It’s not all about census

Aleksandra M. Mitevska

In January 2012, a referendum on EU accession took place in Croatia, which at one time walked alongside Macedonia on the Euro-Atlantic path – about half a year after the country completed negotiations with the European Union. 43.5 percent of registered voters came out and voted in the referendum, of which just over 66 percent were “for” entry into the EU, and 33 percent were “against”.

Nearly seven years have passed since the second referendum in Croatian history, as an independent country, during which this country was established as an EU member state, and previously as a NATO member since 2008 (when Macedonia left the Bucharest summit with a veto). During this period of Croatia’s Euro-Atlantic progress, our country was constantly going backwards on the track to Brussels.

And now that Macedonia, in a very short period of time, has managed to move forward and arrive in front of NATO’s threshold and to the start of negotiations with the EU, thanks to the Prespa agreement, it now depends on the referendum on Sunday whether these major steps will continue or the country will return again to the starting position.

Hence, the comparison with the referendum in Croatia arises, although the upcoming referendum in Macedonia is not about joining the EU, but in fact it is about unblocking the road leading to that goal. Moreover, the most optimal scenario is for over 50 percent of the total number of Macedonian voters to turn out and vote, and the majority of them to vote “for” on the referendum ballot. In such a case, those who in the past weeks loudly called for a boycott, will not be able to challenge the legitimacy of the decision.

But what if on Sunday, for instance, 900,000 voters go to the polls, of which, say, 99 percent end up voting “for” instead of the 903,196 that are needed to be able to declare “absolute success” in the referendum, even if only 51% of the voters decided “for”? Does that mean that everything that has been achieved in the past few months for the final closure of the issue with Greece, which, for at least three decades, hinders the international establishment and integration of the country, will have to be rejected, only because the silent boycott advocates may be disturbed that, say, there were 3.196 less voters than the required number of voters? Or because those who calculated all these months with their position on the referendum, which, in turn, was mentioned as one of the most important commitments of the party, will now try to re-bargain and condition in the further stages of the implementation of the agreement with Greece.

Almost seven years ago, 43.5% of citizens voted in the referendum in Croatia, despite the high percentage of “against” votes that can not be overlooked (among other things because of the compromise that had been reached previously with neighboring Slovenia) were enough to legitimize the referendum for EU membership. One of the reasons for the easy legitimation of the referendum there may have been that Croats, as well as other European countries, have timely finished the recommendations of the Venice Commission and that there is no need for a census for a referendum vote. Because by deleting the census, the possibility of the majority of citizens to hold minority hostage, by abusing the boycott, is also deleted.
In Macedonia, however, even the arrival of the entire European and American diplomatic-political elite as a kind of expression of an international consensus for integrating our country into the EU and NATO may not be enough to persuade the supporters of the boycott that it is not all about numbers, but what’s more important is the goal that needs to be achieved. And one such strategic goal for the country, set at the very beginning of its independence, justifies the consultative character of the referendum on its achievement, and the so-called multidimensionality of the referendum question and the insistence of a clearly expressed will “for”. Because the stakes are too high to allow the minority put a blockade on the Euro-Atlantic path to the country through a boycott, now that we are before its finish.

It is by no means a Machiavellian approach to reality, but a conscious and responsible attitude towards the prospects that are expected to open before this country. The absence of an internal political consensus currently in Macedonia for achieving one of the priorities of the state does not mean absence of consensus among the citizens that the place of our country is in the Euro-Atlantic family.