Last year, in a country far, far away, a political crisis occurred. Following allegations of government wiretapping, throngs of violent protesters converged on the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, calling for Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s resignation.
After weeks of chaos and political instability, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn was sent by the E.U. to broker an agreement and settle the dispute between the government and the opposition party that was fueling the unrest. As a result of the talks, all political party leaders in the country signed the “Przino Agreement,” calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister in early 2016 and the reinstitution of fair and free elections in the 100 days that followed. Many hailed the agreement as a victory and a welcome end to weeks of conflict.
For Macedonia, these problems are particularly heightened. As a small, landlocked nation and the primary transit path for refugees from war-torn nations, including Syria, Macedonia has been forced to take extraordinary measures to address both the security and humanitarian concerns posed by the crisis—measures they will be called on to continue implementing as the influx of refugees shows no signs of slowing down.
But with threats of political instability in the region, the tremendous progress the country has made in ensuring the safe transit of hundreds of thousands of refugees is in danger, posing a risk to neighboring E.U. and non-E.U. countries that depend on Macedonia’s leadership on this issue.
But even beyond the refugee crisis, Zaev’s unwillingness to follow through with the Przino Agreement harkens back to a dark time in Balkan history. It was only a few decades ago that mass ethnic killings and violent political conflict dominated much of the southern Balkan region, posing a deep threat to the overall stability of Europe.
Perhaps that’s why so many international leaders have spoken out against Zaev and in support of Macedonia’s elections scheduled to take place in April. International leaders such as Vice President Joe Biden, OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier and ODIHR Director Michael Georg Link have called on all political party leaders to uphold the Przino Agreement, and U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia Jess Baily issued a statement, urging “all parties and organizations to participate in elections,” offering a reminder that participation in the elections “is the best way to improve institutions and ensure a credible process.”
The impact of the political situation is Macedonia isn’t limited to this small country. It has implications that stretch far beyond its border into the rest of Europe and democratic nations across the globe. The opposition party in Macedonia should heed the calls of the rest of the world and participate in the elections come April 24. It’s important for the future of the economy, for the future of the refugees, and mostly importantly, for the future of democracy in the west.
It’s time for Zaev to follow through on the electoral path he agreed to. The whole world is watching.
Lewis is the executive director of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).