Zaev is in a dangerous race against time

The size and radicalness of the dismissals and rotations of government and party officials of the Social Democrats will not matter much if Prime Minister Zoran Zaev runs out of time on the clock in this simultaneous chess game he is playing in zeitnot. Although he is in a winning position, he might lose both the party and the government. It would be a greater loss for the state than for him personally. The comparison with a game of chess is most appropriate because a defeat is possible even in a winning position, if a crucial factor is not taken into account – time. Zoran Zaev and Macedonia have entered a dangerous race against time whose outcome does not depend on them alone. No need for more drama in this already dramatic situation, but one must bear in mind that it will not be the first time for egotistical Europe to spend a government of a country candidate for membership, and let it go calmly, as collateral damage, to drown in its own praise.

Surely, we will get the best report from Brussels on the progress of Macedonia so far, but it will be just for show if there is no date for negotiations with the EU, if there is no infusion from the bulkier pre-accession financial funds that are integral part of the realization of the Brussels reforms chapters where the essence of the whole engagement of the state, of all institutions, and of almost all citizens in the next six, eight or ten years, depends on the speed of the successful closing of the reform chapters, or as it is usually called, doing the homework. Personnel changes – whether they come from sincere motives accepted as pressure from the public, as if they go the message from the presidential elections to establish higher standards of moral, political and criminal responsibility for officials, or they are only about populist measures as political marketing – will be time wasted before the tsunami caused by the bad news from Brussels if this happens. The news in such situations usually sounds like this : You are very good, you are leaders, you are fantastic, but you will wait for some time for a start date for negotiations, which we hope will start if not this year, then in the spring of next year, until when you need to complete the following tasks … Yada yada yada. That would be a debacle, a hard disappointment and a catastrophe from which Macedonia will not be able to recover for years.

Not having an exact date for starting negotiations with the EU will cause a sense of great deceit to the vast majority of Macedonian citizens. This will encourage the notion in all the anachronistic forces and residuals of the regime of Nikola Gruevski that the compromise with Greece is a betrayal of the national interests of the state. All those who supplied and still work a triple shift producing false news saying that the name change and everything else that was difficult to swallow from the Prespa Agreement is deal made long ago, that it is the reason Nikola Gruevski was removed from power, that “the bombs” came to Zaev only for a change of power and with a goal to deface Macedonia. It would be a confirmation for the justification of the criticisms and scenarios of the conspiracy of Europe and the great forces against Macedonia.

Of course, the opposite can also happen. Setting up a date for negotiations with the EU this year and Macedonia’s accession to NATO is achieving the most important strategic goals of the state and its citizens and saving Macedonia from disintegration and disappearance. Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Washington and the UN  – everyone who was involved in the negotiations with Greece and the agreement with Bulgaria and in the internal major changes that came to Macedonia after the liberation of the captive state, are very well aware of this. It is therefore difficult, almost impossible, to believe that in spite of all the praises, the EU will brutally punish Macedonia and all those who, at the cost of large-scale sacrifice, have decided to open a new page in history. Greece has won the past on which it pretends, and Macedonia as “North” got its future. Prime minister Tsipras, prepared for sacrifice, received the first sentence with the defeat of the European elections. Will there be another penalty with a loss of power due to the Prespa Agreement is still uncertain. The punishment for Zoran Zaev with the presidential elections, where his candidate won, is insignificant and is more a warning than punishment. What will happen in a year and a half when the parliamentary elections take place, will mostly depend on the implementation of reforms and negotiations with the EU followed by concrete and visible results that the citizens will feel.

It is why I think that at this moment the most important factor of time should not be wasted with party personnel combinations and cosmetic touch-ups in the government. The largest government and institutional and personal engagement of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his associates should be further directed with full confidence in proving the justification of the Prespa Agreement and the policy of good-neighborliness as the greatest success after the independence of the state. Regarding the results after the victory in the presidential elections, which is very important because it is a great victory, and not a Pyrrhic victory as it is mistakenly accepted, it is astonishing how the government has settled, leveling its mistakes with the previous regime and robbing  of the state and citizens that lasted for ten years. After Gruevski’s fall, the departure of President Gjorge Ivanov whowas one of the biggest impediments to the Euro-Atlantic processes, with the arrival of Stevo Pendarovski as head of state, whose orientation is well known, it is clear what is the direction to where the whole energy should be directed in this short time for Zaev and his office.

Regardless how unexpected the results of the presidential election were for the government, no matter how much it was a message from the citizens on their dissatisfaction with the achieved results, Zaev must take into account that they also reflect the fact that with many citizens there is growing doubt that Europe and Brussels can double-cross Macedonia because the expectations were that the negotiations with the EU would begin immediately after the constitutional changes made in a dramatic atmosphere with huge unpopular concessions as a prerequisite of the agreement with Greece. Setting a date for negotiations with the EU and the beginning of reforms will force all necessary personnel changes.

Erol Rizaov