- - Sunday, March 20, 2016

We, in the United States are currently dealing with a rancorous presidential election cycle, one like none we have seen before. On one side, a moderate, old guard Democrat — perhaps a bit out of touch and definitely with some baggage — running against, of all things, a welfare for all/work for none-Socialist, who can’t seem to see the forest, let alone the trees.

On the Republican side, there is a veritable cornucopia of personalities, with a flamboyant, seeming equal opportunity offender as the front-runner.

However, the political realities of other nations can be much worse, and, in some cases, more dangerous to those nations and to U.S. interests.

Such is the political reality for Macedonia. On the one side, fortunately for Macedonians, is a popular and successful past — and likely future — prime minister, Nikola Gruevski. On the other side, Zoran Zaev and his Social Democrat (former communist) opposition party. A reputed racketeer, Mr. Zaev alternately attempts to boycott elections or postpone them, as he did just last week.

Mr. Gruevski stepped down as prime minister in January as part of an odd agreement brokered by the European Union with the goal of “enhancing democracy.” Despite the EU and the U.S. statements supporting the new election date, Mr. Zaev’s opposition refused to vote for it. His low popularity is driving his obstructionism.



With the assistance of the EU and the United States, Macedonia can move past the obstructionism of Mr. Zaev and his cronies, and when elections are finally held, Mr. Gruevski will likely be elected again as prime minister.

This complicated situation leaves Macedonia with a caretaker government, bereft of real leadership and decision-making power. Macedonia is a nation in a holding position in a neighborhood where it is dangerous to be sedentary.

Macedonia’s progress is indisputable. On Mr. Gruevski’s watch, this emerging parliamentary democracy of just more than 2 million, was ranked by the World Bank as the 12th best country in the world and 6th in Europe for doing business. Prior to Mr. Gruevski’s tenure, Macedonia was ranked 94th. In addition, unemployment, the economic and political bane of Southeast Europe, stands at roughly 25 percent, down from nearly 40 percent, with more than 150,000 jobs added during Mr. Gruevski’s 10 years at the helm.

Also on Mr. Gruevski’s watch, Macedonia has made strides toward the establishment of the rule of law, a bona-fide democratic system of governance, Euro-Atlantic integration, as well as application and beginning the ascension processes for both European Union and NATO membership.

Still, Macedonia has suffered not just from Mr. Zaev’s political shenanigans from within, but also from Greek obstructionism from without. Southeast Europe remains a largely unstable region and is still recovering from the disastrous Balkan Wars of the 1990s. It is a part of the region where countries like Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia exist under the constant threat of Islamist penetration. The Balkans suffer from ethnic strife, Russian neo-Imperialist ambition and, increasingly, under political and threat of instability due to the ever-growing Syrian refugee crisis.

However, the nations that have sought EU and NATO membership and who have cast their lot with the West, have become more stable. Austria has repeatedly expressed its support and provided assistance to Macedonia’s efforts to regulate migration.

Macedonia, under the leadership of Mr. Gruevski, has sought alignment with the West, as well as EU and NATO membership as its way forward to stability and prosperity. Alas, the way forward to stability and prosperity is impeded by Greece.

Stemming from a disagreement over the name “Macedonia” — Greece’s northern-most province is also called Macedonia — Greece has blocked Macedonia’s NATO and EU ascension at each juncture. In addition, frustrated with the EU tough monetary policy toward Athens’ profligate spending, Greece has seen fit to handle the refugee crisis incompetently.

Refugees flow, practically unchecked, over the Greece-Macedonia border, putting an unbearable strain on Macedonia’s economy, military and civil service. All the while, Greece is able to take advantage of copious benefits from the EU to manage the refugees, while Macedonia is largely left to handle the crisis unaided.

It is time for the United States and the EU to render assistance to Macedonia looking at the broader picture and recognizing that the best interests of the EU and the people of Macedonia is to hold elections without a further delay. It is also in the United States’, EU’s and NATO’s best interests to stand up to Greece’s untenable positions on Macedonia’s progress on NATO and the EU membership, and allow the ascension process to move forward.

Jason Katz is the principal of TSG, LLC, a strategic communications, political and policy consultancy, and the former head of public affairs and public relations for the American Jewish Committee, based in Los Angeles.

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