The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is demanding that Hungary extradite FYROM’s ex-prime minister, who has fled to Budapest from his Balkan homeland, where he has been sentenced to jail for corruption.
Nikola Gruevski, who resigned as leader in 2016 after 10 years in power, has applied for refugee status in Hungary.
The case has put the spotlight on the Hungarian government, which has imposed strict constraints on other asylum seekers. It is important to note that Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a political ally of Gruevski.
How did the ex-prime minister end up in Hungary?
Gruevski was forced from office in 2016 over a wire-tapping scandal. Earlier this year a court in Skopje found Gruevski guilty of unlawfully influencing officials over the purchase of a luxury Mercedes car.
Police in FYROM issued an arrest warrant for Gruevski after he failed to show up to begin a two-year sentence, following a court ruling on November 9 which rejected his appeal. He also faces four other cases.
Albanian police have said that the fugitive former leader crossed from Albania into Montenegro last Sunday as a passenger in a car owned by the Hungarian embassy in Tirana. They claim Interpol only notified them on an arrest warrant for Gruevski two days later.
It is not known whether he travelled through Serbia to reach Hungary further north, or whether he arrived by land or air. It is also unclear how he avoided passport checks: his own document had been confiscated.
Upon his arrival, Gruevski said he was seeking asylum after receiving “countless” death threats.
How has the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia responded?
FYROM says it is preparing an extradition request to send to Hungary. A FYROM government spokesman told Euronews it expected the process to get underway soon and expected Budapest to comply.
“We strongly believe that Hungary will continue to support our efforts,” FRYOM government spokesman Mile Bosnjakovski said. “We do not accept or expect that Hungary would harbour convicted felons who have done damage to the citizens of our country, the Republic of Macedonia.”
The two countries’ foreign ministers have spoken by phone. FYROM’s Nikola Dimitrov has reportedly said the idea of Gruevski seeking asylum was “impossible to digest”.
Is Hungary treating Gruevski as an ordinary asylum seeker?
As part of its clampdown on migration, Orban’s government has set up guarded transit centres where people claiming asylum must wait. The prime minister has also said those arriving from designated safe countries – FYROM is listed as one – are not eligible.
Gruevski was allowed to submit documents and have his case heard at the Immigration and Asylum Office in Budapest. A Hungarian government spokesman said this was for “security reasons”, as an ex-prime minister who had spent 10 years in office.
Budapest has denied helping Gruevski to leave FYROM, but did not say what happened after he crossed into neighbouring territories. It says the ex-leader sought asylum at a Hungarian diplomatic office outside his native country, without specifying where.
A government statement said Hungary did not want to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, and the asylum request was “solely a legal issue”.
What are the wider implications?
The case risks aggravating the already tense relations between Hungary and the European Union, which accuses Viktor Orban’s government of attacking civil liberties and the rule of law.
The EU has been actively trying to bring Skopje closer to Brussels, and helped create the special prosecution chamber that convicted Nikola Gruevski.
Brussels has been involved with FYROM’s attempts to seal a deal with Athens – which Gruevski’s party opposes – to change the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia and set it on a path to joining NATO.
In 2016 the European Commission said that FYROM under Gruevski had become a “captured state”, citing state control of the media and institutions.