Macedonia: Imperialism worried by current political instability

Elections show that working class needs own party

A growing trend in the former ‘communist’ states of Eastern Europe, and the Balkans, is voter ‘abstentionism’. Of course, this trend is prevalent in the West also, especially in local and European elections.

A recent turnout of below 50% for a Presidential election in Serbia made it constitutionally void. This was the outcome that the Macedonian ruling class and imperialism feared could be repeated in the days before the Macedonian Presidential run-off. As it happened, the turnout was marginally above the 50% needed to make it constitutional – although there are now questions being raised about the legitimacy of the result due to reports of electoral fraud.

Despite the seemingly narrow escape, the massive level of voter abstentionism witnessed is causing alarm amongst the imperialist powers, particularly those in the European Union, who seek future economic domination of the Balkans. They correctly foresee that a political system viewed with such cynicism and contempt is unlikely to prove stable.

Before the run-off vote on Wednesday 28 April, EU foreign ministers, the US ambassador to Macedonia, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and various other Western officials, released statements urging voters to participate.

EU foreign policy chief, Xavier Solano, wrote for Macedonian and Albanian language newspapers, saying that: “As a close friend of your country, I strongly encourage you to participate massively in the second round of the election.”

Solano added that a failed vote would damage the prospects for early entry to the EU and NATO.

With both ethnic Albanian candidates knocked out in the first round it was always unlikely that significant numbers of ethnic Albanians would vote in the run-off. The Bashkimi Democratik Për Integrim (BDI), led by the former commander of the ethnic Albanian organisation, UÇK, Gezim Ostreni, called on its supporters to cast their second round votes for Social Democratic Union (SDSM) candidate, Crvenkovski. The BDI rely on the ruling SDSM for patronage; so this was entirely logical on their part.

The other main ethnic Albanian-based party, the Partia Demokratike Shqiptare (PDSh), called on its supporters to vote, but did not specify for which candidate! Their real attitude was for a boycott. Allegedly, three armed PDSh supporters destroyed a ballot box near Tetovo, in the north of the country. Very few Albanians will have voted for either candidate in the second round. The opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) officially urged people to vote for their candidate Sasko Kedev. However, more cynically minded supporters may well have opted to boycott the elections hoping for a void election and the opportunity to have a re-run.

The final result handed victory to SDSM candidate, Branko Crvenkovski, with just under 63% of the vote. He led the race coming out of the first round and his victory in the run-off was widely predicted. The real contest was not between the two candidates but to secure the necessary 50% plus turnout.

The opposition VMRP-DPMNE say that the vote was rigged and that there should be a re-run. Their candidate, Kadev, has appealed to the EU and the US Congress to intervene.

Whilst there was some reported ballot box stuffing and intimidation, it would seem highly unlikely that the election will be re-run. To demand a re-run would mean again facing the risk of a turnout below 50% and a failed election. This is not in the interests of the Macedonian ruling class or imperialism.

Stability is important

Stability in the Balkans is clearly of great concern to the imperialist powers because of its close proximity to the European Union. Their plans for the intensification of market liberalisation and the establishment of an enlarged EU depend upon this stability.

Another reason why imperialism is so concerned about Balkan stability is oil. In order to become less reliant on the OPEC oil-producing countries the construction of the Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian Oil Pipeline Corporation trans-Balkan pipeline is due to begin next year. This will transport Caspian oil from the Black Sea to the Adriatic Sea via Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania, enabling it to arrive in the Western European and US market place far quicker. Investors in the €998 million pipeline include, OPIC, Exim Bank, EBRD, Citibank, and CFS Boston.

Macedonia has a highly precarious national existence. Serbian nationalists refer to it as ‘Southern Serbia’. Until 1995, Greece imposed a trade embargo against ‘FYR Macedonia’ because they objected to the use of the name ‘Macedonia’, as this is also the name of the northern region of Greece. Bulgaria also lays historical claim to Macedonia. Albanian nationalists, backed by rich Albanian émigrés, would like to see the western part of Macedonia become assimilated into a Greater Albania. Turkey is also a major player and would oppose any moves that strengthened the power of Greece.

A regional conflict, potentially sparked off by resurgent Albanian nationalism, is a real possibility in this part of the Balkans. This possibility is something that the CWI has consistently warned of during the recent period.

These underlying fears of regional conflict are the reason why imperialism is so worried by anything that weakens the legitimacy and stability of FYR Macedonia, such as a political crisis. This fear was also the reason behind the NATO intervention in 2001 to disarm the Albanian nationalist UÇK, and is why NATO still maintains a military presence in the country.

Imperialism contradicts itself; whilst it desperately wants stability to do business in the region, at the same time, it fosters instability through its military and economic dominance. Mass unemployment, some of the highest levels of poverty in Europe, and the fall-out from the 1999 Kosovo/a war, make the region still highly volatile some 15 years since the start of capitalist restoration.

The local neo-liberal puppet governments and the various capitalist institutions, such as the EU, IMF and World Bank, continuously repeat the mantra that once the ‘period of transition’ is over Macedonia and the other Balkan states will emerge as Western European-style democracies with equally high living standards. The workers and youth of the region, who are infinitely more in tune with reality, no longer have any belief in the validity of this neo-liberal mantra. Increasingly, they will come to the conclusion that capitalism cannot provide them with a decent future.

Low turnout signals distrust

Trust in the political process is reaching a low. In the first round of the presidential vote, even with the two ethnic Albanian candidates running, the turnout was only 55%. Early indications show that the turn-out in the run-off, after massive efforts to persuade people to vote, in all probability some electoral fraud, were only 53.5%.

Political parties are seen as thoroughly corrupt and it is widely understood that real power lies with the IMF, the World Bank and other institutions. Both the ruling SDSM and opposition Christian democratic VMRO-DPMNE are fundamentally the same. Both aim for EU and NATO membership.

The growing despair and disillusionment could have a number of effects. One effect elsewhere in the Balkans has been a growing nostalgia for the ‘Titoist’ past (a Stalinist system of rule by a parasitic bureaucratic elite over the state owned economy), when living standards were much higher.

A far more serious consequence could be a further rise in Albanian nationalism. In the absence of a mass workers’ movement, the young, disaffected, unemployed and largely rural ethnic-Albanian population, could end up as fresh recruits to the cause of a so called ‘Greater Albania’. The threat from a resurgence of the other nationalisms of the region is equally real and could be fostered as a diversionary tactic by the ruling classes.

From the point of view of the interests of the working class, the most positive effect would be the development of a mass movement of the working class to resist the IMF/World Bank imposed attacks carried out by their local puppets.

A strike wave similar to that which took place in 2002 (when militant action was taken by railway workers, and lead and zinc miners, along with other sections) would be a positive development that could cut across all ethnic divisions. Building the confidence and fighting capacity of the working class is of vital importance. If the privatisation and repressive labour laws are to be halted, and reversed, it will require decisive action by the workers’ movement.

The question of political representation for the working class, as it elsewhere in Europe, is of great importance. Whilst ‘abstentionism’ is an entirely understandable short term method of protest, it does not take things forward in the long term. A workers’ party could play a key role in aiding workers’ struggles outside of parliament, fighting against neo-liberalism’s onslaught, and crucially act as a collective organiser and educator.

Through the lessons of future mass struggles, the ideas of genuine socialism will re-emerge and the necessity of overthrowing capitalism and expelling imperialism from the region will start to gain mass support. An internationalist and socialist party could link up with other workers’ organisations and parties throughout the region to wage a determined struggle for a socialist confederation of the Balkans. Only on the basis of democratic socialism would it be possible to guarantee a decent standard of living and national rights for all the peoples of the Balkans.

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May 2004