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Personal account from Macedonia

January 09, 2017

By Karita Kostiainen

Macedonia, a homeland of Alexander the Great and a birth place for Mother Theresa, is a small, landlocked country in the south of the Balkans. It is known for its name dispute with Greece, wishes to join the European Union and divided and corrupted political environment. On the other hand, Macedonia is often referred to as the upcoming wine region in Europe and it is a growing tourist destination due to massive rebuilding of Skopje and the country’s beautiful nature. In December 2016 it offered a very interesting EOM for Silba’s 14 observers.

Upon arrival we faced our first complication: that of terminology. Macedonia’s name dispute with Greece is a very confusing issue, and it complicates even the official mentioning of the country by foreign actors. The local EU officials mainly referred to Macedonia as “this country”, while the EU mission in Macedonia is officially called the EU Mission to Skopje. The OSCE calls the country as the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, and Silba instructed us to use the locally acknowledged name: Macedonia.

The second concern on our mind was whether or not there would be an election to be observed. In June the previous observation mission had turned into a study trip, because the state had failed to arrange the elections due to anti-government protests. The severe political crisis in Macedonia has been ongoing for the last two years and these elections were supposed to be a turning point for the state. After a ‘Color Revolution’ during the summer, the government was forced to put its act together and provide the citizens new parliamentary elections.

We, the observers, got introduced to the underlying political issues during the election week by local human rights organisation CIVIL and a Danish freelance journalist John Petersen among others. Examples on various cases of corruption, the depth of the ethnic divide, and unimaginable ways - in Nordic standards - of distorting the voting prepared us to understand how important these elections were to Macedonia. Unfortunately the final, highly disputed results enabled the biggest ethnic Macedonian party VMRO DPMNE to remain in power with a 2 seats majority over the second biggest party SDSM.

SILBA’s mission in itself was very informative and socially engaging. The whole group grew tight together during our cozy dinners and well-arranged daily activities. Macedonia provided an exciting case for us, of whom most were first timers in election observation, and created a desire to join in for yet another mission. On the other hand, the EOM to Macedonia also proved how vulnerable a state can be when it’s political environment is as distorted as in Macedonia, and a vote can be bought for a price of 8 Euros.

Macedonian citizens and the international community are concerned that the vast money laundering, of which the beautiful, newly renovated city centre in Skopje is a visible example of, will continue, and the country’s political crisis will carry on. Knock on Skopje’s ‘marble’ walls, and you will hear the scope of the whitewashing. The state functions and the main industries are in the hands of a selected few and they are not willing to step down from the throne. In fact, Balkan Insights writes that Nikolaj Gruevski – a fired Prime Minister, whose alleged wiretapping crimes initiated the political crisis – has been asked to form the new government. The task, however, in the political environment of Macedonia, is extremely difficult and is yet to be fulfilled.