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Macedonia And The One That (Maybe) Got Away

Then-Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski tours the newly renovated Sutka prison in Skopje in August 2009.
Then-Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski tours the newly renovated Sutka prison in Skopje in August 2009.

Macedonian authorities responded to the international escalation of their hunt for fugitive former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski after his surprise Facebook pledge to request asylum in EU member Hungary by saying they would seek Gruevski's extradition pending confirmation of his whereabouts.

Gruevski, the once-ruling VMRO-DPMNE party's ex-leader and for nearly 10 years the head of Macedonia's government before his EU-mediated exit in 2016, had failed to show up last week to begin serving a two-year prison sentence for corruption.

Questions have inevitably arisen in Skopje over who's to blame for allowing Gruevski to leave the country. The Interior Ministry blamed the courts, which responded in turn that without a prosecutor's warrant they had no authority to arrest anyone, according to Frosina Dimeska from RFE/RL's Skopje bureau.

Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska said in a statement to the media that everyone should assume their own responsibility for the situation.

"We are not trying to put pressure on the judiciary, but everyone has to do their part and take responsibility," Sekerinska said.

But close observers of Macedonian politics warn that whoever is to blame, Gruevski's flight could harm both the government and the opposition.

Gruevski was convicted in connection with influencing the Interior Ministry in connection with the purchase of a luxury vehicle in 2012, when he was prime minister. He could face at least three more indictments related to alleged corruption and illegal wiretapping.

By turning himself into a fugitive from Macedonian justice, Gruevski risks further damaging his reputation and fostering a perception that he is a criminal rather than any sort of political martyr, says political analyst Petar Arsovski.

Gruevski's actions could also reflect badly on the credibility of state institutions and that of his own party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, or VMRO-DPMNE, Arsovski adds.

The VMRO-DPMNE has claimed Gruevski is the victim of a vendetta.

"He does damage to the VMRO-DPMNE, because it is difficult to stand behind a politician who has fled before justice, despite their attempts to claim he is being politically persecuted," Arsovski says.

Political analyst Albert Musliu predicts the government won't be spared the fallout. The Interior Ministry in particular, he says, must explain itself to the public and cannot simply shift blame to a bailiff who might have failed to deliver the warrant on time.

After nearly a decade in power, Gruevski was ousted in early 2016 in the wake of a major political crisis in which he and close associates were accused of illegal wiretapping, cover-ups, corruption, and imposing authoritarian rule.

His government's demise was the result of the so-called Przino Agreement, which was concluded between the ruling and opposition parties with the help of mediators from the European Union.

Gruevski's escape introduces new uncertainty into efforts to pursue alleged illegalities under the past government.

But looking forward, this latest twist in Macedonia's ongoing political saga could also affect Zoran Zaev’s current governing coalition, fronted by his Social Democratic Union (SDSM).

Its survival may well depend on Zaev's ability to ensure fair investigations, and in some cases trials, for those accused of turning public service into private profit.

About This Blog

Balkans Without Borders offers personal commentary on contemporary Balkan politics and culture. It is written by Gordana Knezevic, senior journalist and former award-winning editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, as well as the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016. The blog reflects on the myriad ways in which the absurdities of Balkan politics and the ongoing historical shifts and realignments affect the lives of people in the region.


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