Gruevski will return – but when the country is a NATO member state

Aleksandra M. Mitevska

In spring 2008, the policies of the then VMRO-DPMNE government led by Nikola Gruevski led to a complete blockade of Macedonia’s integration into NATO. The country that until then had been the leader of the Adriatic group survived a dreadful fiasco at the Bucharest summit, as opposed to Croatia and Albania, which now have a decade-long membership in the most powerful military-political alliance.

Almost 11 years later, Gruevski, now a former prime minister, asylum seeker in Hungary and a fugitive from justice – legally convicted of a corruption case and charged with several more cases from the SPO, managed to overshadow the news that if it happened in “his time”, it would probably would have been the cause of national euphoria, given the country’s bad experience at the Bucharest summit. But the information that the accession protocol for Macedonia will be signed on February 6 this year (Wednesday) at the NATO headquarters in Brussels – indicating that the main obstacle to the Bucharest Summit has been overcome, and that the country is stepping on to achieving one of its two major strategic goals, barely for a few hours, in the wee small hours, was a the main subject in the public. Until the announcement reached that fugitive Gruevski will have his first TV appearance since the escape.
Thus, the former prime minister, thanks to his not so famous past work in the country in the past decade, stole the thunder from the news that Macedonia de facto becomes the 30th member of the NATO alliance. In fact, even in Ukraine, for instance, on a national television former president and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, when a warrant was issued after his escape to Russia, it would have been probably the main topic in the domestic public. Only the Ukrainian media, probably, did not think of ordering such exclusivity to its audience. Perhaps because in the last five years there were no such key and positive moments, as for Macedonia joining NATO, which were supposed to be spoiled…

Indeed, what else can be expected in a society that is generally turned to the past, not recognizing in the present the moments that are expected to provide a more prosperous future for the country, greater security, rule of law, entry of new investments, etc. The examples of the new member states of the Alliance in the last one and a half decade show that NATO entry has been accompanied by numerous positive effects both politically and economically, such as GDP and foreign direct investment. In Albania, for instance, there has been a double growth in investments in the period after joining NATO, although this is happening in a period of global recession. In Montenegro – the last full member of NATO – since 2017, after joining the alliance, investment growth has increased by 140 percent.

The opportunities that will open up for Macedonia with recent NATO membership still seem to be of secondary importance to the wider domestic audiences compared to the exciting news that could be heard in Gruevski’s interview with a national TV station that was his main logistics in the period of the undisputed ruled in the country, on account, among other things, of its Euro-Atlantic perspectives. The details of where the former and long-standing Macedonian prime minister is located in Budapest, where he takes his walks and where he dines, does keep in touch with friends from Macedonia and whether he gets nostalgic for his fatherland… they are certainly more interesting for the average Macedonian viewer, but they are insignificant – especially in comparison with the major political processes of regional and international significance that are taking place at the moment in the country.

From that aspect, it was good to hear that Gruevski plans to return to Macedonia one day. Maybe he will come back – if the competent institutions in the country really invest all of their capacities and if they use all procedural opportunities to do so, without avoiding responsibility for his escape, without delaying the investigation of the circumstances under which it happened, and without any strange excuses, such as the erased recordings from security cameras on the Albanian border, etc.

But Gruevski, probably, knows that he will not find the same country that he secretly left in an attempt to evade justice. It is already certain that in the period when the prime minister would return to his home country, it will be a member state of NATO and in the middle of negotiations for EU membership. In such circumstances, Gruevski is unlikely to return as a free man, and even less as a political factor in Macedonia. He can only return to serve his prison sentence for the “Tank” case, and perhaps for the other cases that the SPO has filed against him, and for which he is being tried in absentia and given detention.