Aleksandra M. Mitevska
Opposition’s leader Hristijan Mickoski’s stagnating, reconsidering and calculating about the (non) participation in the upcoming referendum is somewhat understandable. The choice between staying home on September 30th and choosing between “yes” or “no” on the referendum question is just a seemingly simple thing. Especially for the new leader of VMRO-DPMNE, who came to the party leadership in a very delicate circumstance for the current opposition. At a time when this ruling coalition counted its first months in the government building, after VMRO-DPMNE’s decade-long untouchable rule, while in the Criminal Court in Skopje, only the suspects on the events on April 27 were arrested one by one.
In moments when a complete dismantling of the previous government matrix was starting to emerge, Nikola Gruevski was simply forced to withdraw from the party top, as he had previously been forced to leave from the government building on Ilinden Street. Then, undoubtedly, Mickoski was Gruevski’s choice as his successor in the ‘White Palace’. But the expectations of the former prime minister that the new party leader will continue down his old road, apparently did not coincide with the expectations of a large part of the public, who still hopes that the new opposition will turn a new page. And he has a chance to do this in the coming days – before the start of the referendum campaign.
From this time distance of more than eight months from the Valandovo Congress, the impression is that the then-election of Gruevski puts the incumbent leader of VMRO-DPMNE before an even more difficult choice. Mickoski is now practically facing the decision to say “no” to the old populist manners of VMRO-DPMNE’s actions that his predecessors practiced, and which complicated the name issue to the maximum and dragged the state’s Euro-Atlantic perspectives into a blind spot. The other option is to say “no” to the incumbent prime minister and his main opponent in the political ring, Zoran Zaev, whose key argument, in turn, in the affirmation of the agreement with Greece is the unblocking of the integration processes of the country. But that option to the opposition leader only seems easier at first glance.
Professor Mickoski, with a not so modest political experience that he accumulated in the past period, is probably aware that his eventual “no” to participate in the referendum would not only mean negating Zaev. The eventual abstention of the opposition would get a much wider scale, and the political consequences can only be guessed for the time being.
This, firstly, would mean turning out backs to the possibility of full-fledged NATO membership and for starting negotiations with the EU, as references that have been registered as strategic goals of the state since gaining independence – in another referendum that everyone is talking about now with piety, unlike those times when there were many skeptics about the idea of independence. From this aspect, for this VMRO-DPMNE leadership may be risky and a decision to vote “against” the referendum, if it goes with that logic that the rejection of the agreement with Greece will automatically mean “no” to Macedonia’s membership in Euro-Atlantic organizations.
Perhaps this is why Mickoski insisted that the EU and NATO not appear in the referendum question – in order to have room to amplify the responsibility for the eventual boycott and to be purely against which he opposes.
Mickoski, perhaps, is aware that the most cost-effective option is to call for a ‘yes’ vote on September 30 – among other things, because in that case the responsibility for reaching an agreement with Greece is still not his. But then he will have to confront all those present and former party officials to whom he said “no”, who have for some time been doing a lot of personal campaigns for the boycott.
Therefore, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE is in an awkward position now. That’s why he goes round in circles as the opposition presses him to state his position on the referendum, and senior foreign diplomats arriving in the country on a daily basis to support the agreement with Greece as a ticket for the country in the “Brussels company”. Even all of the polls that have emerged these days suggest that it is possible to reach the census of over 50 percent turnout and get more ‘yes’ votes. Those percentages certainly do not support the boycott’s conspirators.
Therefore, the current leadership of VMRO-DPMNE will probably continue to go round in circles for some time. If could even sleep through the referendum campaign. However, everyone’s position will be certainly known on the last day of September.