Voters in Macedonia have a rest from politics today, after an election campaign dominated by EU and NATO membership, and marred by violent clashes. Popular Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski called the vote after Macedonia’s NATO application was vetoed by Greece, in a row over Macedonia’s very name. Gruevski’s centre-right coalition is expected to capitalise on nationalist feelings fired by the snub, but may not win an overall majority.
Macedonia is the only republic to have emerged from the 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia without firing a shot. But tensions within its Albanian community sparked violent clashes at the start of this decade, and during this election campaign.
The leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, Menduh Thaci, escaped what he called an assassination attempt, and said his supporters were being intimidated into not voting tomorrow. He accused another Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, of instigating the violence. Its leader, Ali Ahmeti, vehemently rejected that charge.
The clashes, and the ethnic tensions they exposed, have alarmed western governments. Nerves were already jangling after February’s declaration of independence by Kosovo Albanians over the border to the north. Macedonia’s European and NATO ambitions rest on not only the result, but on the conduct of the election itself.