Thursday night was a night of terror in Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia. Tension rose to extreme levels when demonstrators entered the Parliament building, clashing with the police and beating MPs.
The protesters belonged to the VMRO-DPMNE nationalist party, which won the last elections, but failed to form a government after months of negotiations. The demonstrators invaded the parliament building, despite the presence of police forces. They wanted to protest over the election of an MP, who belongs in the Albanian country minority, as a speaker of the parliament.
The situation escalated quickly when masked men started beating MPs of the Social Democrat party (SDSM). Zoran Zaev, the party’s leader, was among the injured with pictures showing blood on his head. Another MP is said to be hospitalized and is in a critical condition. Television footage showed MPs surrounded by demonstrators who were calling them “traitors” and weren’t allowing them to leave. The police announced that 30 legislators, and a number of journalists who had been trapped inside the parliament, had been evacuated safely.
Tension later moved to the streets of Skopje, where riot police and thousands of protesters clashed resulting in the injury of 77 people, including 22 police officers. Gjorge Ivanov, the country’s president, urged people to remain calm in a televised address and said he had summoned the leaders of the political parties to discuss the situation. Ivanov added that the constitution had been violated and that reasonable behaviour is needed.
The country has entered a phase of political instability since December’s parliamentary elections. The VMRO party led by Nicola Gruevski, the prime minister at that time, won the elections, but failed to form a government with the Albanian minority parties. Zoran Zaev and his Social Democrats, who came in second place, managed to strike a deal with the Albanians, but president Ivanov refused to give him a mandate to form a government. The country is now on its 5th month without a functioning government.
Ivanov, who is an ally of Gruevski, expressed his concern over the demand of the Albanian minority, that Albanian should be made an official language across the country. The election of the ethnic Albanian Talat Xhaferi as parliament speaker, voted by the Social Democrats and the Albanian minority parties, was the last straw.
Problems between the Macedonians and the Albanians are not new for the country. However, it seems that there is serious tension between the ethnic Macedonian parties as well. The VMRO nationalists, who have governed the country for the last ten years, believe that the Social Democrats have a rather “soft” approach to issues concerning the relationship with the Albanian minority.
The Albanian minority makes for a quarter of the country’s population. It is based in the west of the country, near the borders with Albania. The Albanian foreign ministry said in a statement that it monitors the escalation of the situation in the neighbouring country with great concern. Greece, with which Macedonia is in constant dispute over the name of the country, also stated that it is worrying for the political crisis that has escalated.
The situation in Macedonia is considered dangerous because the western part of the country has been always a target of some Albanian interests that want to form a Greater Albania in the area. The bad diplomatic relations with Greece and Bulgaria seem to have left the small country undefended and sliding in a situation, from which is uncertain if it will manage to get out of.