The 11 years of governance by VMRO-DPMNE has seen the party engage in divisive social rhetoric and erasure of legislative institutions essential to Macedonian social rights and civil liberties. The looming 2024 elections, where VMRO-DPMNE remains electorally strong, presents a risk of, prior and present, legislative exclusion of Macedonia’s gender and sexual minorities to be perpetuated.
The recent 11 years of government by N. Macedonia’s right-wing populist party of VMRO-DPMNE has not only been marred with corruption scandals, populistic domestic/international policy changes, distributionism for the sake of electoral support but also an active regression of human, social and political rights guarantee. The regression of essential legislation designed to protect the most vulnerable Gender and Sexual minorities in N. Macedonia is not only a stain on the countries political record but also presents a future threat as VMRO-DPMNE, which largely retained their political support in 2020, looks to enter another campaigning season for the year 2024.
N. Macedonia is a small unitary republic that is in between parliamentary elections of 2020 and 2024, as of 2022. In the 30 years since it’s founding in 1991, N. Macedonia has experienced diversity in their success towards democratization; however, the country itself is still considered to be one of the more successful cases in political stability and democratization amongst ex-Yugoslavia Balkan states (Kapidžić, 2020). Emerging as the only country that was not embroiled in the Yugoslav wars that stills haunts the Balkan geographic region economically, socially and politically, N. Macedonian ethnic conflicts were solved in a comparatively easier where the 2001 Ohrid Agreement under NATO and EU supervision guaranteed the democratic rights of all citizens while also integrating Albanian minority linguistic rights to all stages of the state structure (Demjaha, 2020). A combination of domestic eagerness to be embraced by the N. Macedonian public being spurned in joining NATO and the EU (Szpala, 2016), as well as a general global trend of rising populism saw a coalition lead by the right-wing populist party of VMRO-DPMNE forming the government after the 2006 elections.
The governance period of VMRO-DPMNE, from 2006 to 2017, has been defined infamously with a combination of populistic welfare policies & messaging, ethnic-nationalist politicking and degradation social and human rights. With the party program being evaluated to not stand up to then contemporary EU ‘Good Governance’ policies, as well as regional political disputes with Bulgaria and Greece; stalling of N. Macedonia’s EU ascension negotiations saw a drastic U turn in both the countries international politicking and VMRO-DPMNE’s party program. Sacralization of Macedonian identity long ethnic and religious lines to the exclusion of ethnic and religious minorities would be accelerated while Macedonian identity would be weaponized as a divisive tool of politicking (Vangelov, 2019, p.213). In fact, socially divisive issues would be utilized at the cost of the subject minorities, such as in the ratification of 2010 antidiscrimination laws that excluded ‘sexual orientation’ as a point of discrimination while VMRO-DPMNE deliberately utilized inflammatory and divisive rhetoric at the Macedonian parliament on the day of the bill’s ratification (Kajevska, 2018). Repeated attacks on Macedonia’s legislation guaranteeing social rights and freedoms would increase and finalize with an attempted alteration to the constitution by VMRO-DPMNE to legislate a definition of marriage.
The repeated divisive rhetoric, compounding attacks on Macedonian civil liberties and an excessively obvious vicious cycle of authoritarianism that disproportionately delegated state resources at the expense of Macedonian society saw VMRO-DPMNE’s defeat at the 2017 elections which were called six months early. The SDSM government under Zoran Zaev took the initiative to mend the international relations harm caused with Greece, a major road block in Macedonia’s NATO accession, by a decade of VMRO-DPMNE’s irredentist ‘Antiquization’ policies and signed the Prespa Agreement in June 2018; effectively ending the naming and symbolism dispute between the parties. As a direct consequence of the Prespa Agreement, Greece removed their veto over Macedonian accession to NATO, and with Macedonia being invited to join in February 2019; the country was integrated to the Western alliance framework in March 2020. A definite diplomatic success and a turning point for the country after a decade of diplomatic drift away from the Western security and economic framework.
The 2020 parliamentary elections saw a general decline in the votes received by the two largest parties of N. Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM alike. While various influences from Covid-19 lockdowns and exhaustion effect of then on-going EU and NATO ascension processes had an impact on the election, the disproportionate electoral retention of VMRO-DPMNE highlights a very real threat of a repeat democratic backsliding that will undoubtably effect the human, political and social rights of those most vulnerable in N. Macedonian society. VMRO-DPMNE had already not shied away from taking, populistic, beyond-institutional routes to bring conservatively recessive changes in N. Macedonia’s legal platforms that enshrine the socio-political rights of N. Macedonian citizens. Though losing the 2020 presidential/parliamentary elections, VMRO-DPMNE managed to gain electoral success in the 2021 regional elections. The 2024 elections looming large, the EU ascension talks restarted and N. Macedonia now a full member of NATO; emergence of another right-wing populistic government within the European Continent have further democratically recessive consequences for the European Union.
Demjaha, A. (2020). THE PATH OF NORTH MACEDONIA TOWARDS THE EUROPEAN UNION. JUSTICIA–International Journal of Legal Sciences, 8(13-14), 9-16.
Gagovska, E. (2021). Macedonian Feminists Demand Justice for ‘Public Room’ Victims of Online Sexual Harassment. Women’s Media Center.
Retrieved from: https://womensmediacenter.com/women-under-siege/macedonian-feminists-demand-justice-for-public-room-victims-of-online-sexual-harassment
Kajevska, A. M. (2018). A foe of democracy, gender and sexual equality in Macedonia: The worrisome role of the party VMRO-DPMNE. Politics and Governance, 6(3), 55-66.
Kapidžić, D. (2020). The rise of illiberal politics in Southeast Europe. Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 20(1), 1-17.
Szpala, M. (2016). Macedonia: a superficial democracy in the shadow of crises. 206, 1-9.
Vangelov, O. (2019). The primordialisation of ethnic nationalism in Macedonia. Europe-Asia Studies, 71(2), 203-224.