By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
There has been widespread reaction in Macedonia to a statement by President George Ivanov offering strong support to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the recent anti-government protests in his country.
While some were quick to back Ivanov’s solidarity with a friendly leader, others criticised him for endorsing a premier who is being accused of curbing democratic freedoms.
“Mr. Erdogan should not be troubled [by the protests] and should resist,” Ivanov said on Friday, the Turkish Anatolia news agency reported.
“We all know that foreign countries interfere in such events and play their own games. His [Erdogan’s] heart is with ours and our heart is with his,” he said.
Social networks in Macedonia erupted with reactions to these remarks.
“Not my heart,” said one posting on Twitter.
“Ivanov’s statement is directed towards the domestic public,” said another, adding that “when Ivanov says that Erdogan should resist, he is telling us that he too will resist”.
“Ivanov cannot express support in the name of all Macedonians in a situation when western democracies have condemned the way the Turkish police are dealing with the demonstrators,” said veteran journalist Borjan Jovanovski.
Over the past several weeks, thousands of protestors have taken to the streets across Turkey, accusing Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted ruling Justice and Development Party of becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Macedonia’s ruling conservative VMRO DPMNE party, which has been in power since 2006, is also facing similar accusations from the opposition.
But Macedonian poet Eftim Kletnikov argued that it was high time for the Skopje authorities to express support for Erdogan, because “his country has supported Macedonia ever since independence [in the early 1990s]”.
Meanwhile a group of cultural and academic figures calling itself the ‘Macedonian Manifesto’ has sent an open letter of support to Erdogan, thanking him for his backing amid the country’s dispute with Greece over its name.
Macedonia and Turkey have close political and economic links, boosted by their shared political disputes with Greece over territory and history.
While he visited Macedonia in 2011, Erdogan received a remarkably warm welcome from both the country’s political leaders and from ordinary people who flocked to greet him.