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