Fears of further instability in northern Macedonia

Macedonia (or former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – FYROM) has not experienced incidents of large-scale public violence in recent years, reads the US Bureau of Consular Affairs’ country information. The data was last updated on December 31, 2014, that’s why there is no mention yet about the serious incident that took place over the last week-end in the city of Kumanovo. According to FYROM Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, “terror group were planning mass murder attacks on civilian and state targets.” Aware of what was about to happen, the Interior Ministry’s police forces engaged in a fighting that “lasted for 28 hours nearly without a pause” and killed 8 policemen and 14 “insurgents.”

A group with “enormous experience in guerrilla and terror tactics” known as the “most dangerous terror group in the Balkans” was behind the plot, Gruevski said. The group included at least 5 Kosovo citizens and other Macedonian citizens. Kumanovo had been the place of an insurgency in 2001 that had started in the mountainous region of Tetovo and was led by Albanians who represented 25.8 percent of the local population and demanded their recognition as a specific community, notably linguistic. At the time in 2002, Macedonians and Serbs represented 60.5 percent and 7.4 percent respectively of the local population – same figures existed nationally. Despite the gravity of the situation, the European institutions have been quite discreet about it.

On May 9, 2015, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn delivered a quick statement, urging “all actors for utmost restraint.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has not been more talkative, saying “it is important that all political and community leaders work together to restore calm and conduct a transparent investigation to establish what happened.” Beyond what was introduced as a dangerous and unfortunately fatal anti-terror operation, the incident might be evidence according to Cyceon that there is still real potential for instability in northern FYROM, chiefly along the border with Kosovo. This is bad news for the very visible “Invest in Macedonia” promotion effort the FYROM government has conducted abroad for several years. The 2.66 million people FYROM has enjoyed a $10.2 billion nominal GDP in 2012 – around $5,000 per capita – and has applied for EU and NATO membership since December 2005.