By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, has accused the opposition of attempting a coup d’etat after they began a boycott of parliament and called for acts of civil disobedience.
“Our main goal is to restore constitutional order and democracy… this totalitarian regime must go,” Branko Crvenkovski, head of the Social Democrats, SDSM, said on Tuesday.
The opposition called on supporters to stage roadblocks and announced a new rally on Saturday in front of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party headquarters in Skopje.
Unfazed by street protests, the government parties on Monday passed a budget for 2013 in minutes after opposition MPs and journalists were kicked out of the parliament.
“Yesterday, we saw Crvenkovski’s first failed attempt at a coup d’etat,” Gruevski said in an address to the nation.
“Given that Crvenkovski has announced a continuation of his fatal scenario… we are ready for all possible scenarios to protect the interests of the citizens as well as the constitution and the law,” Gruevski added.
Monday saw a tense standoff between several thousand people separated by a thick police cordon. Opposition supporters protested against the government’s plan for the 2013 budget.
The government responded by sending its supporters to stage a counter- protest. Media reported of at least 18 injured people in the protests in front of parliament.
Three opposition MPs were injured inside the parliament. Police said that 11 police had been injured and said they arrested several people.
“The budget is just the occasion, not the real reason [for the incidents],” Ilija Aceski, sociology professor at Skopje’s state university, said. He blamed a longstanding build-up of tension between government and opposition supporters.
“The Social Democrats were late in understanding that in a society like this, they can count on election victory only through populism and nationalism. After running out of institutional roads, they’ve brought people onto the streets,” he said.
Gruevski has held power since 2006. Stevo Pendarovski, former advisor to Presidents to Macedonian presidents Boris Trakovski and Branko Crvenkovski, said the political crisis won’t be over soon.
“By definition, the government, that created this tense atmosphere, should contact the opposition.
But Nikola Gruevski is not a politician who is prone towards making compromises,” Pendarovski said. Macedonia is due to hold local elections in March, but following Monday’s incident the opposition hinted that they might not participate, suspecting a rigged vote.
Meanwhile, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights expressed concern over the way opposition legislators were kicked out of parliament.
“This has not been seen before and is an intimidating precedent, contrary to the basic principles of the rule of law,” it said.
Journalists were also removed from parliament, drawing an angry response from the Journalists’ Association, ZNM.
The president of the ZNM, Naser Selmani, said the government has reached “the bottom of its irresponsible behaviour”, and called on reporters to boycott government press conferences in protest.
While the EU and the US expressed concern over what happened, the OSCE mission in Skopje called for a peaceful political dialogue.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt on Twitter wrote: “Very disturbing news from Skopje about police entering parliament and evicting opposition MPs. This is not how an EU democracy should work.”