HOT (RACKET) SUMMER
By Aleksandar Krzhallovski
After the initial dust with the opening of the Racket case, the detention of two (and so far the only) suspects on July 15, as well as the weird silence in the meantime (including the even stranger annual leave of all important prosecutors in the case from both the Public and the Special Prosecutor’s Office), this past week the affair seems to be getting attention, however, and may culminate this or next week.
Prime Minister Zaev first called for the case to be cleared last Monday, as did President Pendarovski yesterday, and after the series of foreign envoys (Hahn, Reeker, Palmer) the new US ambassador, Kate Byrnes sent a Twitter message for a thorough, transparent and speedy investigation. In his address, I would say very well, Pendarovski seems to have conveyed the dominant impressions and moods of the general public:
- it is a big affair, which besides jeopardizing confidence in the institutions and the state itself, can negatively affect Euro-integration;
- it does not matter whether those involved in the racket are left or right (i.e. VMRO, SDSM, DUI or others), all need to be identified and accountable for their actions;
- it does not matter who publishes and what footage it is about, nor for what motives and reasons it is done, their content is important and needs to be fully explored;
- the seriousness of the situation does not justify taking vacations at key institutions (primarily prosecution offices);
- he expressed disappointment with SJO and especially his chief Janeva.
Exactly three months after his inauguration, in (more or less) the first important statement in his presidency, he has already demonstrated non party-based action (though proposed and largely elected on one side of the political spectrum – the current ruling coalition), and thus a commitment to what he emphasized as his top priority – depolarization of society. This is especially important, given that the two main parties SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE continue with stupid press conferences (especially those in front of the other party’s headquarters) in which they compete to ask more questions about the other party’s crimes (rather than submitting criminal charges if they already have such knowledge, and not to bother us with their games…so far they would probably have cleaned themselves of the criminals in their parties).
So the president did what he was supposed to do, and the question now is whether his call to action will have any effect. Unfortunately, he does not have a lot of instruments to ensure that the institutions follow his instructions, so it remains to be seen whether the few promising news (e.g. that SJO prosecutor(s) have been summoned for questioning this week) will bear fruit, that during this or next week the remaining persons from Geroski’s saga with fictitious nicknames will be identified, and of course all other persons involved in this case; that all the individuals mentioned in the media as related – will self-initiatively (and if not so – then at the invitation of the PPO) testify about their role and involvement in the affair; that charges will be brought against all persons for whom such involvement is established (and that for some or all of them detention will be required) …and, no less important – where the money given for the racket will be located (or the bribery – whatever its name is, although there may be some distinction between the two terms…but obviously in the public that difference is the least important), and also where the “donations” to the International Union for alleged nursing homes and other “humanitarian” projects are.
In the last column (entitled “The Beginning of the End”, which, by the way, quotes Churchill “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning“) I linked the Racket case to a possible new postponement of negotiations with the EU. As I see some commentators for that article got excited about the issue, let me clarify some things. I would not go back to my opinion of the Prespa Agreement and how bad it is for us and that it was concluded/signed unnecessarily hasty – I have at least five columns on that subject. Secondly, I have also written several times that I am not personally obsessed with the EU negotiation date and that we all should not be so burdened with it. And yes, that we have to sort things out on our own, rather than expecting the EU to fix us (and indeed the EU won’t want us to join them until we sort ourselves out). And thirdly, although I don’t know what this has to do with my articles, I’m not Vlach, but Mijak, or more accurately from Galichica, and thus a Macedonian.
One of the comments referred to a possible poll on this topic of the organization I work for – MCIC. We have not done a poll lately, and while doing so, just recently I was looking at another poll, the European Council on Foreign Relations (a European “NGO”, i.e. think-tank composed of former senior EU and member states officials), on the subject about the enlargement, that is, the mood of the citizens in the EU countries on this issue. The poll confirms the already known situation in the major (and I would say most important) member states (in addition to the expected France, the Netherlands and Denmark, it is a little surprising for Germany and Austria) that the majority of respondents (from 37% to 46%) consider NO country from the Western Balkans to become an EU member state in the next decade (i.e. by the end of 2030). In fact, the percentages are highest in Germany and Austria (46 and 44%), although their governments (at least in public statements) are spreading support for EU enlargement with the Balkan countries, and these two countries have the largest number of migrants from the Balkan countries.
Secondly, or second bad news, in a comment to this poll by the same Council (ECFR) it is stated that the message to the Western Balkan countries is clear – the countries in the region should demonstrate a sufficient level of good (political) governance before any technical negotiation process for EU membership starts.
And thirdly, prominent members of that Council, 69 in total (including current foreign ministers of Montenegro and Albania, as well as our EU ambassador Zbogar), are signatories of an open letter to the new European Commission composition (the elected European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen, but also the candidates for European Council President Charles Michel and for European foreign policy Josep Borrell), on what should be the EU’s foreign policy priorities. Unfortunately, there is no mention of enlargement in the three points/priorities listed. The Balkans is mentioned only in the context of the necessary “big deal” on the most controversial issues, along with China, the Middle East, Russia and…climate change.
All in all, the prospect of Macedonia’s EU accession in the foreseeable future is fading away, and uncertainty about the start of negotiations by the end of this year is growing. The Racket affair certainly does not contribute positively. Unless the state really tackles it quickly and decisively, and everyone involved ends up behind bars by the end of this or next week!
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