In some respects, the move came as a surprise. In recent weeks, reports had indicated that the ongoing leadership struggle between Georgievski and Gruevski had been resolved, at least for the time being (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 June 2004). Georgievski, who leads the more radical, nationalist wing of the VMRO-DPMNE, seemed to have stopped his attacks on Gruevski, who heads the party's moderate wing.
In fact, the latest stage in the conflict between Gruevski and Georgievski dates back to the spring, when Gruevski and his supporters in the party leadership nominated the relatively unknown Sasko Kedev as presidential candidate, while the radicals would have clearly preferred hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. When Boskovski was subsequently barred from running for president on legal grounds, he and Georgievski called for an electoral boycott that contributed to Kedev's defeat ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26, 29, and 30 April, and 12 and 17 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 March, 9 April, and 21 May 2004).
Meanwhile, the rift among the VMRO-DPMNE's members deepened further. Georgievski's followers within the VMRO-DPMNE's Executive Committee even set up a parallel Executive Committee, which they claim is the legitimate one. Marjan Dodovski, one of Georgievski's allies in the new executive committee, told "Dnevnik" of 5 July that "we are the committee which owes its legitimacy to the members and which has the support of the party's rank-and-file." He added that, "in the coming days, we will step up pressure on the ground to isolate Nikola Gruevski and his followers."
Gruevski, for his part, repeatedly rebuffed his opponents' demands for an extraordinary party congress to resolve the leadership struggle, arguing that such a congress can only be called by a 51 percent majority of the party's central committee members.
In an interview with the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" on 3 July, Gruevski described the atmosphere within the VMRO-DPMNE as poisoned, adding that the time will come when his opponents will be ashamed of their words and actions. He said some of his former allies have changed drastically, "as if the devil had taken hold of them."
As a result of Gruevski's refusal to call a party congress, his opponents decided to found the new party, the VMRO-NP. According to the Macedonian dailies, their plan was to defeat the VMRO-DPMNE in the fall local elections, thus forcing Gruevski to resign. Then, the VMRO-NP members could rejoin the VMRO-DPMNE, with Georgievski as its old-new leader.
In one of her first interviews, VMRO-NP Chairwoman Janevska told "Dnevnik" that the new party will not be simply a safe refuge for Georgievski. "Our aim is to hear the voice of the Macedonian people," Janevska said. "Those members who join us feel that the [VMRO-DPMNE] has been [hijacked] by its current leadership.... The policies of Nikola Gruevski and his followers will lead us astray from the VMRO-DPMNE's principles."
The newly founded VMRO-NP adopted a party program that closely resembles that of the VMRO-DPMNE. The VMRO-NP's statute also allows dual membership in both parties.
However, VMRO-DPMNE Deputy Chairwoman Ganka Samoilovska-Cvetanova said that the VMRO-DPMNE statute explicitly forbids simultaneous membership in other parties. "But at the moment, we have more important priorities and will not take any measures against those who join the VMRO-NP," Samoilovska-Cvetanova told "Dnevnik" of 6 July.
Georgievski and his followers among the VMRO-DPMNE members of parliament have not joined the VMRO-NP. They reportedly fear that they will lose their legislative seats if they leave the VMRO-DPMNE. Tanja Karakamiseva of Skopje University's law school told "Dnevnik" that if elected members of parliament change parties, they immediately lose their right to a seat.
In a first reaction to the founding of the new party, Gruevski told "Utrinski vesnik" of 5 July that the new party seeks to weaken the VMRO-DPMNE in the local elections and ultimately to destroy it. But Gruevski also signaled his readiness for a "peaceful" resolution of the leadership issue. "We are still prepared to talk to our opponents and calm things down, but if they want to [destroy the VMRO-DPMNE], then I wish them good luck with their new party," Gruevski said.