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News 01 Jul 16

Macedonia Parties Dismiss Call for 'Neutral' Balkans

Macedonia’s main parties have either ignored or condemned the decision of a small ethnic Serbian party to sign a declaration in Moscow advocating a 'neutral zone' in the Balkans.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
The signing of the agreement took place at the 15th congress of Russia’s ruling United Russia party. Photo by: Beta

Macedonia's junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, the biggest Albanian party in Macedonia, has distanced itself from a non-binding agreement signed by a small coalition partner, calling for a "neutral" zone in the Balkans to counter NATO expansion.

Talat Xhaferi, a DUI MP, said the agreement was impractical and inapplicable. “Practical relations [in the region] do not go in favour of implementing such an idea,” Xhaferi said, insisting that all the Balkan states had clearly chosen the path of Euro-Atlantic integration.

Xhaferi added that the agreement reflected “Moscow’s ambition to exert more influence in the region through its Balkan satellites” but said that this influence cannot prevail.

The opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, slammed its DUI rival for allowing such an agreement to be signed by its coalition partner in the first place.

“The Democratic Party of Serbs is not only in coalition with [the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party of Nikola] Gruevski but also with the DPA. Let them all go to Putin!” a DPA MP, Bekim Fazliu, said ironically.

On Monday and Tuesday, pro-Russian and anti-NATO parties across the Balkans, from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Bulgaria, signed a declaration calling for "a militarily neutral territory in the Balkans" while attending the 15th congress of Russia’s ruling United Russia party in Moscow.

The head of the DPS, Ivan Stoiljkovic, who signed the declaration in Moscow as the only representative from Macedonia, admitted that he did not represent the Macedonian government. He also said that closer ties with Russia do not automatically mean turning one's back on the EU and NATO.

“I will work to make the Macedonian public more acquainted with this initiative. No one should object to Macedonia's free cooperation with Russia and China, as well as with the US, the EU and NATO,” Stoiljkovic told local media on his return from Moscow.

The VMRO DPMNE party also said it had nothing to do with what Stoiljkovic signed in Moscow, rebuffing accusations from the opposition Social Democrats, the SDSM, that the leading government party was endangering the country’s Euro-Atlantic perspectives.

“We have not been informed about the Russian declaration. VMRO DPMNE stays on the course of the Euro-Atlantic integration of Macedonia,” the ruling party said.

The signing of the agreement after Macedonia’s EU and NATO accession have been blocked for years by neighbouring Greece, which objects to Macedonia’s constitutional name.

Macedonia's EU accession bid is being further hampered by the ongoing political crisis that revolves around opposition claims that the ruling party was responsible for mass illegal surveillance and other criminal activities.

An opinion poll published this month, carried out by the Skopje-based Institute for Political Studies and the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, suggests that support for EU and NATO accession Macedonia is in decline.

The survey shows that 67 per cent of respondents still want Macedonia to join the EU and NATO but a quarter would vote against. The percentage of the population supporting EU and NATO membership several years ago was almost 90 per cent.

Albanians make up at least a quarter of the Macedonian population of 2.1 million. Various surveys show that Albanians have consistently shown more support for Euro-Atlantic integration than the ethnic Macedonian majority.

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