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Profile 12 Dec 12

Nikola Todorov - Macedonia’s Unwanted Reformer

This relative newcomer to politics has quickly become trusted by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, advancing rapidly in the ruling VMRO DPMNE hierarchy.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

 

Nikola Todorov | Photo by: moh.gov.mk

A young, energetic but relatively inexperienced bureaucrat, Macedonian Health Minister Nikola Todorov is receiving unwanted amounts of publicity these days.

The 33-year-old close ally of the Prime Minister has his hands full with an almost month-long strike by public health sector doctors demanding his resignation.

The strikers are angry at Todorov for forcing a new method of calculating their wages on them, based on the number of patients they have treated over the previous month. They say that the method is open to abuse.

Todorov’s blasé attitude angered medics even more when he called them a “handful of people… politically motivated by the opposition”.

Not that long ago, during high school, this law graduate of Skopje’s state university was on the other side of the barricades himself.

In 1997 he helped organize a student and high school protest against the formation of an Albanian-language Pedagogical Academy, which Macedonian nationalists resented.

The protest was noteworthy for the violent language used against the country’s large Albanian minority by young members of the now ruling centre right VMRO DPMNE party, who camped outside parliament and held a hunger strike in opposition to the move.

Apart from fuelling ethnic tension, the protest succeeded in boosting the political careers of some of the protest’s organizers.

Nikola Todorov [second from the left] at the 1997 protest before parliamenet


When VMRO DPMNE party took power in 2006, Todorov’s career made rapid advances.

Starting in 2006 as deputy head of the state company for real estate management, Todorov later that year became director of the state-owned GTC shopping mall in central Skopje. The next year he was appointed head of the Skopje branch of the state cadastre.

His big break came in 2009 when he was made Education Minister in Prime Minister Gruevski’s government.

He inherited a complicated situation, as Macedonia’s constitutional court has just annulled a government provision that envisaged the introduction of religious studies into primary schools.

The court ruled that this contradicted Macedonia’s secular constitution, which excludes religion from state affairs.

“The project will definitely continue,” Todorov then said, before re-introducing the same measure in a more diluted form, as classes studying “the theory of religion”.

While in office as Education Minister, he managed to upset ethnic Albanians again in January 2010, when he abruptly announced a decision to introduce mandatory Macedonian-language classes for primary school pupils from non-Macedonian communities.

The rush move was justified by the idea that in post-conflict Macedonia, students from different ethnicities should have a more integrated educational system that would advance their equal opportunities when they grew up.

Todorov backtracked as Albanian parents and teachers made it clear they saw his incentive as an imposition from on high. Parents staged protests, refusing to send their children to school while some ethnic Albanian teachers also refused to teach.

With a reform to the law regulating the autonomy of the state university, in January 2011 Todorov then managed to anger his own former faculty teachers, who accused him of trying to curb their freedom.

Professors from the Sts Cyril and Methodius University came out on a rare public protest against the reforms, which envisaged more frequent and direct checkups by state officials on professors’ re-elections.

But Todorov, backed by the Prime Minister, had his way and the law reform was passed.

Despite being exposed to intense scrutiny by the opposition, who saw Todorov as a newcomer, unfit to run such a sensitive ministerial post, the support that he enjoyed from Gruevski proved decisive and in July 2011 he switched posts, becoming Health Minister.

Nikola Todorov | Photo by: moh.gov.mk

“After ruining education, he is now set to ruin the health system,” some opposition MPs commented.

But Todorov was presented as a capable manager who would bring much-needed reforms to the health sector, which has been marred by decades of neglect and lack of investment.

One of Todorov’s first measures was to introduce managers instead of medics as heads of most clinics, in hope of improving their working and financial condition.

Not being part of the circle of medical professionals himself, Todorov raised eyebrows among some critics who claimed that a manager could not be expected to know the details of running medical institutions.

Critics have also recently noted the resemblance between his gesticulations and body talk in public appearances and those of his mentor, Prime Minister Gruevski.

Not surprisingly to many, as he became part of the Prime Minister’s most trusted circle, Todorov was recently appointed to another influential post as head of the party’s election HQ for the local elections slated for March 2013.

“I am confident of another overwhelming victory for the party [in the 2013 elections],” Todorov said on being appointed.

In November, Todorov caused amusement when he commissioned some job announcements that were limited to candidates with IQs above 140 to serve as his policy advisers.

PM Nikola Gruevski and minister Todorov | Photo by: moh.gov.mk


Only a minute percentage of the world’s population has such a high IQ, causing much ribald laughter about the minister’s apparent insistence on being advised by certified geniuses.

“If some of them one day take my job, so much the better!” Todorov responded.

During all this time at the forefront of political attacks, Todorov has kept his private life out of the public eye.  But it is known that he is married and has two children, and that he speaks English fluently and is learning Greek.

In his CV Todorov notes literature, following sporting events and digital technology as his favorite pastimes.

 

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