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Belgrade Media Report 23 July 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Thursday 23 July 2020

LOCAL PRESS

Vucic: They want the same, they want an independent Kosovo (RTS/B92)
Vulin thanks Botsan-Kharchenko on Russia’s active support and principled stand in preserving Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty (RTV)
Bujanovac, Albanian parties independently form government (RTS)
Expert teams of Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels (Tanjug/RTV)
NATO Week in Belgrade: Only nine percent of people support membership (N1)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Vucic: Serbia motherland of all Serbs worldwide (Srna)
B&H CEC calls on B&H CoM to urgently react and secure money for local elections, otherwise they will not be held on 15 November (Nova BH)
Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee adopts Rules of Procedure after five years (FTV)
Roth: Balkans is not backyard, but central courtyard of EU (Nezavisne)
Croatia

Tenth parliamentary Assembly sworn in (HRT)
Montenegro

Pazin: Government proposal was the end line of compromise (CDM)
Brajovic: We can only accept dialogue about the implementation of the law (CDM)
Markovic: Claiming that the government is working on converting Montenegrins into Catholicism is nonsense (CDM)
Republic of North Macedonia

Ahmeti invited to testify at The Hague-based Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (MIA)
Pendarovski to hold consultations with parties before giving mandate to form gov’t (MIA/TV 21)
Albania

SP and parliamentary opposition: 5 June agreement to be voted on 23 July, lists to open on 30 July (Radio Tirana)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

ANALYSIS – Corona elections in North Macedonia produce ambivalent results (Anadolu Agency)

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LOCAL PRESS 

Vucic: They want the same, they want an independent Kosovo (RTS/B92

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told the RTS prime news on Wednesday evening that Serbs would like the most if someone else could fight for Kacanik on our behalf, because we are ready to fight for cafes, one percent of the population wants to fight for Kacanik. “We are not opposing the Albanians there, it is completely the same whether we are talking to them or the representatives of the EU or America. They want the same thing, they want an independent Kosovo,” he said, adding that they want to reduce our room for maneuver. “Everyone around Kosovo and Metohija wants Serbia to recognize Kosovo’s independence. If we don’t go to the talks, we will be denounced. At some point, we will be pressured to do it. I am a political veteran and I know what consequences I will face with, but I will protect the country, not myself,” he said. “They will create a single local government against Serbs in Bujanovac, and in my country, Albanian representatives asked us to integrate them into state bodies,” Vucic states. He adds that he was happy about that, but that they then went to Albania, where they were told to form a government without 42% of Serbs, and to expel the SNS. “Disperse Serbs at the local level, asking on the other hand for one percent participation in Belgrade at the central level. That theory is a little strange,” Vucic points out. He said that he would not allow it, and he is not interested, as he says, in protesting. “I am interested in the will of the people, not the will of force and thugs. I will not flatter anyone,” he underlined. Vucic said only that those at the time when Kosovo declared independence did not say what should be done, at the time when the International Court of Justice made such a decision, at the time when Ranko Panic was killed.

The Russian portal Sputnik reported that the authorities in Pristina have been negotiating for months with the German intelligence services on the procurement of cannons and anti-tank missile systems for the so-called Kosovo army, with the approval of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Vucic said tonight that he asked the Military Intelligence Agency for information as soon as he saw the news on Sputnik. Vucic said that he did not think that Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija would get “leopard” tanks, but that he did not rule out the possibility of getting weapons for the destruction of anti-tank vehicles. ‘We procured Belgian rifles, we make our modular rifle. That is why I want to tell our people in the weapon industry to get serious, they will get new help from the state. Something strange is happening, everyone is arming themselves throughout the region,” he said. Vucic said that there was a huge problem with the training and additional armament of the so-called Kosovo army, but he said that Serbia would be protected.

New government by the end of August 

Vucic told RTS that the provincial parliament will be formed by 1 August, and the parliament by 3 or 4 August. “The government should be constituted at the end of August, that’s how I expect it to be,” Vucic said. Stating that he is working on forming a government with associates and friends, he told the citizens not to believe what they read in the media about the alleged composition of the new government, because it’s all fabrications. “The SPS will have two ministers, three ministers… These will be these or those ministers, some are recommended, so they modestly say that they do not expect that, but that they are available if needed… Everything is a lie,” Vucic said. As he said, according to the information he got from Ana Brnabic, three quarters of the ministers are on vacation or they act as if they are on vacation.

Vulin thanks Botsan-Kharchenko on Russia’s active support and principled stand in preserving Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty (RTV

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin met with Russian Ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko and agreed that the two countries’ relations are at the highest level thanks to personal relations of the two Presidents and the supreme commanders of the Serbian Army and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Aleksandar Vucic and Vladimir Putin. Vulin thanked for Russia’s active support and principled stand in preserving Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Botsan-Kharchenko underlined that the Russian Federation is carefully monitoring the resumption of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue towards finding a long-term political solution that is in the interest of and acceptable for Serbia, adding that the resumption of the dialogue is of extreme importance. Vulin and the Russian Ambassador pointed out that cooperation of the two defense ministries and two armies is at a historical peak, stressing the importance of continuing military-technical cooperation. Vulin accepted the invitation of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to attend the closure of the sixth “International Military Games” in the Russian Federation in which the Serbian army traditionally participates.

Bujanovac, Albanian parties independently form government (RTS

The representatives of four Albanian parties independently formed the local government at the constitutive session in Bujanovac on Wednesday. This is for the first time after 18 years that the government is not multi-ethnic. Following a seven-hour-long session, Nagip Arifi from the Democratic Party was elected the President of the Bujanovac municipality, while he performed this post in three mandates. The President of the Assembly is Enver Ramadani from the Party for Democratic Action. “The Serb side will be enabled to be part of the extended coalition. I hope to conduct talks in that direction next week or in the course of next month. We wanted to respect the law today, since this was the last day as regards the one month for the election, i.e. constitutive session,” Arifi said.  The Serbian deputies of the coalitions gathered around the SNS and SPS left the session after the verification of mandates. “We Serbs had objections to something like this since the entire Serb people had been excluded from social and political life of the Bujanovac municipality. We think this is not good, we think the Albanians are sending a bad message primarily to our neighbors Serbs who are living with them,” says Nenad Mitrovic, SNS Bujanovic. Stojanca Arsic from the SPS coalition says they lost 16 years this way. “In the beginning some hybrid multi-ethnic government functioned about two years, but after 2010 to this day we had this principle to form a multi-ethnic government based on representation, based on proportional composition of the population of Romas, Serbs and Albanians,” said Arsic.

Expert teams of Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels (Tanjug/RTV

Expert teams of Belgrade and Pristina will meet today in Brussels in order to continue work within the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Belgrade’s delegation will be headed by the Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric, and Pristina’s delegation by the newly appointed coordinator in the dialogue Skender Hiseni. “Kosovo and Serbia have been invited to send their experts in order to continue to deal with issues launched at the meeting of leaders last Thursday,” said the EU spokeswoman Nabila Masrali. The EEAS adds they do not wish to present any more details of the plan and agenda of talks, as was the case with the technical talks during the past years of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in Brussels.

 

NATO Week in Belgrade: Only nine percent of people support membership (N1)

The survey presented during the eight NATO week in Belgrade on Wednesday showed that the significant majority of Serbia’s citizens was against the country’s membership in the Alliance.

Bojan Klacar, the Director of Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, CeSID, said its telephone study showed that about a half of polled would support Serbia’s EU membership, while 31 percent would be against. Regarding joining NATO, only nine percent would agree to it, while 72 percent would be against. Klacar added that 65 percent of those covered by the survey CeSID did with the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, the host of the gathering, supported better relations with the US, and 40 percent saw Washington’s policy toward Serbia as improved.

The participants included NATO representatives, foreign ambassadors to Serbia and some top country’s officials.

REGIONAL PRESS 

 

Vucic: Serbia motherland of all Serbs worldwide (Srna)

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic said today in Banja Luka that 540,000 Euros was deposited on the account of the Republika Srpska (RS) government today for schools and health centers in Mrkonjic Grad and Sipovo, that money for the Petrovac Spiritual Centre to be constructed jointly with RS is being deposited today, as well as that Serbia sent 10,000 tests to RS last night. Vucic says that all Serbs in the world, wherever they live, must know that Serbia is one and only motherland, which must always be available to RS. Emphasizing how proud he is to be in Banja Luka today, Vucic says that the unity of RS and Serbia means a lot to the Serb people. “That is why it is not a matter of gift, help and support for us, it is our obligation and part of our responsibility. It is part of our serious approach because Serbia must take care of RS. Serbia must show responsibility towards RS. Serbia must always be available and I am convinced that people in RS know that,” Vucic said outside the University Clinical Centre of RS, where 15 ambulances were donated to health centers in the municipalities across RS. Vucic says that Serbia is transferring 540,000 Euros for schools and health centers in Mrkonjic Grad and Sipovo, which was earlier agreed, and that money is deposited on the account of the RS government. He points out that the money for the Petrovac Spiritual Centre, which will be built jointly with RS, is being deposited today. “I am especially proud of that. We will take over 90 percent of the costs needed for the construction of a memorial and a memorial home on the Petrovac Road /Petrovacka cesta/, where Serbs who were fleeing from Krajina suffered the most, but we are working together,” said Vucic. He says that children of people who were guilty only because they were Serbs and who wanted to take refuge in RS and Serbia to save their young lives and their pure souls were killed on Petrovac Road. “Can you believe that we have not been able to construct a single monument and to think of our own children for 25 years. Now we can, not only because we have more money, despite this difficult crisis and situation. You have seen many measures which Serbia undertakes and the type of support it provides to companies in Serbia, that we have more money today, thanks to the difficult reforms we undertook in the previous period,” Vucic said. He says it is exactly why numerous injustices that were done to his people silently, being afraid of telling the truth or taking responsibility, always taking care not to offend anyone, can be corrected nowadays. “We always wanted more to be praised by someone in the region, to write a nice word about us, being afraid of being criticized for something. I must proudly say today that I am much more interested in what we are doing, not what someone would say or write about us. If we don’t take care of ourselves, as well as the heritage of the Serb origin and people, what can we hope for in the future,” said Vucic. He asks who sings and writes in a more beautiful and pure language than Aleksa Santic, Jovan Ducic, Petar Kocic, Branko Copic, Ivo Andric or Mesa Selimovic, adding that none of these famous people, knights of Serbian culture, were born in Serbia. “Are they less Serbs for that?” Vucic asked. Quoting the people’s tribune Petar Kocic, who wrote – the homeland is a tie that connects us with people of our background and language, whether they belong to the past or the future, or to live in the present – Vucic says that wherever Serbs live, they must know that they have one and only motherland, Serbia. “But they must also know what RS means to us and that Serbia guarantees the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement with its signature. That signature guarantees RS precisely because of the immense love that exists between a Serb from Banja Luka and a Serb from Belgrade, between a Serb from Ljubinje and a Serb from Pirot, between a Serb from Novi Grad and a Serb from Sombor, we have an obligation to always assist as much as we can,” said Vucic. He points out that Serbia sent 10,000 tests to RS, Wednesday evening, emphasizing it will send more, if necessary. “Whatever you need – ask for it. As much as we can – we will help and we will not be ashamed of it and we will not justify ourselves to anyone,” said Vucic.

 

B&H CEC calls on B&H CoM to urgently react and secure money for local elections, otherwise they will not be held on 15 November (Nova BH)

At an urgent session that was held in Sarajevo on Wednesday, the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Central Election Commission (CEC) called on the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) to urgently react and secure the money necessary to hold the local elections on 15 November. The B&H CEC warned that all the deadlines have been breached and, unless the money is secured, the local elections will not be held on 15 November. President of the B&H CEC Zeljko Bakalar stated: “We are waiting for funds that must be allocated to us within the next seven days, otherwise the elections are unlikely to be held on the scheduled date.” Also, there is no money for 30 persons to be hired under temporary service contracts, nor it is possible to sign a contract with the company ‘Unioninvestplastika’ that was selected to print the ballots. This means that it is impossible to print the ballots in a timely manner – and they should be ready mid-September so that they can be sent to voters outside B&H, according to member of the B&H CEC Irena Hadziabdic. The reporter reminded that the money has not been secured yet because the budget of B&H for 2020 was adopted in two different versions. During the session of the B&H House of Peoples (HoP), delegates interpreted the amendments submitted by HDZ B&H and supported by SNSD as new blockades. SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic said that it seems like someone wants to postpone the elections. HDZ B&H’s Lidija Bradara argued that HDZ B&H is ready for the elections as early as tomorrow, adding that she cannot see any reason for this party to obstruct this process. A commission in charge of harmonization will try to reach an agreement on a single version of the budget proposal in the upcoming period. Commenting on this issue, former member of the B&H CEC Vehid Sehic was quoted as saying that the state of B&H and the B&H CEC itself are hostages of several political parties that can annul all rights of citizens and put all institutions under control by a single decision, simply saying that there is no money so there will be no elections.

Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee adopts Rules of Procedure after five years (FTV)

Members of the B&H parliament in the Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee between B&H parliament and the European Parliament (EP) adopted on Wednesday the Rules of Procedures (RoP) of the Committee. In this way, one of 14 priorities from the European Commission’s Opinion was fulfilled after five-year-long stalemate. Member of the Committee Denis Zvizdic (SDA) stated that this is important step ahead for the EU path of B&H and evidence of commitment of B&H to become the EU member country. Chair of the Committee Nebojsa Radmanovic (SNSD) underlined that they managed to reach agreement on Article 7 of the RoP that has been preventing proper functioning of the Committee for several years. The EU Delegation to B&H commended this and stressed that it is possible for leaders in B&H to reach a joint agreement on issues in B&H.

Roth: Balkans is not backyard, but central courtyard of EU (Nezavisne)

German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth stated that Balkans is not the backyard of Europe as German media often claim, but rather EU’s central courtyard. Roth emphasized that EU integration of Western Balkan countries is in Germany’s best interest, and that the EU should find a way to help Balkan countries implement the necessary reforms as soon as possible. Speaking about Germany’s EU Presidency, Roth announced that Germany will organize a separate conference to discuss the future of the young generation in the Western Balkans. He underlined that Balkans can achieve prosperity only with stronger engagement of the EU, and added that the EU must improve its visibility. According to him, the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue is the biggest challenge at the moment. “We need to be more emotional. It must be clear that we are not some kind of technocratic caravan,” said Roth adding that the EU should solve problems and put topics on the agenda that concern people. Asked to comment Roth’s statement, political analyst Tanja Topic said that Germany will be focusing more on North Macedonia and Albania. According to her, many people in B&H perceive EU membership as a gift which does not have to be deserved. She underlined that until such attitude changes, B&H will not be making any significant progress.

 

Tenth parliamentary Assembly sworn in (HRT)

The new, tenth parliamentary assembly was sworn in on Wednesday, only seventeen days after the parliamentary elections. The HDZ’s Gordan Jandrokovic was voted in almost unanimously to a second mandate as Parliament Speaker, making him the first speaker to hold two consecutive terms. Of the five deputy speakers of parliament three are from the parliamentary majority, Zeljko Reiner and Ante Sanader from the HDZ and Italian Minority MP Furio Radin. The two deputy speakers from the opposition are Rajko Ostojic from the SDP and Miroslav Skoro from the Homeland Movement. MPs are expected to convene for a debate on the proposed new government on Thursday, with the new government of Prime Minister-designate Andrej Plenkovic scheduled to be approved by the end of the week. The formality was held under strict epidemiological measures and for the first time in Croatian history, without the country’s President, as Zoran Milanovic opted to not attend.

 

Pazin: Government proposal was the end line of compromise (CDM)

Expert dialogue between the government and Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) didn’t produce the expected result, although the government demonstrated patience, competence and willingness to overcome differences and divisions within Montenegro’s social being, said vice-president of the Montenegrin government and Minister of Justice Zoran Pazin. “What we proposed was the end line of compromise, we even crossed that line. There’s no sense in going on with the dialogue as the government’s offer was explicit and it was explicitly rejected,” Pazin said. Although the SPC has made over 2.000 remarks concerning the earlier versions of the law, Pazin says that they have managed to bring all the disputable items to several issues. “We proposed amendments to Articles 63 and 64. We also offered additional guarantees in the Article 64 for the use of cultural goods when the court decided in regular procedure that the property is state-owned. Unfortunately, all proposals were rejected,” Pazin points out. The government’s prerequisite was registration of the SPC in Montenegro. “The SPC raised another issue during the dialogue –the term “state property” should not be in the Article 62 although that term has been used in Montenegro’s legal system since its establishment. The SPC also rejected proposal to join efforts with the government in defining norms adopted by the Venice Commission. However, Pazin hopes that the SPC will reconsider its views concerning these questions. “The government will be open to listen to all the arguments,” Pazin said. Asked what the background of religious processions is, Pazin stresses that he should not be the one to draw conclusions regarding that matter. “I respect every religious community, although previous activities of SOC indicate its political positioning on public stage. It could be an expression of the need to reinforce its argumentation in the dialogue,” Pazin said.

Brajovic: We can only accept dialogue about the implementation of the law (CDM)

Dialogue is acceptable to me only when it concerns application, not amendments to the Law on Freedom of Religion, said Ivan Brajovic, Montenegrin parliament speaker. Brajovic reiterated his personal view and the view of his party in relation to the law. “Our view has been the same since the period of the preparation and adoption of this law,” he said. “Our mandate is to preserve Montenegro’s name, to preserve its proud history and protect all citizens. That’s why this parliament adopted the Law which guarantees all religious communities equal rights and freedoms. Montenegro can only decide about the use of state-owned property,” Brajovic said. Laws are passed to be respected and applied, he pointed out.

Markovic: Claiming that the government is working on converting Montenegrins into Catholicism is nonsense (CDM)

Claims that the government of Montenegro is actively working on converting Montenegrins into Catholicism are absolute nonsense. Only those who are guided by converting Montenegrins into the Serbian national corpus could have come up with something like that, said Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic during the Prime Minister’s hour. DF member Budimir Aleksic asked the PM if the government is actively working on changing the identity of the Orthodox population in Montenegro. “You have been bribing prince Nikola Petrovic with millions since 2011, because he is a Roman Catholic while other descendants of the Petrovic dynasty, who remained faithful to Orthodoxy, have been left without any help and support,” Aleksic said.

Markovic denounced such claims as complete nonsense. “I have to admit that I had to read your question several times just to make sure that you are really asking me that. And trying to corroborate your claim, you only managed to confuse me even more. What you stated as your supporting argumentation makes no sense at all. As we all know, almost three thirds of the Montenegrin population are Orthodox. Claims that the government of Montenegro is actively working on converting Montenegrins into Catholicism are absolute nonsense. Only those who are guided by converting Montenegrins into the Serbian national corpus could have come up with something like that,” he said. Markovic said that every Montenegrin citizen has the right to express freely his/her national or religious identity. “There’s no such thing as the government’s commitment to eliminating the SPC. The Law is not aimed against the SPC or taking away its property or changing its status. We offered complete protection of the SPC property and it was rejected! We have been trying to clarify all misconceptions with the heads of the SPC regarding the new law with huge patience and tolerance,” Markovic pointed out. Touching on his recent text published in Pobjeda, Markovic stated that total ignorance or evil intention were at the core of the attempts to identify the image of Saint Sava with the political ideology that emerged in the 30s of the last century. “There’s no Montenegrin nation or Montenegrin state in that concept. Everything is Serbian,” he said. And now that your question took me back to these historical themes, I have to remind you of some facts about the relationship of the creators and protagonists of the nationalism of Saint Sava and anti-fascist movement. I believe you know that Adolf Hitler ordained bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic. I will quote the words of Nikolaj Velimirovic: “The present German leader deserves to be respected, because he realized that nationalism without faith is anomaly, a cold and insecure mechanism. And in the 20th century he came up with the idea of Saint Sava and tasked himself with the most important job”. So, anti-Jewish ideas and anti-Semitism are very much present in some segments of the work of Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic, Markovic said. He dismissed claims that the government is helping Prince Nikola Petrovic because he is Catholic. “These are the facts: nine years ago, the parliament of Montenegro adopted the Law on the status of the descendants of the Dynasty Petrovic Njegos. In accordance with this Law, descendants of the dynasty are represented by the oldest male descendant, and that’s grand-grandson of King Nikola, Prince Nikola Petrovic. The government has been fulfilling its duties envisaged by this Law. That’s all,” Markovic said.

 

Ahmeti invited to testify at The Hague-based Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (MIA)

DUI leader Ali Ahmeti has received an invitation to appear in the role of witness at The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office charged with investigating war crimes, he said in a social media post on Wednesday. “I’ve always stood for rule of law and unselective justice, both at domestic and international level. The Hague-based Specialist Prosecutor’s Office has invited me to give testimony as one of the founders of Kosovo Liberation Army and member of the general staff. I accepted the invitation and have already contacted officials. I’ve always stood for indiscriminate justice and am at the disposal of the courts as a witness of the Albanian people’s war for liberation from the genocide of Milosevic’s Serbian regime,” read Ahmeti’s post.

Last week, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci was questioned at The Hague about his role in the Kosovo War. It’s unclear at this point whether the invitation extended to Ahmeti is in any way related to Thaci’s testimony. Besides Thaci, The Hague-based Specialist Prosecutor’s Office has also indicted Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) leader Kadri Veseli, who served as head of the Kosovo Intelligence Service until 2008, and other KLA top officials.

Pendarovski to hold consultations with parties before giving mandate to form gov’t (MIA/TV 21)

President Stevo Pendarovski is planning on holding consultations with political parties before giving the party or parties that has/have secured the majority of seats in parliament the mandate to form a new government, his office told TV 21 on Wednesday. Consultations with parties are set to be held after the constitutive session of the parliament. According to the Constitution, each newly-elected Parliament must hold a constitutive meeting no later than 20 days after the election. The President is obliged, within 10 days of the constitution of the Parliament, to give the mandate for forming a government to a candidate from the party or parties which has/have the majority of seats in parliament. The Prime Minister designate then has 20 days to propose a cabinet and program to parliament. The State Election Commission (SEC) announced last week the unofficial final results of early parliamentary elections held 15 July, according to which the SDSM-led coalition “We Can” has won 46 MP seats, the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition-44 MP seats, Democratic Union for Integration (DUI)-15, Alliance for Albanians/Alternativa (AA/A)-12, Levica-2 and Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA)-1.

 

SP and parliamentary opposition: 5 June agreement to be voted on 23 July, lists to open on 30 July (Radio Tirana)

 

The parliamentary opposition has finally agreed to sign the 5 June agreement reached in the Political Council. The vote will take place on 23 July, with the parliamentary opposition and the SP saying it benefits the country’s integration process and meeting the EC condition for adopting electoral reform in full compliance with OSCE / ODIHR recommendations. Both sides have not withdrawn from opening the lists. The agreement reached will be approved by the Assembly on 30 July 2020. Prime Minister Edi Rama said that he is satisfied with the agreement reached with the parliamentary opposition. He called on the chairman of the Democratic Party Lulzim Basha to convene the Political Council and not to make the mistakes of the past, but to sit at the table.

“We have set the dates for 5 June agreement on 23 July and we have agreed to vote on 30 July to open the lists and give Albanians the opportunity to choose what they want, but also to continue the comprehensive process together with the extra-parliamentary opposition,” said Rama.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES 

ANALYSIS – Corona elections in North Macedonia produce ambivalent results (Anadolu Agency, by Dr. Idlir Lika, 22 July 2020) 

As is always the case in North Macedonia, coalition negotiations will likely be lengthy and protracted. Three different scenarios are mathematically possible and they have different implications for the country’s future 

ISTANBUL – North Macedonia went to the polls on July 15 for early parliamentary elections. Originally scheduled to be held on April 12 but then postponed because of the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, these elections were very important and significant as they were the first general elections since the Prespa Agreement that constitutionally changed the name of the country, and since North Macedonia joined NATO and was invited to commence EU accession negotiations earlier this year. The 20-day election campaign proceeded under strict safety protocols that prohibited large rallies and allowed only small group meetings; as a result, this electoral campaign was the most digital to-date. The main contenders on the ethnic Macedonian camp was a coalition of the center-left communist successor party SDSM with the small center-right Albanian party BESA (the “We Can” coalition) on the one hand, and the far-right nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE on the other. The SDSM-BESA coalition was in itself unprecedented as never before in 30 years of pluralism in North Macedonia had a Macedonian party entered a pre-electoral coalition with an Albanian party. Displaying its multi-ethnic agenda with this pre-electoral coalition, SDSM ran on a platform that promised the continuation and strengthening of its previous reforms in economy, EU integration and fight against corruption. VMRO, on the other hand, ran on the slogan “Renewal of Macedonia”, stressing the need for a fresh approach to the economy, and most importantly, lambasting SDSM for having signed the Prespa Agreement, which according to VMRO was a capitulation to Greece and erased the entire pre-1945 history and identity of the Macedonian people. The electoral landscape on the Albanian camp featured on the one side the dominant Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which, with the exception of a short interval of two years (2006-2008), had been uninterruptedly in power (as junior coalition partner of a Macedonian party) in the post-2001 period, and on the other side, a coalition of two splinter Albanian parties (the Alliance for Albanians (ASH) and the Alternative (A)) that ran on a strongly anti-corruption platform and promised to democratize the Albanian camp by dislodging BDI from power after 16 years of incumbency. Again, quite unprecedentedly, BDI ran in these elections pledging the election for the first time of an Albanian prime minister and even put forward its candidate for such a post: Naser Ziberi, deputy prime minister back in the 1990s (1994-1998) during SDSM’s coalition government with the then main Albanian party, Party for Democratic Prosperity. Despite being highly desirable in itself for every Albanian in North Macedonia, BDI’s electoral pledge of the first Albanian prime minister represented more a strategy to divert attention from the party’s past mischiefs (corruption and state capture) than a realistic commitment on its part. First, it is unlikely that either SDSM or VMRO will concede to such a demand. Second and more important, even if somehow BDI manages to convince either of the Macedonian parties to support such an option, a prime minister who does not come from the party with the plurality/majority in parliament is likely to be only a figurehead whom the parties that nominate him can use at their wishes.

Finally, the three small Turkish parties in North Macedonia as always availed themselves of both mainstream Macedonian parties to compete in these elections. Two of them, Turkish Democratic Party (TDP) led by Beycan İlyas and Turkish Movement Party (THP) led by Enes Ibrahim, became part of the “We Can” pre-electoral coalition with SDSM and BESA. The third, Turkish National Unity Party (TMBH), led by the veteran politician Erdogan Sarac, was left no option but to ally with VMRO. It is perhaps simply to legitimize this alliance choice that, despite fully endorsing the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration, TMBH rhetorically has supported VMRO in rejecting the Prespa Agreement and it considers the change of the country’s name as constitutional given that the referendum on this issue (held in September 2018) technically failed. Still, TMBH’s main electoral slogan in these elections “Biz Türkiye’yleyiz, Türkiye Bizimle” (We are with Turkey, Turkey is with us) is hard to reconcile with its support for VMRO.

Ambivalent results 

As expected, the elections returned tight results for both the main ethnic camps in the country. With a 51.34-per cent turnout rate (significantly lower than the 66-per cent turnout in the last general elections in 2016), the SDSM-BESA coalition came ahead of VMRO with a razor-thin plurality, taking 35.89 per cent of the vote and 46 of the 120 parliamentary seats, versus VMRO’s 34.57 per cent and 44 seats. Likewise, in the neck-and-neck race on the Albanian side, BDI managed to capture 15 seats by 11.48 per cent of the vote, while the ASH-A coalition took 8.95 per cent of the vote and 12 seats. Two small parties captured the remaining three seats – the far-left Levica (Left), formed by former SDSM members who broke away from the party over its strongly pro-NATO/pro-Western stance, won 2 seats, while the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), one of the two main Albanian parties throughout the 1990s and early 2000s but decimated after its former influential member Ziadin Sela broke away to form the ASH in 2015, took only one seat. On a cumulative scale, 33 Albanians were elected in this general election, but they are distributed among 4 different parties/coalitions. Still, this result is unprecedented in 30 years of pluralism in North Macedonia where the number of elected Albanian deputies was at most 25. Taken together, the ambivalent election results reflect two main patterns. First, even though SDSM came ahead of VMRO, it did so only in coalition with the Albanian BESA, which won 4 of the total 46 seats the coalition took, and SDSM had another Albanian elected from within the party itself, the SDSM deputy chairman Muhamed Zekiri. In other words, within the ethnic Macedonian camp, VMRO is about 5 seats ahead of SDSM. These results, which are very similar to the ones obtained in the last election of 2016 and in the 2018 name referendum, clearly reflect the concerning trend that VMRO’s radical nationalist vision of ancient nationhood and its anti-Western and pro-Russian stance enjoy (slightly) more support among the ethnic Macedonian electorate than SDSM’s multi-ethnic, reformist and pro-Western agenda. Second, BDI managed not only to preserve its dominant position within the Albanian camp, but also significantly increased its vote percentage and seats compared to the 2016 election (it won 5 more seats compared to 2016). Apparently, despite ASH-A’s complaints of huge electoral irregularities, BDI’s pledge of the first Albanian prime minister paid off handsomely, but the concerning trend here is that BDI’s increased strength does not bode well for the country’s future fight against corruption and state capture, the two most pressing problems North Macedonia (and all Balkan countries in general) faces in its path toward EU membership. Finally, nothing actually changed as far as the small Turkish minority is concerned. TDP and THP each succeeded in electing their respective party leaders, Beycan Ilyas and Enes Ibrahim, on SDSM ticket, while all the three TMBH candidates running on VMRO ticket (Erdogan Sarac, Furkan Cako, and Tahsin Ibrahim) failed to get elected. Apparently, Turkish voters punished TMBH for its alliance with VMRO. Overall, with only two elected deputies out of 120 (1.6 per cent), Turks in North Macedonia (who make up 3.85 per cent of the population) continue to be descriptively underrepresented, but substantively they have much more ethno-linguistic rights than their politically powerful ethnic kin in neighboring Bulgaria.

Three different scenarios for the future coalition government 

As is always the case in North Macedonia, coalition negotiations will likely be lengthy and protracted. Three different scenarios are mathematically possible and they have different implications for the country’s future. The first and most likely scenario is for the winners in the Macedonian and Albanian camps (i.e. SDSM and BDI) to come together and form a coalition. The feasibility of such an option, though, will depend on BESA’s willingness to team up with BDI (given that BESA is the antithesis of BDI on every aspect) and on BDI’s commitment to fulfill its pledge of the first Albanian prime minister. Concerning the implications of such an option for the country’s EU path, BDI presence in power, as already stated above, will diminish the chances of any meaningful reform in the struggle for rule of law and in the fight against rampant corruption and state capture. The second scenario is for the SDSM-BESA coalition to team up with the ASH-A coalition, the far-left Levica, and PDSH. While certainly desirable in terms of bringing together two pro-Western, reformist coalitions, the barriers to such an option will be more difficult to surmount compared to the first. First and foremost, it is unlikely that BDI will tolerate being left out of any governing coalition given that it is the winner in the Albanian camp. Second, it will likewise be difficult to convince the extremist far-left Levica to participate in a pro-Western, reformist coalition government. The third/final and least likely option is for VMRO to form a coalition with BDI, Levica and PDSH. This is also the worst-case scenario in terms of its implications for the country’s Euro-Atlantic future, keeping in mind that during their previous eight years of uninterrupted incumbency (2008-2016), VMRO and BDI indulged in rampant corruption, state capture and the country’s Euro-Atlantic path was reversed by VMRO’s pro-Russian stance and its ancient nationhood project (that reached its peak with the extravagant Skopje 2014 urban renewal project). For this reason, there is going to be strong international pressure for this option not to take off. To sum up, unless SDSM-BESA and BDI manage somehow to team up (i.e. the first scenario discussed above), snap parliamentary elections can likely follow. On the other hand, even if SDSM-BESA-BDI coalition government takes off, the prospects for meaningful reforms in the future are dim, given BDI’s presence and the coalition’s razor-thin majority.

[ The writer is a scholar of comparative politics of ethnicity and nationalism, with a regional focus on Balkan/Southeast European countries. He received his PhD in Political Science from Koç University. His articles have been published in leading area studies journals, such as Mediterranean Politics ] 

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency 

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