Nikola Gruevski, leader of Macedonia’s main ruling VMRO DPMNE party, has been condemned for suggesting that if 19th and 20th century Macedonian freedom fighters were alive today, they would assassinate his main political opponent, Zoran Zaev, head of the Social Democrats.
“This breaks all the limits … It is inhumanely low and shameful to threaten an opposition leader with a death sentence, whatever he might be … There are radicals from all political sides who may interpret this as a call for a lynch,” university professor Nenad Markovic said.
While Markovic sees Gruevski’s statement as a message directed mainly to VMRO DPMNE supporters to close ranks ahead of the December 11 elections, he said that such “sloppy political messages” could also motivate people to vote against them.
“Everyone who sees him or herself as at least a mild critic of a politician who sends these messages is now probably more motivated … to come out and vote against him,” Markovic said.
On Monday, addressing a party rally in the town of Delcevo, Gruevski claimed that if the leader of the Ottoman-era guerrilla organisation VMRO, Goce Delcev, were alive today, he would have sent one of his top revolutionaries to “end the story” with Zaev.
“If Delcev were alive today, he [Zaev] would not be able to even say hello to him. He would have been assigned only to Kjoseto [one of his henchmen] to end the story with this kind of man,” Gruevski told the rally.
Delcevo, a town named after the Macedonian national hero, was the site of an opposition rally just several days before at which Zaev said that Gruevski had broken all of Delcev’s principles for a free and prosperous Macedonia over the ten years since his party had been in power.
Andon Kjoseto is a controversial figure in Macedonian history as, according to historical records and his own memoirs, he acted as an assassin for VMRO, mainly targeting people who were pronounced traitors to the cause of freeing Macedonia from Ottoman rule, including his own brother.
In 2014, the government courted controversy when it backed the erection of his bronze statue in front of Skopje’s main criminal court in which Kjoseto is depicted with a dagger in his hand.
Journalist and government critic Saso Ordanovski on Tuesday told A1 On news portal that Gruevski was trying to infuse fear among his critics and added that, “in a normal country, that alone would result in his election defeat”.
The high stakes elections comes against a backdrop of a longstanding crisis that revolves around opposition accusations that Gruevski masterminded the illegal wiretapping of some 20,000 people, including his own ministers. Gruevski has denied the claims.
One of Gruevski’s main punchlines in these elections has been that if Zaev, whom he deems a a traitor, comes to power, he would put into effect a secret plan to turn Macedonia into a federal state and formally divide it along ethnic lines between Macedonians and Albanians, who make up a quarter of the population. Zaev has denied this as a fabrication.
The opposition insists that since Gruevski’s party came to power in 2006, he has established a regime based on corruption and injustice.
The allegations of high-level crime, which the opposition insists are contained in the wiretaps they released in batches in 2015 are being investigated by the Special Prosecution, SJO,which was established last year as part of an EU-brokered political crisis deal.
Among other things, the SJO charges that Gruevski ordered a physical attack on the opposition mayor of the Centar municipality in Skopje, Andrej Zernovski [which he evaded], during protests in front of the municipal HQ in 2013.