Macedonia: Imagining the Unimaginable about Kumanovo
The tragic events in the Macedonian town of Kumanovo are now history - and this leaves time for reflections.
In an address to journalists, and to the entire Macedonian nation, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski praised the work of police officers who "prevented the killing of maybe 8000 people". "All those who want to inflict harm on the state, I advise them that they will end up like that terrorist group," he also said, as quoted by daily Kurir.
Earlier, the country's Interior Ministry was open enough to give citizens information as to the killers, setting out "notorious" names and describing them as "one of the most dangerous groups" acting in the region. At the same time it stopped short of naming the group.
From what was heard, police seem to have carried out their duties impeccably. However, though special operations are not where authorities are always bound to provide precise and meticulous information (there are fields one doesn't share know-how, especially if that "one" is "a state"), there is a question on which neither the government nor its statement have so far been able to cast more light.
If authorities know with certainty which the group is (and has information about its members), does it remain silent to prevent an ethnic escalation? Maybe, if that attack was carried on an ethnic basis; but then if any of the groups claiming responsibility matches that of the perpetrators, then the threat doesn't just stem from "a neighboring country" (as the government maintains), or from outside, but is also on the inside. Maybe the government is seeking to preserve stability and not to foment tensions along ethnic lines.
This is one version, and there have been others.
Giving his own account on the developments, Kostadin Filipov, who was for many years correspondent for the BNT in Southeast Europe, said: "Weren't there so many victims, I would have accepted this as a frame-up organized by the government of Nikola Gruevski".
He pointed first to "personal rehabilitation of the police" and also "personal and corporate one of the figures that is most accused [of corruption and abuse of power] public figures, the head of Macedonia's security service Sasho Mijalkov" as plausible enough motives.
Thirdly, Filipov underlined the fact that each time Macedonia's government has sought to preserve stability, the national and regional community has successfully turned a blind eye on domestic violations.
He was certain that accusations of "foreign masterminding", hurled by authorities, "do not stand ground".
But also certain is that the notion of foreign interference, even if honestly and sincerely introduced into the public mind with regard to the tragic incident, seems to have served a goal. It is police who can preserve order in case of a foreign threat such as terrorism, and a rare display of "national unity" about this is evident, whereas there had been no such "unity" with regard to political infighting, where ruling and opposition parties had remained dangerously divided in the past months.
A peak in these divisions, marked by repeated street protests and (even international) calls for government resignation, coincided with the attack.
Yes, it might have been a coincidence; the problem is that, if even a notch of what the opposition was arguing about Gruevski during the street protests (and before) is right, there will be no independent authority to confirm or to be trusted.
What strikes is, first, that the language used by the Interior Ministry about Kumanovo is filled with certainty and a need to convey a strong image by drawing a clear picture of what a "threat" is, of what the "notorious" enemies are, so that nobody is left doubting. As if Macedonians couldn't judge by themselves that the attackers were armed and dangerous.
And second, that this very same language of the Interior Ministry bears too much resemblance to the one it uses for opposition leader Zaev, warning against his potential capacity to stir up violence. He has never been called a "terrorist", but was once accused of attempting to stage a "coup d'etat" and has lately been described as a threat to stability.
But of course respecting the memory of the victims and their relatives doesn't allow one to make such speculation, and this is also what Mr Gruevski has sought to suggest in his speech slamming all the media outlets who tried to make some hints or open accusations. That the death of 8 police officers could be orchestrated by the government is and should remain unthinkable.
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Of course it was designed to take pressure off the government - they didn't expect to have 8 policemen killed, but it makes their case of 'we may be corrupt, but at least we're protecting you from these terrorists' even stronger. You can never be too cynical when it comes to Gruevski