Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The European Union, the leadership of NATO, and the US State Department summed up the results of the referendum that took place in the small Balkan country of Macedonia.
Or more precisely, which didn’t take place.
As a reminder: most of the citizens of this country want to be in the EU. The West proposes EU membership only in a package that includes accession to NATO – and only if Macedonia is renamed at the request of Greece into Northern Macedonia.
Since the reputation and a self-assessment of NATO and European Union are now not in the best shape, both structures need confirmation of them being in demand. And both of them (plus, actually, the US) participated in the most active way in a propaganda campaign. Their high-ranking officials came to the republic, agitated for its renaming, and explained that there won’t be a second chance. Considerable resources, both material and intellectual, were thrown at the Macedonian referendum. The most outstanding political institutes like the Atlantic Council were working on a “yes” campaign. The official specialist of the US for interaction with Russia Kurt Volker on the eve of the referendum said: “Don’t Let Russia Get Its Way in Macedonia” and stated that Moscow “desperately wants” Macedonians “sinking back into the morass of Balkan ethnic strife”, and this, in his opinion, must surely happen in the event that the referendum fails. The former adviser to the Secretary of Defence and the Vice President of the United States Michael Carpenter spoke about approximately the same thing the day before. He said that if the opponents of renaming Macedonia win, “Russia sees this as a huge victory”, and disorder will start in the region.
The referendum question was formulated in such a way that most Macedonians voted “yes” (because the question didn’t contain the idea of renaming the country). It is precisely for this reason that initially opponents of accession to NATO built their campaign on a low voter turnout. For the recognition of the referendum as legitimate it was necessary to collect 50% + 1 vote. The opposition convinced people to “vote with their feet”. It seems that the rules of the game were clear and accepted by everyone.
But the total turnout didn’t reach even 37%. Although those who came to polling stations voted for renaming in their majority (91.5%).
It would seem that the conditions of a referendum weren’t satisfied. But, having recovered from the first shock, politicians and experts suddenly started shouting about the need to “respect the will of the people”.
High-ranking Macedonian officials started to declare that the electoral threshold doesn’t influence the legitimacy of a referendum at all. The Minister of Defence Radmila Šekerinska actually directly called to ignore the will of those who “voted with their feet”, having declared: “The current result means a clear definition of a European Macedonia. <…> The votes of those who voted decide”.
“During peaceful and democratic voting the vast majority of those who exercised their right to vote said ‘yes’ to the Prespa agreement on the name and the European way,” stated European officials. In their opinion, the result of the referendum showed “broad support” for the idea of the entry of Macedonia into the EU and NATO, and not vice versa. And the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the result of voting and urged politicians to “use this historical opportunity”. The former Prime Minister of Sweden Carl Bildt recognised that the low voter turnout at the referendum upset disappointing. “The road ahead became more tricky, but it is important to press on”.
The US State Department, which welcomed the referendum’s results, having interpreted them unambiguously, went even further: “citizens expressed their support for NATO and European Union (EU) membership by accepting the Prespa Agreement between Macedonia and Greece”. Respectively, Macedonian politicians were urged to honour this “choice” that was allegedly made by the people. But there were no words about the failure of the referendum, as if people didn’t vote with their feet against the agreement.
Here a large number of examples of an absolutely contrary approach spring to mind. For example, in 2016 Dutch citizens in a referendum rejected the idea of a Ukraine-EU agreement, and the referendum took place (the voter turnout threshold of 30% was passed, and more than 60% of participants voted against). But political scientists started saying that less than a third of the population voted against the agreement, and, apparently, it is necessary to also respect the choice of those who didn’t come to polling stations. Thus, the result of the referendum was ignored.
But the reaction to a much more similar referendum that took place in 2016 in Hungary concerning the migrant quotas established by the European Union is especially indicative. There, like in Macedonia, the threshold for the referendum to be considered as legitimate was 50%. Supporters of the EU built their campaign on a low voter turnout. As a result, it didn’t achieve the necessary level, totalling 44% (i.e., it was more than now in Macedonia). And the percentage of those who voted against the European migrants quotas was 98.4% (i.e., even more than those who just voted in Macedonia for renaming the country).
If someone thinks that representatives of the West back then demanded to “respect the choice of the Hungarian people”, then they are very much mistaken.
On the contrary, all unanimously started to speak about the failed referendum. The official European Commission representative Margaritis Schinas back then stated: “If the referendum was recognised as having taken place, we would recognise its results. But we have to recognise that it failed”. Back then the president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz publicly thanked the Hungarian people for their choice to stay at home and thus disrupt the referendum.
As you can see, nobody demanded from the Hungarian parliament to support the majority of the active voters and to vote against quotas, allegedly following the referendum’s results. And 98% of 44% of the Hungarians who voted is, after all, nothing when compared to 91% of the 36.9% of the Macedonians who voted. Because that referendum was “bad” and “incorrect”, and the current vote in the Balkans is “good”, even though it is illegitimate.
… What did we forget? Oh yes. Russia was accused several times of interfering, and The Guardian following the results of the referendum wrote: “Result of Macedonia’s referendum is another victory for Russia. Western leaders offered closer integration but they were outmanoeuvred by Moscow”.
We wait for sanctions.
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