Macedonia is a country in deep trouble. There is a climate of mistrust between all the political parties; intolerance of minority groups is increasing and fear is also generated by the all-pervasive control of the main governing party. In 2009 the European Commission recommended that a date be set for accession negotiations to start, but since then the country's efforts to join the EU ( and NATO ) have been blocked.
Macedonia is a country in deep trouble. Under a veneer of normality lies a climate of deep mistrust between all the political parties and between the main ethnic communities. Several incidents of inter-ethnic violence took place in the capital city earlier this year and are on the increase. Political dialogue, insofar as it exists between the parties, remains confrontational.
These tensions are compounded by a climate of fear in the population at large, generated by the all-pervasive control of the main governing party, which has been in power since July 2006. This control covers not only the main state organs such as the judiciary and public administration, but also the electoral process and, above all, the media. Criticism of the government is not tolerated; those who dare to raise their voices are branded 'enemies of the state'. This includes civil society organisations, which have played an important role in monitoring the government's performance in implementing much needed reforms.
Meanwhile, although the European Commission has recommended (since 2009) that a date be set for the start of accession negotiations, the country's efforts to join the EU (and NATO) remain blocked.
Greece has prevented the required consensus in the EU Council because it refuses to recognise the constitutional name of Macedonia. This situation raises questions about Greece's commitment to stability in the Balkan region, ten years after the Thessaloniki EU-Western Balkan Summit, which marked a turning point in confirming the EU accession perspective for the countries of the region.
The delay has been grist to the mill of the government's ethno-nationalist and populist agenda, and has provided a convenient pretext for it to pursue a number of policies that are at variance with the country's objective of EU accession. They have also fostered a divisive atmosphere within society at large - unprecedented in the country's history.
Yet the objective of EU (and NATO) accession is, nonetheless, the one element that keeps the country united. The only way to ensure that the country does not sink into further instability is for the accession negotiations to start without further delay. This should be conditional on the establishment of an all-inclusive negotiating process involving the government, civil society, academia, the business community and the media.