By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Protests held by supporters of the former ruling party – VMRO DPMNE – against a possible new coalition government in Macedonia are set to continue, amid fears rallies will become increasingly violent.
Supporters of Macedonia’s former ruling party, VMRO DPMNE, took to the streets for a second day on Tuesday to protest against a possible new coalition government following the December 11 general election.
Demonstrators claim the potential coalition between the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, SDSM, and ethnic Albanian parties will endanger ethnic Macedonian interests.
The protests – organised by the newly-formed Civic Initiative for a United Macedonia – began on Monday in the capital.
Thousands attended Tuesday’s rally in Skopje and there were also protests in several other Macedonian towns including Bitola, Prilep, Kicevo, Kumanovo and Stip.
The Skopje rally was marred by violence as two journalists from the A1on news outlet – cameraman Vladimir Zelceski and journalist Aleksandar Todevski – were physically attacked while reporting on the protests.
“Participants at the protest attacked the reporters from behind, throwing punches towards their heads and kicking them. They have taken their camera, thrown it to the ground and started kicking it, managing to completely destroy it,” A1on editor-in-chief Predrag Petrovic said.
“Medical emergency [workers] were called right away and at the moment the two reporters are at the urgent medical centre where they are being examined.”
Photo-journalists at the scene managed to take pictures of the alleged attackers leaving the spot, and of the two reporters lying on the ground.
The protest organisers have pledged to continue demonstrations on Wednesday afternoon, despite fears rallies – which have been increasingly nationalist in tone – could be marred by further violence.
The rally in Skopje, attended among others by prominent members and supporters of the conservative VMRO DPMNE party, as well as by heads of various state enterprises, began in front of the government building.
Protesters waving flags and placards reading ‘Freedom or Death’ – the credo of the historic Ottoman-era Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, VMRO – then marched to the front of the VMRO DPMNE party headquarters in central Skopje where they called on the party leadership, as well as other parties, to join them.
“The time for [the] defence of a unitary and united Macedonia is now. Let’s defend Macedonia, the way our ancestors left it to us,” the prominent actor Vanco Petrusevski told the crowd.
VMRO DPMNE has been in power since 2006 but could now find itself on the opposition benches after the SDSM leader, Zoran Zaev, announced he had secured the support of a majority in parliament. He is waiting for the president to award him with the mandate to form a new government after submitting proof of his parliamentary majority on Monday.
However, the demonstrators accuse Zaev of betraying Macedonian interests by striking a deal on a number of ethnic Albanian demands – such as passing a new language law extending recognition of Albanian as an official language throughout the country – in return for support to form a new coalition government.
Plea to stop ‘nationalist chanting’
Tuesday’s Skopje rally ended outside the Macedonian Parliament, where one of the organisers, Boris Damovski, appealed to the crowd to stop using “chauvinist and nationalist chants” during the rally.
He said that at Monday’s first rally in Skopje there were some nationalistic chants but that “they were few”.
Meanwhile, as Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov is expected to hand over the mandate to Zaev on Wednesday and ethnic tension in the country is mounting, the US State Department issued a press release on Tuesday calling on “Macedonia’s leaders to form a new government without further delay”.
Insisting only a new government could end Macedonia’s deep political crisis, the US urged “all parties to put the interests of Macedonia and its citizens above all else”.
Macedonia has not yet formed a new government despite holding the general election more than two months ago. The vote ended in a near-tie between VMRO DPMNE and the SDSM.
The continuing political crisis in Macedonia revolves around opposition claims that VMRO DPMNE president and former PM Nikola Gruevski ordered the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including his own ministers.
The SDSM started releasing batches of covertly recorded tapes in early 2015 that they claim contain incriminating evidence about many senior officials.
Gruevski denied the charge and insisted the tapes were “fabricated” by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the opposition to destabilise the country.