Heavy nationalist protests ahead of Macedonia name change vote
On January 11, the Macedonian parliament passed the amendments that allow the change of the state name from Macedonia to Northern Macedonia, 81 MPs voted for the motion. The name change is based on the Prespa agreement which settles the dispute with Greece. The ratification of the agreement may lead to an end of a long dispute between the countries and opens the door for Macedonia to join the EU and NATO.
Both countries are now facing nationalist groups who believe that the deal damages their identity.
One of the most active is the diaspora group ‘Macedonian Human Rights Movement International.’ They want the country to withdraw from the name talks with the motto “Our Name is Macedonia.” They are also accusing Zaev’s government of treason. Their billboards ask: “Would you like to be called ‘New Macedonians’, ‘Northern Macedonians’, ‘Skopjans’, ‘Vardars’ or simply Macedonians?” However, according to the Prespa agreement, the country’s language stays Macedonian and its people Macedonians.
On the Greek side, Alexis Tsipras endured a confidence vote after the defence minister Panos Kammenos (junior coalition partner) quitted due to his objections against the deal. In Athens, tens of thousands gathered to protest the deal. A highway in the north of the country was blocked as a sign of solidarity with the protesters. The Police fired tear gas at some of the protesters. Greek nationalists believe that the name “Macedonian” is exclusively Greek.
Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters as tens of thousands of Greeks rallied in Athens to protest a parliamentary vote to ratify a name deal with Macedonia. More photos of the weekend protests: https://t.co/m4tnq6kumN pic.twitter.com/2TFt4qURfF
— Reuters Pictures (@reuterspictures) January 21, 2019
This Thursday, the Greek government will vote on ratifying the agreement, needing a simple majority. Tsipras assured the Macedonian government that the agreement would pass the vote and Greece would be the first country which would approve Macedonian’s accession to NATO.
Suspected IRA bombing in Northern Ireland linked to Brexit defeat?
British PM Teresa May faces yet another setback in reaching a Brexit deal with the EU after her withdrawal proposal got rejected by the House of Commons on January 15. With 432 votes against and 202 for, the vote marked a historical defeat for the government. Afterward, May was forced to come up with a second plan which will be voted on January 29.
The aim of the plan is to set up a 21-month transition period after Brexit, during which all current trading agreements between the EU and the UK would be kept. The so-called “Irish backstop”, an open 499-kilometre land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, is also part of the proposal.
However, were the withdrawal agreement not to be signed before the end of March, the EU and the UK will have to face a “no deal” Brexit. In such a case, a “hard border” would be set up in Northern Ireland.
The open border was a key part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and is detrimental in the normalisation of relations between Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland. The implementation of a “hard border” might spark a new wave of sectarian violence. A hijacked car exploded outside a courthouse in Londonderry, Northern Ireland on January 19. The police suspect that the new IRA, a dissident Irish republican paramilitary group, is responsible for the attack. However, the Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley quickly denounced that the attack had anything to do with Brexit.
Ethiopian soldiers attacked in Somalia
On January 18, a convoy carrying Ethiopian soldiers on a peacekeeping mission in Somalia was attacked by the jihadist al-Qaida-linked group Al-Shabab while travelling between the towns Buurhakaba and Baidoa. Al-Shabab claimed that it had killed many soldiers while the Ethiopian military did not confirm any causalities.
Ethiopian soldiers are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, which aims to provide support to the Federal Government of Somalia against the insurgents and terrorists who control large portions of rural Somalia. On the same day, Al-Shabab also attacked two bases of the Somalian military near the city of Kismayo, allegedly killing around 41 soldiers. Al-Shabab was formed on the opposition to the Somali government and Ethiopian forces in the country.
These attacks did not remain without response. The U.S. military carried out an air strike to help the Somalians and killed 52 insurgents. Ethiopia launched a counter-offensive on January 20 and killed 66 members of Al-Shabab. Despite the AMISOM peacekeeping operation and the fact that American bombing campaign became more intense since Donald Trump’s election, Al Shabab still has thousands of fighters in the Somalian countryside and remains a strong destabilizing factor in the Horn of Africa.
NATO’s Military Committee meeting: crafting strategy and assessing regional security
NATO’s Military Committee met in Brussels on January 15-16. Their program included a broad variety of security issues, ranging from general processes of military strategy to particular regional challenges in Afghanistan or the Western Balkans.
In terms of military strategy, the committee has clearly identified the most formidable challenges facing the Alliance – Russia and international terrorist groups. This selection is reasonable due to the capabilities and willingness of these actors to endanger the unity and cohesion of the Alliance.
Members of the committee also assessed the means at their disposal, emphasizing the influence of emerging disruptive technologies changing the character of war. These technologies provide a massive advantage to those who resolve to use them in a smart way. For this reason, the committee discussed the possible avenues in which these means can be used to achieve defense and deterrence vis-a-vis the selected adversaries.
In terms of the regional issues, the Committee has resolved to continue the support of Afghan institutions and to improve the overall security of the region via closer cooperation with Pakistan. The security of the Western Balkans was also assessed, emphasizing its vulnerability to disinformation operations. The Committee also touched upon the security of Georgia given the turbulent domestic and external factors influencing its security environment.
In his concluding remarks, the Committee chairman Stuart Peach reaffirmed the unwavering commitment of the U.S. to the Alliance as well as NATO’s resolve to defend its members.
Image: Ethiopian soldiers serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) | Flickr
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
Authors: Denis Takács, Dominika Kubišová, Martin Dudáš, and Samuel Žilinčík
The text has not undergone language revision.