It all began when Serbia rather unexpectedly withdrew all the diplomats accredited to Skopje on August 20th. For a couple of hours there was no official statement regarding the reasons of this unusual action, the foreign ministries merely acknowledged the steps taken. Although the crisis, at least in the light of the latest media reports, seems to have come to an end, it is worth summarizing what caused the political turbulence.
Media speculations immediately arose about the causes. The number one explanation was Macedonia’s alleged support for Kosovo’s UNESCO membership. Back in May this year, Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev said that his country will be neutral during the next vote about Pristina’s accession bid. According to this explanation, Belgrade received detailed and proven information about a drastic change in Macedonia’s standpoint. The strong Albanian presence and influence in the Zaev Government made this scenario quite likely for the Serbian public. (They are in the kingmaker’s role in Skopje.)
Later on Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev all commented on the events. The Serbian side stated that the crisis is not at all connected to Kosovo, it is a result of ‘offensive Macedonian intelligence activities’ against the institutions of Serbia. Of course they were unwilling to give any specific details but media reports mentioned regular following of Serbian diplomats. Dačić even added that ‘a powerful foreign country’ is also involved in the operation. By doing so, he indirectly and without mentioning its name accused the United States of causing trouble in the region. Zaev naturally denied all the Serbian accusations and stated that his government is interested in good neighbourly relations with Serbia. He added that there was neither will nor a single order to take counterintelligence measures against the Serbian diplomats in Skopje.
On Wednesday Zaev had ‘a long and open’ telephone conversation with Vučić. The fact that the Serbian negotiator was not his counterpart (PM Brnabić) but President Vučić clearly shows the political element of the conflict and the importance of PR in the whole issue. Moreover, it is a clear sign of the political dominance of the President over the Prime Minister and the Government.
After the phone call they issued a common statement about the five points they have agreed on. Interestingly enough, there is no reference to the above-mentioned circumstances (espionage and the UNESCO).
On August 23rd the Serbian Foreign Ministry announced that most of the diplomatic personnel would be returned to Macedonia the next day, while Ambassador Divjak-Tomić will return on August 31st. Her first action is supposed to be a meeting with PM Zaev in order to close the conflict – hopefully in a definite manner.