By Grigorij Mesežnikov. Photo: cbsnews.
14. May 2017  |  Strategic Communication, Russia

On the map of Europe, the Western Balkans remains a territory where the likelihood of turbulent political developments – both in individual countries and at the regional level – is still quite high.

The thorny path of the Balkans to the West

It has its reasons. One of the most important reasons is that the region has lagged behind its Central European neighbors in Euro-Atlantic integration. Among the countries of the former Yugoslavia only Slovenia and Croatia have been able to join the EU and NATO. Albania joined the NATO, during the next few weeks the alliance will accept the post-Yugoslav Montenegro as its member state. Other countries (Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina) have the status of candidate states with different prospects for membership, either in the EU or in NATO.

The case of Montenegro has been a clear example of how external forces can intervene into sovereign decision of citizens about the further destiny of their country. Russia has done everything in its power to prevent the entry of this small Balkan country into NATO. When anything else – propaganda hysteria, diplomatic pressure, direct aid to the Kremlin’s political agents on the local political scene – did not help, in October 2016 a coup d’état with the participation of Serbian mercenaries and Moscow curators was organized. Fortunately, due to the vigilance of Montenegro‘s special services and the loyalty of Serbia, the attempted coup in Podgorica failed, and Montenegro is now prosecuting eight Serbs and two Russians (those in absentia) for attempts to overthrow the legitimate government.

The outbreak of tension in Skopje

In these weeks, the interest of Russia‘s political and media establishment has moved from Montenegro to Macedonia.

Few days ago something happened here that reminded the events in Podgorica in October 2016. Although no foreign commando similar to the one, who was supposed to conduct a coup in Montenegro did not appear in Macedonian Skopje, the violent ‘civic’ action was carried out that was aimed at challenging or reversing the legitimate decision of parliament to elect the new speaker. A crowd of disappointed people invaded the building of National Assembly, victims of subsequent battle included top politicians, among others Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social-Democratic Union, winner of elections.

Political forces around former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski who failed to get enough votes in early elections for re-establishing of his government were behind the violent action. Gruevski who had resigned before the elections due to corruption scandal associated with illegal surveillance could not accept the fact his government would be replaced by the ruling coalition consisting of Social Democratic Union and grouping around the Democratic Union for Integration representing ethnic Albanians constituting 25% of the country‘s total population.

The election of Talat Xhaferi, Albanian politician, as the Speaker of the Parliament has led to immediate political upsurge on the wave of ethnic nationalism. It is noteworthy, however, that the nationalist conservative party VMRO of former Prime Minister Gruevski over the past years relied on the coalition co-operation with the ethnic Albanian party, and this fact was mostly accepted by the Macedonian population.

When considering the motives and the background of dramatic events in Skopje, one important moment should not be neglected. While Zoran Zaev’s profile is pro-European and pro-Western, focused on the membership in EU and NATO, Zaev’s rival Gruevski is now regarded as a politician tending rather to the East. This fact is reflected in how the internal Macedonian conflict is assessed outside – in the West and in Russia.

It should be noted also that ethnic problems in Macedonia are nothing new. The tragic history of the Balkan conflicts significantly signed under the existent conditions of inter-ethnic relations, especially between majority Macedonians and minority Albanians. The 2001 Ochrid Accords, brokered by the West, ended the armed ethnic conflict and created political framework for co-existence of the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority. However, the situation was still fragile and it required the joint efforts by local politicians to prevent the conflicts and to neutralize the possible causes of ethnic tension.

Unfortunately, the recent events in Skopje have shown that politicians suspected of corruption and abuse of power are capable of sacrificing of what is the most important for every citizen – peace and quiet life – in order to maintain their own power positions. And they also do not hesitate to gain the support from those who would like to instill the internal tension – even with violent manifestations – from the outside.

Russian media on Macedonia

Russian media report about the latest events in Macedonia in a straightforward manner, employing the simple scheme and with big dose of drama. According to them, the West (or the EU) is pressing to Slavic Macedonians to surrender to the demands of the Muslim Albanians. The country is allegedly losing its Slavic and Christian character, and result of the recent events can be civil war. Riafan.ru (Federalnoye Agentstvo Novostey) predicts the end of the Macedonian state by the very title of its commentary – “It is an agony: Slavic Macedonia is slowly dying and the West is applauding“.

Some contributions reveal that compliance with the predetermined interpretation scheme about the evil West supporting the ethnic minority and its servants from the majority at the expense of this majority itself is to their authors more important than knowledge of local circumstances. Sputnik agency in its commentary titled “Macedonia is balancing at the brink of civil war“ “knowledgeably" writes how "Serbian-speaking“ majority fights for defense of "Serbo-Croatian“ language against the introduction of Albanian as the second official language. The fact that not Serbo-Croatian, but Macedonian, which is closer to Bulgarian, is the official language in Macedonia, Sputnik’s authors seemingly do not know. But they know with certainty that these were “Brussels and Washington“ who forced Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov to bless the creation of new government coalition, even though he disagreed at the beginning. In addition, Sputnik reports that the reason of the increasing Albanian minority‘s share in Macedonia’s population was migration caused by “NATO bombardment of Kosovo“. Slobodan Milosević‘s cruel anti-minority policy that expelled Albanians from their homes in Kosovo agency did not mention.

TV channel RT (Russia Today) in its contribution “Battle for Macedonia: why does EU support the Albanian minority in the country” goes further and claims that “the EU is pushing Macedonia‘s leadership to give power to opposition Albanian parties which are more loyal to Brussels and will pull down the country from Moscow“. In the commentary “Hostility according to scenario: to whom the destabilization of the situation in Macedonia is desirable” RT gives a clear answer to the question asked: it is desirable for Albanians, who, with the help of the West, implement a strategy of unification of the whole Albanian nation into one state (Albania together with Kosovo and part of Macedonia). The conclusion made by Russian experts asked by the RT is clear: “The ‘Albanization’ of Balkans is supported by Euro-bureaucrats who consider Muslims to be the factor of resistance against Serbia and Slavic Orthodox culture as a whole”. The summing-up answer is thus: “It is the West who is interested in destabilization of Macedonia”.

Hallucinations about Soros and Clintons

Hand of George Soros was found in Macedonian events by Russian periodical Vesti.ru which quoted a representative of the local Stop Soros movement. He came up with the shocking claim that Soros Foundation “wants to annul (!) the Macedonian nation”. How? By introduction of the principle of bilingualism (to slightly older Slovak readers such statements could remind the rhetoric of Matica Slovenská’s leadership in the early 1990s).

To Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the press organ of the Russian State Duma, Soros himself as the main player is seemingly not enough. That is why the commentary titled “Why Clintons’ clan and the billionaire George Soros undermine the Balkans” informs about the “real” background of the game on the Balkan region that was identified by the analysts from the already mentioned agency Sputnik. It is nothing less than the efforts of Clintons’ Foundation and “George Soros structures” to overthrow the current US administration of Donald Trump. And it will happen as follows – first, the region will be destabilized, then Europe, then the inter-ethnic conflict will begin in the Balkans into which Trump’s administration will be pulled, and thus new US president will become the hostage of his political opponents and will not be able to carry out his own foreign policy agenda. Rossiyskaya Gazeta adds to this really breath-taking “geopolitical” construction the quote from Sputnik’s “analysis” that the Balkans are “strategic site for controlling Europe and the Middle East” and for “overseeing of Russia”.

These remarkable echoes of the Macedonian events resonating in Moscow are an illustrative example of how contemporary Russia perceives developments in Europe and in the world – through the optics of its own confrontation with the West and in accordance with the principle “I judge you according myself”.

 

This article was written by Grigorij Mesežnikov and was also published in Slovak daily SME

The views expressed in the article are private opinions of the author and do not reflect the policy of the GLOBSEC Policy Institute. This document was published in the framework of projects run by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.