The Republic of North Macedonia has never been so closer to join the European Union, having in mind that the German presidency of the EU explicitly committed to support the EU accession process of North Macedonia and Albania. Unprecedented, yet another obstacle in the process towards EU was the agreement on good neighborhood relations, friendship and cooperation between the Republic of North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

This agreement, which was signed in August 2017, was assumed to be a bold support by Bulgaria for the future of the Republic of North Macedonia towards the EU and NATO commitment. Although the Republic of North Macedonia received a positive progress report by the European Commission, Bulgaria awoke a stir in the relation between the two countries. The Republic of North Macedonia expected the first intergovernmental session to mark the offset of the accession since its independence, but Bulgaria sent a determined signal for a veto in the European Council due to the unfulfilled agreement aspects such as the origin of the Macedonian people and the Macedonian language. The EU as a whole remained supportive but yet silent for this issue, while Angela Merkel in the Berlin Process conference in Sofia sent a clear message of hope that both of the countries (by themselves) will find a common ground in settling issues which would provide a boost in the integration process for the Republic of North Macedonia. This resulted to a Bulgarian veto and an ongoing row between public officials from both sides in public media which made the relation even more complicated.

Yet again, Roma in the Republic of North Macedonia were hostage in this set of events just like the previous 30 years when decision-making of national interest were made. Roma political participation was deliberately absent in the processes for integration in NATO and EU. Although the public opinion of Roma was enthusiastic for the accession of the Republic of North Macedonia in NATO and EU, Roma were excluded in the foreign affairs of the country. In this mandate Roma are still struggling to find their place in the political system but foreign affairs are not on the radar nor have they ever been. The EU future for the Republic of North Macedonia remains uncertain due to the ongoing negotiation with Bulgaria and the rotation of the presidency to Portugal which has a different agenda than the agenda from Germany.

The Republic of North Macedonia did not only struggle with the EU accession. The country had another, rather common, struggle to fight in 2020 which was the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic hit the whole world while the crisis hit the most vulnerable and marginalized in the most of the countries. The Republic of North Macedonia in different time periods of 2020, had the highest number of infected with the virus in the Western Balkans as well as deaths per population. The region was struck by a common enemy and the region was tested for its solidarity. The pandemic generated a new normality and a serious damage in the economic and the health systems. Human capacity and resources in the health system became a serious problem in which the Republic of North Macedonia, as well as the other countries in the region, were challenged. The economic system faced limitations and restrictions which had to be intervened by state aid in order to save the businesses and remain functional. In addition to this crisis there were state of emergency, lockdown periods, economic stagnation, pupils struggled with the distance learning while everybody expected the vaccine as a cure to the virus. According to the World Bank, the Republic of North Macedonia had a -5.1% fall in the GDP since the outbreak of the virus, which is not much but yet significant in reality. State aid and recovery plans covered much of the population, yet Roma in North Macedonia found themselves in a limbo which resulted with a lot of people at the abyss of existence.

A dramatic number of Roma compared to non-Roma in the Republic of Macedonia struggled to ensure basic conditions for living in times of pandemic such as, self-isolation, drinking water, sewage, electricity and other aspects. In addition, many of the Roma working in the informal economy were restricted to work due to the COVID-19 measures. Some of the media outlets even attempted to create sensationalism from the Roma community for being uninformed, these events sparked hate speech in the social media and portrayed Roma as ignorant population towards the virus. Although the recovery plans covered some of the Roma population, a lot remained dependent on the humanitarian aid by the NGOs coming from different external donors. That being said, Roma NGOs were playing the role of the state, which showed that the state failed to cover the most marginalized and the most vulnerable. Yet Roma NGOs did not want to let their community helpless in times of pandemic. Many initiatives were implemented which provided a somewhat relief for the Roma community to fight the COVID-19. In a short term, these initiatives played a crucial role for the Roma community in order to persist such times, but in long term, the same population will remain at the verge of existence once the aid ends and policies exclude them. A lesson that must be learned from the COVID-19 is the urge to create inclusive policies and cover the most marginalized, because the pandemic will eventually end, but Roma will still be at the margins of the society and face the same hurdles even more.


Suad Skenderi