What is happening in Macedonia?
You rarely get to hear about Macedonia, but in the Balkans, it is something of a bellwether. A decade ago, it set an example of a multiethnic democracy - fragile and dysfunctional, to be sure, yet somehow keeping afloat and gravitating towards the European Union and NATO. More recently, however, it morphed into a one-party state, a replica of Viktor Orban’s Hungary with a Balkan twist - a combination of old-fashioned clientelism and kitsch nationalism. A stroll around downtown Skopje reveals a city transformed into a one-of-a-kind historical theme park adorned with the monumental statues of Philip and Alexander the Great standing alongside medieval monarchs and anti-Ottoman revolutionaries. Sadly, these days it is not the overblown cult to imagined forefathers which draws world media to the tiny Balkan republic. Rather, it is its volatile politics. Last Thursday, a nationalist mob stormed parliament and beat up Zoran Zaev, the leader of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) which has been in opposition since 2006, along with several of his fellow party members and a prominent Albanian politician. The reason: SDSM and the Albanian parties had the audacity to elect as speaker Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian from the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) who once served as deputy defence minister. The protesters, calling themselves “For a Shared Macedonia” movement claimed SDSM staged a coup with Albanian backing. They see a plot to transform Macedonia into a binational state abetted by the West and sinister backroom operators such as philanthropist George Soros, the bete noire of the nationalists. Lately, there have been even calls for a wholesale “de-Sorosisation” of the country. They have become the staple of Macedonia’s principal centre-right party, VMRO-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), which is the driving force behind the “civic” protest escalating into mob rule. Western commentators have succumbed to the temptation to read the periodic outbursts in this chronic crisis as driven by the ethnic divide between Macedonians and Albanians. Some have even seen Russia’s hand in it - a default explanation when anything goes wrong in this part of Europe. But what is at play, really, are the pathologies of Macedonia’s party politics. Here is how it goes.