By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Amid questions over his continued leadership, former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has insisted he will ‘bear responsibility’ if his former ruling party loses the October local elections.
Asked whether he would resign if his party loses the October 15 local elections in Macedonia, former PM Gruevski – whose VMRO DPMNE party ran Macedonia for 11 years until recently – said only that he would assume responsibility for the result, whatever it was.
In that case, “the party leader bears the biggest responsibility”, Gruevski briefly told the Albanian-language TV station Alsat on Tuesday. However, he insisted he was confident of victory in the local election.
After losing power in May following a prolonged political crisis in which he was accused of masterminding a massive wiretapping scheme and of other crimes, the local elections are seen as an important test of whether Gruevski will be able to remain party leader, amid growing discontent within the party’s ranks.
Macedonia’s Special Prosecution, SJO, which is tasked with probing high-level crime, has filed several charges against him and has opened several other investigations.
However, he has denied guilt of any offences.
“That is a classical politically-motivated witch hunt,” Gruevski said, accusing the now ruling Social Democrats, SDSM, who took power in May, of instigating it.
“This witch hunt is mostly directed against VMRO DPMNE and officials from the past government. The goal is to defocus the public. Instead of dealing with problems that are of concern to citizens, like wages, jobs, subsidies for agriculture and EU and NATO membership, they [the new government] instigate witch hunts,” he said.
Formed in autumn 2015 as part of an EU-sponsored crisis agreement, the SJO has pressed charges in 20 cases, mostly against officials from VMRO DPMNE. It is also working on more than 120 investigations and pre-investigation procedures.
Among other things, the SJO has sought Gruevski’s arrest on charges of electoral fraud.
But Gruevski again denied that his party’s 11-year reign was marred by corruption and undemocratic practices, again accusing NGOs financed by US billionaire George Soros of waging a campaign against him.
“In reality, there is no ‘captured state,'” Gruevski said, referring to the term that the European Commission used in last year’s progress report to describe Macedonia under his government.
“Macedonia was a free country of free citizens who freely expressed their opinions in elections and lived freely. Everything else is a grave campaign, which has fooled many [people]. The term ‘captured state’ is part of the propaganda against VMRO DPMNE, aimed at its demise,” he insisted.
In a rare appearance before an Albanian-speaking media outlet, Gruevski admited he had made a mistake by not paying more attention to the large Albanian community in the country, comprising about 20 per cent of the population.
He said this had resulted in the spread of a false idea that he had conducted anti-Albanian policies.
In the general elections last December 11, the Social Democrats, SDSM, won support from many ethnic Albanians who had turned against Gruevski and his party.
Asked to comment on the wiretapped recordings of official conversations that the SDSM published in 2015, in which his former Interior Minister, Gordana Jankulovska, was heard calling the Albanians “Indians”, Gruevski stuck to his previous standpoint – that the wiretaps were either doctored or fake.
“I don’t know if she called them that way. We are talking about created material,” Gruevski said. “I condemn all offensive speech towards anyone. If offense was directed against Albanians, I condemn it.”
Following the revelation of the wiretaps, Gruevski contested their authenticity, insisting they were “created” or had been been tampered with.
Gruevski has also claimed that the wiretaps were created by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the then opposition as part of a wider plot to discredit him and his government.