The capital Skopje is the center of Northern Macedonia’s industry. Significant industrial sectors are the metallurgy, food, leather and textile industries as well as the construction industry and mining. Industrial exports to EU countries are important for the economy.
Macedonia inherited independence in 1991 from an antiquated heavy industry from the socialist former Yugoslavia. Moreover, when Yugoslavia gradually collapsed during the first years of the 1990s, the old sub-republic lost its traditional export markets. It took time for the industry to recover and, first around the turn of the millennium, a marked growth was noticed.
The civil conflict in 2001 (see Modern history) meant a setback for industrial development, but already two years later, a rise was noted for mainly the light manufacturing industry. By mid-2010, the industry’s share of GDP had risen to more than a quarter. In order to attract foreign direct investment in industry, the government has established a number of economic free zones with special relief for the companies.
Virtually all small and medium-sized companies have been privatized since 1991, but the sale of large state-owned companies has sometimes been sluggish, partly for fear of the social consequences that mass redundancies in large industries can bring, but also because it has been difficult to find serious buyer.
Delamnesti for storming Parliament
Parliament adopts a law that opens an opportunity to apply for amnesty for some of those who took part in the storming of the parliament building in April 2017. The chance of pardon does not include the organizers or people who practiced physical violence, but the others can now apply for amnesty (see also August 2018).
Ex-Prime Minister receives asylum in Hungary
20th of November
Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski claims to have been granted asylum in Hungary, a week after it became clear that he had gone there to avoid his prison sentence (see October 5, 2018). A government-run newspaper in Hungary also reports that Gruevski has been granted asylum, although no official confirmation exists. Hungarian authorities have previously rejected accusations that they would have actively helped with the escape, but police in Albania and Montenegro have stated that Gruevski was traveling through both countries in a Hungarian diplomatic car on November 11. The Hungarian ambassador to Skopje has been called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a reprimand on the grounds of Gruevski’s asylum application.
Opposition gets assets frozen
A special prosecutor orders a freeze on the assets of the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, following a corruption investigation. The party’s management is suspected of illegally financing an estimated value of EUR 4.9 million between 2009 and 2015. Among the assets now frozen are the party’s headquarters. The investigation involves 14 people, including former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who has already been sentenced in another corruption case and who has now been ordered to go to prison (see October 5, 2018).
Parliament is taking the first step towards a change of name
The Skopje Parliament votes with numbers 80–39 to initiate the process that will lead to the country changing its name to Northern Macedonia (see June and September 2018). Further voting is required before the amendment becomes a fact, but in this first step, the government has managed to get several opposition members to support the proposal, thereby achieving the required two-thirds majority. The opposition party VMRO-DPMNE who stubbornly opposes the name change threatens to exclude the members who voted yes. The agreement with Greece on the change of name has been debated in Parliament all week.
Greek warning: “No other chance”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras calls on Macedonian parliamentarians to approve the change of name (see June 2018) and says there will be no other chance. The call comes shortly after the Greek Foreign Minister resigned because of disagreements within the Greek government over the name settlement.
Detained prison for ex-prime minister
An appeal court sets the two-year prison sentence for former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (see May 2018). Gruevski is thus at risk of actually falling behind the lock and boom. He is also charged with another series of bribery offenses.
Both sides proclaim victory in a referendum
Both sides call for victors in the referendum to change the country’s name to Northern Macedonia (see June 2018) – the jas side because just over 91 percent vote for the proposal and the no-holds bar because voter participation is just under 37 percent. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev calls the referendum a “democratic success” at a press conference and emphasizes that it is advisory, not binding. He says he does not intend to step down as head of government but continue to work for the country to become a member of the EU and NATO. However, in order for the change of name to be eliminated, a two-thirds majority in Parliament is required.
The president calls for a boycott
President Gjorge Ivanov urges voters to boycott the referendum on the change of name (see June and July 2018) which he believes would constitute a “historic suicide”. The referendum threatens to make Macedonia a subordinate state, dependent on another country, says Ivanov, who speaks before the UN General Assembly in New York.
Mass trial after storming Parliament
A trial is being launched against 33 people as a result of the storming of Parliament in April 2017. Among them are five MPs for the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE and a former Minister of the Interior. The majority have been charged with “terrorizing” the constitutional order and security of the country. Conviction can lead to up to 25 years in prison. According to the prosecutor, it was a planned attack. One of the defendants must have been charged with murdering Social Democrat Zoran Zaev, who later became prime minister.
Referendum question clear
Decides that voters in the upcoming referendum will answer whether they support NATO and EU membership and whether they accept the agreement with Greece on renaming (see 17 June 2018); The referendum will be held on September 30. It is not formally binding, but it is required that at least half of the voters participate and that at least half vote yes for the government to be considered to have received support for the proposal. Prime Minister Zaev has said he will resign if there is a no.
Parliament approves change of name
Macedonia’s parliament approves the settlement with Greece in the name issue (see June 17, 2018). This is the second vote on the issue, which is required since President Gjorge Ivanov vetoed the first vote on June 20. The decision is made by 69 votes out of 120 possible; the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE boycott the vote. Ivanov, who has close ties to VMRO-DPMNE, is according to the constitution now has to sign the settlement. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has promised a referendum on the change of name.
Ready for membership negotiations with the EU
The EU Council of Ministers decides that membership negotiations will begin with Macedonia and Albania in June 2019, subject to certain conditions. For Macedonia, this is assumed to mean the planned change of name to Northern Macedonia.
Agreement on “Northern Macedonia” clear
17th of June
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras sign a preliminary agreement for the Republic of Macedonia to change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia (Republika Severna Makedonija) (see also Foreign Policy and Defense). The announcement of the settlement has come a few days earlier and has already triggered new protests and a vote of no confidence in Greece.
A referendum is promised for a change of name
If Macedonia and Greece manage to land a settlement in the name issue (see January 17, 2018), a referendum will be held in September or October, says Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. A few days earlier, the countries are reported to have agreed on a framework for a possible compromise on the tough issue.
Ex-prime minister sentenced to prison
Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is sentenced to two years in prison for abuse of power. According to the ruling, Gruevski’s employees at the Interior Ministry in 2012 managed to buy a bullet-proof luxury car for around € 600,000, a car which he then kept private. Gruevski remains at liberty while the verdict is appealed. The case also includes the former Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska, who is brought to trial separately.
Renovation in the government
15th of May
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is making a first refurbishment in his government, which is now directly supported by two more Albanian parties. PDSH’s two MPs and three from the Besa Movement join the government, which is expanding its scarce majority.
EU for negotiations
In its annual enlargement report, the European Commission recommends that membership negotiations start with Macedonia and Albania. All EU states must provide clear signs for negotiations to begin. EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini also emphasizes that comprehensive reforms are needed to make membership a reality. The EU aims to possibly include new members in 2025, but all border disputes must be resolved first. Serbia and Montenegro are considered to be first in line, both countries have already begun membership negotiations.
The government can handle the distrust vote
Zoran Zaev’s Social Democratic government survives a vote of no confidence requested by the opposition, with numbers 62-40. VMRO-DPMNE has boycotted Parliament’s work for four months, since several of the party’s members were arrested (see November 2018), but returns for the vote.
Russian diplomat expelled
Macedonia expels a Russian diplomat as a result of a nerve poisoning attack on a Russian former spy and his daughter in the UK in early March. It is taking place in concerted action with some 20 countries, mainly in the EU, in solidarity with the British government accusing Russia of being behind the attack. In total, over 100 Russian diplomats are expelled, 60 of whom are from the United States. Moscow denies all involvement in the poison attack. A Macedonian diplomat is later expelled from Russia.
New vote on the Language Act
14th of March
Re-adopts the law that makes Albanian the official language throughout the country (see January 2018); It happens in cluttered conditions where members of VMRO-DPMNE shout their opposition and nationalist leader Nikola Gruevski ends up in disarray with Speaker Talat Xhaferi, so guards intervene to separate them. The opposition believes that the vote is unconstitutional as the government ignores the approximately 34,000 proposed amendments to the law, in an attempt to block it. The only way for the opponents to stop the language law now is to have the Constitutional Court annul it. See also Population and languages.
The Prime Minister to trial
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev pleaded not guilty when a lawsuit is initiated over suspicions that he received just over € 160,000 in bribes during his time as mayor of Strumica in 2013. According to the indictment, Zaev should have received the money from a businessman in exchange for a land privatization. The trial would have started in early 2016, before Zaev became head of government, but has been postponed several times.
“Alexander the Great” is deleted from his name
Prime Minister Zaev promises his Greek colleague that Skopje’s airport and the main road to the Greek border will be renamed so that “Alexander the Great” disappears from the names. The promise is made in conjunction with Zaev and Alexis Tsipras meeting at the Davos Economic Summit. It is an important symbolic gesture in the negotiations with Greece on the sensitive name issue; Macedonian “claims” on the historical figure Alexander the Great belong to what the Greeks strongly oppose. The “Friendship Road” will henceforth lead to the neighboring country, while the airport will only be Skopje International Airport.
The president blocks language laws
President Gjorge Ivanov vetoes a parliamentary decision to make Albanian the official language of the country as well as the Macedonian. Parliament voted for the law the week before. Ivanov justifies his veto that the law would be expensive and cause the bureaucracy not to work. The Language Act is a central part of the government settlement between the Social Democrats and the two Albanian minority parties. If Parliament votes again for the law, Ivanov has no way to stop it.
New conversations on the name issue with Greece
The talks resume under the auspices of the UN on the dispute with Greece (see Foreign Policy and Defense). Negotiations in the protracted dispute, led by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, have been down since 2014. But both Prime Minister Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras have now expressed hopes that the name issue can be resolved during the year.
Parliament votes for friendship agreements
Despite a boycott of the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, Parliament votes for the friendship agreement signed with Bulgaria (see August 2017), supported by 61 out of 120 members. VMRO-DPMNE claims that national security is threatened, despite the fact that most of the five long negotiations preceding the agreement were conducted during the reign of the right-wing party. VMRO-DPMNE has accused the Social Democratic government of treason for the agreement.