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The Worrisome Trend of Diminished Credibility Among the Civil Society in North Macedonia

KATERINA KOLOZOVA


The aftermath of the lifting of the Bulgarian veto to North Macedonia’s negotiations that took place in the summer of 2022,[1] under the French Presidency of the European Union, has caused a rather unexpected change of heart in the public. Ever since, the habitual pro-EU majority among the local expert public and journalists alike, has been opposing the EU’s Common Position on Opening Negotiations, including the accompanying negotiating framework – calling upon the Prime Minister to refuse it,[2] followed by appeals to pause the negotiations which by this Spring of 2023 have not ceased. The main reason for this is the perception that the document itself, i.e., EU’s Common Position including the Framework, and the negotiating process itself are premised on historical revisionism that will erase the Macedonian national identity. “’No’” to a Europe like this,” “’No’ to an undemocratic Europe” have been slogans to be heard perhaps too often by the center-left leaning mainstream of the civil society[3] and academia as well as by the nationalist parties VMRO-DPMNE and Levica.[4] The civil society mainstream specialized in EU integration such as the European Policy Center (EPI) and Institute for Democracy Societas Civilis- Skopje (IDSCS):

If we accept, i.e. by silence, we approve of the introduction of bilateral issues and bulgarianization of the process itself, I do not believe that many member states or at all whether any will oppose this, as was previously the case with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, especially in the context of the urgency of the momentum and crisis in Ukraine, with the EU needing immediate success in the Western Balkans and its perspective from the perspective of European enlargement. In the part of the proposal itself, much of it is realistically harmful." says IDSCS Director Marko Trosanovski.[5]


Based on the desk-analysis (the list of analyzed sources is at the end of the document) conducted for the purposes of this study, we can infer the following premises of the discussion to follow:


  • EU is seen as “undemocratic” due to its catering to the Bulgarian nationalist bullying of North Macedonia (all the arguments raised in favor of the thesis of EU’s democratic deficiency are related to this issue purely, and sometimes also to the agreement with Greece)[6]

  • Even the NGO’s and scholars specialized in EU integration deny to this day that the negotiations have truly started due to the conditionality that might lead to their halt – the recognition of the Bulgarian minority in North Macedonia.

  • The elite civil society in question, the big, visible and rich, declaredly center-left and moderately center-right leaning CSO – including the academia and the media – are against the recognition of the Bulgarian minority.[7] Let us note the fact that the same part of the society that insists on the national, ethno-linguistic distinctness between the Macedonian and the Bulgarian states and nations, as well as their separate cultural-historical backgrounds, rejects the recognition of a separate, minority group called Bulgarian. It is an odd choice considering such a recognition would vouch the distinctness of the Macedonian majority.


Certainly, no social group is monolithic, no part of the spectrum of political debate is univocal, and we do not wish to erase the nuances among the different actors and voices. However, the situation is in the country is deeply polarized across a number of political-social arrays, and, in this context, the question of EU enlargement holds the dominant status. Both the left and the right of the public debate seem to be united regarding the question of enlargements, or the reservations toward it more specifically, and in their opposition to the recognition of the Bulgarian minority. Upon the latter, the continuation of the freezing of the EU accession relies. Thus, even that question falls under the category of (opposition to) the continuation of the EU enlargement.


The discourse is in fact ambiguous: no one dares, in particular those funded by the Euro-Atlantic sources, to say explicitly they oppose the EU integration, whereas a worrying majority of them are in favor of a) pausing the negotiations, b) looking for alternatives to the EU,[8] and against a) the implementation of the Bulgarian-Macedonian treaty as part of the negotiating process, b) constitutional recognition of a Bulgarian minority. While admitting the growing euro-skepticism in the country due to the fact that N. Macedonia has been a candidate (non-negotiating) country for nearly two decades, we must admit that the breaking point that marks a dramatic drop in the nation’s support of EU accession is directly linked to the Bulgarian-Macedonian (un)neighborly relations.


If we proceed with the discussion on the fate of the country’s further EU accession in purely technical terms, we might say that there is no veto impending – at least in the foreseeable future – from North Macedonia’s neighbors. There is however the possibility of a paradoxical act of what one might call “self-vetoing”: if the National Assembly of North Macedonia fails to vote in the Bulgarian minority in the country’s Constitution by November 2023, the negotiations will be frozen, the accession process, once again, put back in a state of an indefinite halt.


Thus, one more time, we are up against the stubbornly reemerging wall of competing national romanticism in the Balkans in the way of the process of EU enlargement. In this policy essay, we are looking at the matter from the two perspectives: not only that of accession, and thus, the Western Balkan and Macedonian viewpoint and interests, but also from the perspective of EU enlargement, which, I argue here, is becoming increasingly geopolitical instead of technocratic. The latter is a point which I would like to defend by invoking the following arguments in its favor: France’s center-aligned policy discourse, in particular the expert part of the public, promulgating values and goals incapsulated in slogans such as “Pour une Europe geopolitique,” but also pushing for ideas such as the European political community. The latter may be considered by some as a second tier version of the Union that actually resists further enlargement till full membership of all EU candidate. However, I would argue the opposition – the Union gains political and even geopolitical groundedness by adding a political union around it, or underpinning it, or complementing it. The idea is neither fully fleshed out nor do we know whether it will become a reality – so, it will be treated here as a marker, a symptomatic shift in European mainstream discourse on the more generic question of “Europe as some form of - even if only loose – unity.”


[1] Spanning from June when EU’s Common Position and Negotiating Framework leaked into the Macedonian public to July 16th, when the Government accepted the so-called “French Proposal, and in its immediate aftermath. [2] Malinka Ristevska Jordanova: It should Not Remain No, Sloboden Pecat (June 2022), available at https://www.slobodenpecat.mk/en/malinka-ristevska-jordanova-ne-treba-da-ostane-ne/, accesed on 13 May 2023, (Dr. Malinka Ristevska Jordanova has been engaged in the EU integration process since the end of the nineties, holding high positions as part of the public administration in the Macedonian parliament and government. As a State Counselor at the Secretariat for European Affairs, she chaired the MK-EU SAA Subcommittee on Justice and Home Affairs from 2002-2008 and the SAA Committee from 2008-2010 and was the coordinator of the national program for the adoption of EU law. She made a special contribution to her country's candidacy for joining the EU, the fulfillment of the recommendations for the beginning of the accession negotiations and the realization of the benchmarks established in the roadmap for the liberalization of the visa regime. Dr. Ristevska – Jordanova is the founder and former director (February 2011 – February 2017) of the Macedonian think-tank Institute for European Policy – ​​Skopje, where she is now a non-executive member of the board. In her research, Dr. Jordanova focuses on the application of EU conditionality policy in the region of Southeast Europe, as well as on the transposition of EU law.); Ida Manton, Improve the Proposal to Save Europe From Itself [Подобрете го договорот за да ја спасите Европа од самата себе] Youth Educational Forum/Radio MOF (July, 2023), available at https://www.radiomof.mk/stav-podobrete-go-dogovorot-za-da-ja-spasite-evropa-od-samata-sebe/, accessed on 13 May 2023. [3] The French Proposal: Who is For, Against and Something in Between [Француски предлог: Кој сѐ е за, против или нешто помеѓу], Civil Media (Skopje: 22 June, 2022), available at https://civilmedia.mk/trenchevska-zaedno-so-megunarodnite-partneri-i-graganskite-organizatsii-gradime-ednakvo-opshtestvo-za-site/, accessed on 13 May 2023. [4] Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Opposition to ‘French Proposal’ Mounts in North Macedonia, Balkan Insight (Skopje: BIRN, July 4, 2022), accessed on 12 May 2023; Protests in front of the Government Building Against the French Proposal [trans. of the original title in Macedonia], Kanal 5 (2 July, 2022) available at https://kanal5.com.mk/protest-pred-vladata-protiv-francuskiot-predlog/a536946, accessed on 13 May 2023; Call from EPI and IDSC: Parliament to convene today for a session on the "French proposal", the Government must not remain, Sloboden Pecat (June, 2022), available at https://www.slobodenpecat.mk/en/povik-od-epi-i-idsc-sobranieto-ushte-deneska-da-svika-sednica-za-francuskiot-predlot-vladata-ne-smee-da-ostane-nema/, accessed on 13 May 2023; Top Tema with Marko Trosanovski, Aleksandar Krzalovski and Emil Kirijaz [„Топ тема“ со Марко Трошановски, Александар Кржаловски и Емил Кирјаз] Telma TV (Skopje, January 2023), available at https://tinyurl.com/5fupdxnn, accessed on 10 May 2023, [5] The French Proposal: Who is For, Against and Something in Between [Француски предлог: Кој сѐ е за, против или нешто помеѓу], Civil Media (Skopje: 22 June, 2022), available at https://civilmedia.mk/trenchevska-zaedno-so-megunarodnite-partneri-i-graganskite-organizatsii-gradime-ednakvo-opshtestvo-za-site/, accessed on 13 May 2023. [6] Restoring EU’s Credibility and the European Consensus in the Civil Society in N. Macedonia [Analysis of Survey and Focus Group Results], Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities (Skopje, February 2023), available at https://www.isshs.edu.mk/restoring-eus-credibility-and-the-european-consensus-in-the-civil-society-in-n-macedonia-preliminary-research-report/, accessed on 13 May 2023. [7] Katerina Kolozova, "North Macedonia’s EU path is under threat from an unlikely actor", Al Jazeera English (18 September 2022), accessed on 1 May 2023. [8] Katerina Kolozova and Tihomir Topuzovski, “Restoring EU’s Credibility and the European Consensus in the Civil Society in N. Macedonia” (Skopje: Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities, 2023), 23.

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