Macedonians and the Prespa Agreement

Macedonians and the Prespa Agreement
It’s summertime now and a large part of the population uses annual vacation days, resting more or less from everyday work and other responsibilities, or is away from the place of permanent residence, whether it is in its native region, somewhere in Macedonia or abroad. It contributes for the attention and tensions over public and social issues and concerns to be reduced to a certain extent. However, modern IT technologies do not allow for full or significant human exclusion from current events in the world and their own country.

In such conditions, the debate about the justification of the existence of the so-called Prespa Agreement, the need to hold the referendum, and finally the way of voting at the already scheduled referendum. Regardless of all the confrontations in the society regarding the agreement, it is likely that everyone agrees that the decision that will come out of it is very serious and will seriously affect the long-term future of Macedonia. Since there was actually no serious social debate until the signing of the agreement, it is natural that the debate with all its heat is now open and will culminate in September. Perhaps it would have been better if it took place before the signing of the contract, but it is now a depleted issue and we need answers to the challenges that are right before us, which are neither easy nor naive. Quite the opposite.

These days, the non-governmental MCIC published the first public opinion poll regarding the forthcoming referendum on the name of our country. Perhaps this is not the first research of that kind, but it is definitely the first to be published. As such it deserves proper attention. There are 50 days remaining to the referendum, but any knowledge of public opinion, even initially, is important. From now on, any new public opinion survey will be compared with the results of the first and so on, until the final results of the referendum on September 30th. The results of the MCIC poll have already been published and commented enough so we don’t have to spend any more time on them. However, I think that an exception is allowed and maybe we should stay on two, for me, very important details of that research.

Namely, on the referendum question: "Are you in favour of EU and NATO membership, by accepting the agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece", only 27.4% of the ethnic Macedonians in the telephone survey answered that they would vote "in favour" and 45, 2% said they would vote "against". Such results are not a small difference, and this unambiguously means that the referendum question would probably be rejected in all municipalities where the ethnic Macedonians live in a whole or in the vast majority. If the results of the research are approximate, and there is no legitimate reason to doubt it, then they raise some very serious questions. Such a number of municipalities is large, just over 50, and they are concentrated in the eastern, central and southern part of Macedonia, as well as most of the municipalities of the city of Skopje. According to the survey, in those municipalities the rejection of the contract would be unambiguous and with a big difference. These are the municipalities where the ruling party got strong support in the last local election and all this, in the end, will lead to a completely different political map of Macedonia. Namely, a successful referendum on which ethnic Macedonians would be in a significant number against the agreement is a completely new and challenging situation that no one would want and whose consequences in the future could hardly build a successful future for Macedonia.

Hence, the government that is the inspirer and organizer of the referendum must approach it very carefully and with a great deal of seriousness because they only have 50 days to persuade the majority of ethnic Macedonians in the correctness of the plea in favour of the agreement. Every wasted day can cost a lot.

An additional problem is that if the research predictions are made it could mean, although not with great certainty, that in the upcoming local election the current opposition, which, incidentally, is an opponent of the referendum issue, could make a dramatic turn and win the councils and the mayors, and won in at least 4 constituencies in the state election. Considering that the name of our country and the agreement with Greece is one of the important issues that the President of Macedonia should deal with in the future, this outcome would encourage many opponents of the agreement to run for the next presidential election in March next year. All in all, those 45.2 versus 27.4 percent could raise many serious questions now and in the future.

The second important detail is the attitude of the young population toward the agreement that should be put forward in the referendum. The government considered that young people "naturally" and from "pragmatic" and even lucrative reasons would plead in favour of the agreement. However, the mentioned public opinion poll shows that 49.2% of them would vote "in favour", ie the other half would vote "against", or still does not know how to vote, or will refrain from voting. Considering the fact that the survey shows a huge affinity for the population belonging to other ethnic communities to the agreement (ethnic Albanians, for example, would vote for support with 88%), while other ethnic communities statistically have a relatively larger participation in the youth than in the total population, it turns out that the support for young ethnic Macedonians is below that 49.2%, which is probably significantly less than half of them would vote "against" or would have serious dilemmas about the agreement.

This is the second moment where a lot of attention needs to be paid because the authorities in this domain can be very surprised, especially in relation to their previous expectations. It is certain that they would not be thrilled if the majority of ethnic Macedonians (measured through the results of the referendum in the municipalities where they live) and the majority of the young ethnic Macedonians (for which apart from examining the public opinion, we will not have other relevant and relevant results) disagree with the Agreement. In that case, political consequences would be traumatic, and the implementation of the agreement, de facto, would be very problematic and perhaps impossible.

Finally, if the MCIC research is correct and if it leads to the true mood of the population, that is, the voters, then for those who have a great reason for the referendum to be successful, there is only one thing remaining - to quickly react and try to emphasize their arguments as best and unique. There’s probably nothing else. Of course, when it comes to arguments, they need to be very solid and substantial, and not as those that are now informally and timidly promoted (probably by some undefined and informal PR teams) and that they resemble more of seminar papers written by students in their first year at university than of serious projects with sound arguments.

Nikola Popovski

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