Skopje: The Hour Of Decommunization

by Christos Matis

Until November 1, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was (apart from Serbia) the only one of the former "existing socialism" states where a change in political party did not go hand in hand with the change of political system.

This was because the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), which governed the country from 1994, managed by winning election battles to maintain in power the forces that constituted a modernised political continuation of the Union of Communists whose successor it was.

The result of this Social Democratic political domination from 1991 on was essentially to delay the change of regime on the political level, so that in the end the transition from a controlled to a market economy was handled by the Social Democratic Union, which endeavoured not to prejudice the interests of those who in the interval had become rich and were supporting it.

The fact that, with the exception of President Gligorov, the leadership of the SDSM had been radically renewed with respect to the communist period deprived its opponents of the opportunity to pin the communist tag on its members, with all the negative associations that label carried in the rest of Eastern Europe.

For seven years the political continuation of the Union of Communists ruled the country, without exorcising the past and without anathematising the 1944—1991 leaders, most of whom were comrades and friends of President Gligorov and close relatives of the new leaders.

From the political point of view they occupied the centre left, were open to alliance with the centre, and proved themselves not averse to collaboration with the more moderate faction of the ethnic Albanian minority, the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP), with its liberal roots.

The defeat at the polls of the SDSM was a defeat for the left–the first in the neighbouring country since 1991, and perhaps even since 1944; and it paved the way for a real change of regime, for the new ruling coalition can only be described as right-wing, including as it does:

Basil Topourkovski is the centrist alibi of the coalition, for while the fact that he was sacked in 1992 from his position as advisor to President Gligorov on a charge of having sought without authorisation to reach a compromise with Greece on the issue of the name of the republic may weigh against him, at the same time that period was for the Albanian nationalists a far more attractive one than the present.

That of course was the communist period, when he was part of the presidium of the Yugoslav Union of Communists, which Albanian extremists thought guaranteed what they are seeking today, that is, the "existence of collective rather than individual liberties", which for the Albanians are a corollary of the western mindset, which not only does not interest them but is in fact repugnant to them, given their reservations about Western European liberalism.

The electoral victory of these forces marks the beginning of political change in Skopje, and at the same time the essential de-communisation of the country, less on the level of institutions as on that of the individual politicians who, albeit indirectly and through family relations, linked the 1944-1991 era to the post-1991 period.

What remains to be seen is how, on the level of collaboration, the ideological centre-right represented by VMRO and the DPA will be able to govern, given that the principal plank in their campaign platform was criticism of the SDSM-PDP government, whose achievements included–and this is true of both parties–the erosion of the rights of the ethnic groups for which these parties claimed to speak.

How in fact can the VMRO genuinely speak for its supporters, when it asked for their vote in order to stop the government from being flexible towards the Albanians who were challenging the state with demands like legalisation of the Albanian university in Tetovo, the refusal of which for the DPA constitutes a characteristic expression of the autocracy of "Macedonian power".

In an appearance on MEGA television Arben Jaferi, the leader and theoretician of the DPA, unequivocally supported the view that it is only the right that can solve problems between ethnic groups, a view that echoes the traditional view of the right everywhere that the left is a traitor to the nation.

It should of course be noted that the stability of the next government in Skopje depends largely on the position of the US and on Washington’s willingness to maintain a balance in the country and the region through its influence on friendly powers; and so far it appears that the word of the US outweighs the extreme positions of the members of the new coalition.

Time will tell whether this is indeed the case or whether Skopje has created an explosive governmental mix of modernised nationalisms, and to what extent Liubcho Georgievski and Basil Topourkovski can continue to guarantee what President Gligorov guaranteed since 1991.


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