By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Ministers said media misunderstood the prime minister’s speech calling for national reconciliation, rejecting suggestions that this might mean an amnesty offer for last year’s parliament attackers.
Government ministers have rushed to dispel fears that Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s call for “national reconciliation” means that he is willing to consider an amnesty for the people who attacked parliament last year in exchange for the votes of opposition MPs in support of constitutional amendments to change the country’s name.
“The prime minister talked about reconciliation, extending hands and bridging discords, and there was absolutely no call for an amnesty,” Edmond Ademi, the minister without portfolio responsible for the diaspora, told media on Monday.
Ademi insisted that the ongoing trials of those involved in the bloody rampage in parliament on April 27 last year, which involved several MPs from the main opposition VMRO DPMNE party, have nothing to do with Zaev’s call for reconciliation.
“It is a fact that we are divided, MPs and society alike… Reconciliation has a human dimension and an amnesty is something completely different,” he said.
During his speech on Monday, at the start of parliament’s plenary session on the proposed constitutional changes that would change the country’s name as part of the deal with Greece, Prime Minister Zaev sparked confusion after mentioning several times that now was the moment for reconciliation, although he did not use the word ‘amnesty’.
“I send a message of forgiveness and reconciliation regarding April 27 and the events that happened,” Zaev said.
The attack on parliament in April last year happened amid high political tensions in the country as the former ruling VMRO DPMNE attempted to stop Zaev’s Social Democrats from forming a government.
A mob injured some 100 people including ten MPs from the new majority. Zaev was among those injured.
In March this year, the prosecution filed terrorism charges against 30 people who were involved, including former high officials and current VMRO DPMNE MPs. The trial is still ongoing.
Zaev’s recent speech comes against a backdrop of widespread concerns about whether the government will muster the required two-thirds majority in parliament to get the constitutional changes that envisage the country adopting a new name, the Republic of North Macedonia.
Changing Macedonia’s name to end a long-running dispute with Greece would unlock the country’s EU and NATO accession bids. Zaev’s government has insisted that it has no intention to bargain for support for the deal with an amnesty for the opposition representatives and supporters who are currently standing trial.
The first day of debate on the proposed constitutional changes saw the ruling parties and the opposition still seemingly entrenched in opposing positions.
While MPs from the governing majority kept urging their colleagues to join them in taking a historic decision for the future of the country, to which they said there is no alternative, opposition MPs continued to insist that the name agreement jeopardises the identity of Macedonians.
VMRO DPMNE MP Ilija Dimovski suggested that the alternative was a “strategic partnership with the EU and NATO… until a solution to the name dispute is found”.
The ruling parties can count on the endorsement of only 71 MPs. They would need at least nine opposition MPs to vote in favour of the changes in order to reach the required number of 80 votes in favour in the 120-seat parliament.
The parliament session is due to continue on Tuesday as some 50 more legislators have signed up to speak but have yet to do so.