Macedonia PM Zoran Zaev: an optimist in the Balkans
Saturday, January 12, 2019       04:03 WIB

Skopje, Jan 11, 2019 (AFP)
He took down a strongman, survived a bloody mob attack and won global plaudits for signing a historic accord with Greece.
But Friday's parliamentary vote approving changing the country's name is the real triumph for Macedonia premier Zoran Zaev's, and seals his reputation as a deal-maker -- and a rare optimist -- in a region of frozen conflicts.
The 44-year-old Zaev has become a darling of the West for pushing through a painful compromise with Greece in June to change his country's name to "Republic of North Macedonia."
Athens, which has snubbed its Balkan neighbour for 27 years because it has its own province called Macedonia, has promised to stop blocking Skopje's path to and the EU if the new name is accepted.
"Without the accord with Greece, there will be neither nor EU" membership, Zaev had said ahead the vote, uncertain until the very last moment if he will have two-thirds majority required for the name change.
On Friday that majority was achieved when 81 of the 120 deputies supported the name change.
Zaev also showed his pragmatic side, offering amnesties to deputies involved in violence in parliament in April 2017. Several of them then defied their party orders and backed the name change .
The former businessman, whose unlikely rise to power has fuelled his unrelenting optimism, had said he would resign if the deal crumbled.
For months Zaev, a devout Orthodox Christian, has warned that anything short of an agreement on changing the country's name would crush Macedonia's dreams of a Euro-Atlantic future.
- Pepper relish and politics -
Zaev was born in 1974 in the eastern city of Strumica, making him an outlier in a party whose powerbrokers normally hail from the capital.
"I personally never imagined that he would succeed, although I always thought (the party) were unfair to him and other non-Skopje residents," said a member of the Social Democrats' executive committee who requested anonymity.
Zaev began his career by working for a family-run business selling jars of ajvar -- a pepper relish beloved in the Balkans.
He switched to politics in 2003, eventually becoming a three-term mayor of his hometown and then leader of the Social Democrats in 2013.
But Zaev didn't hit international headlines until 2015, when he started releasing tapes that appeared to show widespread official wiretapping under premier Nikola Gruevski, the Macedonian strongman who had dug in for a decade.
The scandal led to Gruevksi's undoing and plunged Macedonia into a political crisis.
That crisis came to a head in April 2017 when a nationalist mob stormed parliament to protest Zaev's coalition deal with ethnic Albanian parties.
The intruders injured scores, including Zaev, who was photographed with blood splattered across his face and collared shirt.
"Bloody Thursday" was a turning point for the country and for Zaev, eventually leading to him securing his post as premier.
Since then he has tried to bring his business acumen to politics, striking deals with neighbours and clearing Macedonia's path to the EU.
"He's a workaholic," said David Stephenson, a political consultant in Macedonia and former US diplomat, describing how Zaev slept in the party's Skopje headquarters for several years before becoming Prime Minister.
"He's not someone who most people would consider intellectual or book smart, but I think he's very savvy and shrewd, and I think he reads people well."
- Making a name -
In August 2017 Zaev inked a friendship treaty with Bulgaria, another neighbour that has sparred with Macedonia over identity, history and language.
Next came the big prize -- the name row with Greece, one of several major unresolved conflicts hampering progress in Western Balkans, a region scarred by the calamitous break-up of Yugoslavia.
Zaev began with a series of goodwill gestures, including removing the name "Alexander the Great" -- a hero claimed by both countries -- from an airport and highway.
Meetings and phone calls with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras ensued, culminating in the June signing of an accord on the shores of Lake Prespa, which straddles their borders.
"I truly enjoyed signing the deal in beautiful Prespa, opening the champagne...This will be an unforgettable memory," Zaev, not shy to show emotion, told AFP.
While the deal has been pilloried by Macedonian nationalists as an embarrassing concession to Athens, supporters have applauded Zaev's willingness to take the high road.
However, some would like him to move faster on a promise to tackle widespread corruption.
Zaev himself was accused -- but acquitted in May -- of a graft charge dating back to his time as mayor.
For now, the name issue is taking centre stage.
Last month, Zaev and his Tsipras were nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Sumber : AFP

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