Gruevski will eventually go, but what to do with gruevism? This was an issue that bothered public opinion for quite some time during the regime, when it was already clear that certain elements of Gruevski’s style of governance may remain in place even after Gruevski leaves power. Then, as now, the usual suspect was his party and his heir, as part of the same mentality of governing. However, after this year’s political changes, and the power that Prime Minister Zaev enjoys now, it is time to measure him up and see his actions through the same lens. That already shows concerning signs of continuation with Gruevski’s philosophy and style of governance.
Of course, Zaev is in power less than six months and it is too early to judge whether he may become a new Gruevski. But some of his positions and statements, especially after local elections when he gained more political power, may serve as a window to his worldview and perception of power. Those give worrisome signals to doubt whether his democratic capacity is high enough, and whether given more political power Zaev might become as big a threat to democracy in Macedonia as Gruevski was.
Zaev’s authoritarian style of governing can be best seen through his interactions with the Alliance of Albanians. This not so much because those relations unfolded in public for everyone to see, as much as because Alliance remains the only group to date that dared to confront and disagree with him from inside. His relations with the Alliance are thus the best example to date of how Zaev prefers to deal with those that think otherwise or refuse to take orders, and that is a cause for alarm for all democratic forces in the country. These relations are best illustrated with some key positions and statements from the brief history of cooperation between the two.
1. “I Prime Minister, Bejta mayor, Taravari minister”. This statement made at a rally for local elections, not more than four months after he became Prime Minister, is the best example of Zaev’s worldview. He began to play king that shows his subordinates their places in his new order. We must ask where the citizens are in this worldview, shouldn’t they be the sovereign that has the last word about who belongs where? Whence comes Zaev’s right to see things from above when we know that he didn’t even win in the election? Why this treatment of the government and state as his property and “pashalluk”, where he and no one else has the right to decide who should be where? This was the first signal that the leader of SDSM is slowly acting as a gruevist. The ongoing boycott of Gostivar municipality, actual these days, is just the next sign that he has no intention to stop, even after being defeated by the Alliance in Gostivar.
2. “I still haven’t decided who will be the minister of health”. First person, singular. This is how the Prime Minister spoke after local elections, when that position became vacant. Again an “I am the State” attitude, more fit for the Sun-King. Through this statement Zaev counts his coalition partners and his party to nothing, as if the decision was his and only his. What would’ve happened if his party, his partners or finally the Parliament did not approve his choice? Or did he know in advance that everyone would follow him blindly? Do we have a Prime Minister or a king; who is in power, Zaev the reformer or Zaev the new apostle of gruevism?
3. “We gave the ministry to Taravari, not the Alliance”. At first this may look like a botched joke, knowing full well that Alliance got positions in the government since it provided the key votes for its formation, and that without them Gruevski would probably be still in power and Zaev in jail. But let’s suppose Zaev really meant what he said. Does that also mean that other ministries were given to Bujar Osmani, Bilent Saliji, Sadula Duraku and others, and not to DUI? We know well that even Zaev himself does not believe these fairytales, but the way he used it to justify the mess he made gives enough material to understand how he really thinks.
In this case, Zaev positions himself as a supreme judge, the one who knows best who belongs where. Thus Taravari is OK, but Filipche with his rich professional footprint is so much better than anyone Alliance may offer, that he’s worth breaking up the coalition. No matter that behind Filipche’s footprint hides a former adviser of Todorov, a counter-plenum-er who didn’t know what he was signing, and no matter that he was called on it by a large part of public opinion, Zaev’s erstwhile comrades against the regime. No matter. In Zaev’s world, Zaev knows best!
4. Filipche’s case brought another phenomenon to the surface, that is, the total obedience to Zaev and his political party. It is staggering that such big and radical decisions, as is the reconstruction of the government and appointment of a controversial minister, were passed without a single vote raised against, not an hour’s worth of debate. In fact, during the six months of SDSM in power, I don’t know a single case of a different opinion or disagreement with what Zaev says and does. Members of Parliament are just buttons to be pushed, other functionaries extremely obedient, the party silenced. In Gruevski’s style somebody may call this “cohesiveness”, I prefer to call it with its real name – authoritarianism. Come to think of it, it was not present to this degree even in VMRO during their first six months in power.
5. “Alliance is a small party, with two MPs, we have majority even without them”. The funny part of this statement is that the Alliance was not that small or unimportant when it brought him to power and kept him away from jail. It is also funny because Alliance was in fact the only party that grew during local elections (even SDSM lost votes!). It is even funnier when we consider that compared to Alliance’s 50.000 votes, there are parties with 2.000-3.000 votes that have cabinet positions.
However, it is not funny how Zaev understands democracy. It seems that according to him, “the small” ones may be freely ignored and pushed out if they dare to disagree with him. And he doesn’t seem to understand that finally democracy is just that; to listen to every voice and position, especially when it is different from yours.
These are some of the deeds and statements that show how the Prime Minister already has tendencies to become a new reincarnation of gruevism, wrapped in left-wing ideology. Judging by their reactions, it seems that part of the “free-thinking public” is happy with the way Zaev treated Sela “the nationalist”. In DUI they are overfilled with joy that once again they will be the only Albanians in government, “lone ‘niggers’ at the party”. But this example should serve as a warning of what may come next, and who might be the next target. That “free-thinking” mass that spent ten years fighting the regime, should be especially cautious and see that Gruevski is gone, but his spirit lives on in Zaev, who slowly but surely is becoming his most loyal apostle. And to react while it’s still not late, while an old regime has not yet been replaced with a new one.
P.S. After I finished this column, Zaev issued a new statement in the same line: "I am not planning elections in 2018". Not “We”. ”I”- Zaev!
(The author is a political analyst)