By far the most interesting development related to the Name Dispute between Greece and Macedonia/FYROM this week was the departure in stealth mode of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski from Skopje and his sudden request for political asylum in Hungary.
Had the hardline nationalist Gruevski remained in power past 2017, the Prespes Agreement signed in June could not have happened. In Greece, main opposition party New Democracy expressed fears on November 12 that the constitutional amendments prepared in Skopje which it had been able to review up to that point were still insufficient to resolve Greek concerns, especially about irredentism.
On November 12, a Skopje court issued a new arrest warrant for Gruevski, who served as prime minister until 2016 and had been ordered to start a two-year jail sentence over an illegal purchase of a luxury car, despite the failure of the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to have his parliamentary immunity stripped via vote in parliament.
Gruevski then surreptitiously fled to Hungary, reportedly via Albania and Montenegro, and is now seeking asylum. On his twitter feed, he made the following claims:
“I’m in Budapest now, and I’ve asked for political asylum from Hungarian authorities.”
“I will always remain faithful to the cause of Macedonia. I’ll never give up.”
“In the last few days, I have received countless threats on my life.”
Sharing hardline nationalist views, the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban enjoyed a warm relationship with Gruevski when he was in power and supported Skopje’s decision to close its land borders to Syrian refugees moving northward from Greece in 2015 and later. Authorities in Budapest have provided little comment on Gruevski’s asylum request other than acknowledging it is being processed.
Orban travelled to Macedonia/FYROM in 2017 to show support for Gruevski’s nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, and in June of this year, the Hungarian leader sent a video message of support for the party for use in a large protest against the Prespes Agreement.
Work on constitutional amendments proceeds
The one constant in the entire Name Dispute saga is the single-mindedness of the government of PM Zoran Zaev to deliver everything in its power as laid out in June’s Prespes Agreement with Greece which aims to resolve the dispute. In that light, the parliamentary commission for constitutional affairs adopted the current draft of the constitutional amendments on November 10 by a simple majority vote, which ended the committee-level debate on the draft amendments to the country’s constitution.
The draft amendments will be reviewed at a plenary session in parliament starting on December 1 and the final approval will again require a 2/3 majority of 80 votes in the 120-seat parliament, leaving one small window for the country’s beleaguered conservative opposition party to block the process or possibly to negotiate changes to the amendments or other issues.
Greek opposition not satisfied with constitutional amendments
Main opposition party New Democracy, widely expected to win the next elections, expressed fears November 12 that the constitutional amendments in Macedonia/FYROM which it had been able to analyze so far were insufficient to resolve Greek concerns.
The party’s shadow Foreign Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos told the press that the ongoing amendment process makes the constitution “even worse,” noting it retains irredentist references and still refers to a “Macedonian” state. He also cited pressure from Skopje for Greece to ratify the Prespes Agreement quickly next year so that it could join NATO before the amendments to its constitution become operative.