VMRO and SDSM in a dispute over who owns Mijalkov now

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The two main Macedonian parties, VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM, exchanged accusations yesterday and today over their “ownership” of former secret police chief Saso Mijalkov and his escapades.

Mijalkov rose through VMRO, the son of Macedonia’s first Interior Minister Jordan Mijalkov, who died under suspicious circumstances in 1991 when he was a fierce advocate of Macedonia’s independence from Yugoslavia. This endeared the family to Macedonians on the right and helped propel Jordan’s nephew, Saso’s cousin, Nikola Gruevski, as Prime Minister. But after Zaev’s power-grab in 2017, and possibly even before that, Mijalkov built an extensive political and business alliance with Zaev and helped his SDSM party impose the 2019 name change. Mijalkov was expelled from VMRO-DPMNE shortly after nine VMRO members of Parliament close to him joined SDSM and voted for the name change. He then tried to create a faction in VMRO, attacking new party leader Hristijan Mickoski and openly helping Zaev weaken the opposition.

That is why, when Mijalkov fled from the country on Sunday, fingers were pointed mostly at SDSM and Zaev, and not at VMRO. When Gruevski escaped seeking political asylum in Hungary in 2019, the police searched cars entering and leaving the main VMRO office. This could not have been more different with Mijalkov’s escape, and some even joked that the search should be directed toward the SDSM office.

The scandal coincided with the regularly scheduled question time in the Parliament. Zaev faced allegations that he allowed Mijalkov to escape, and in his typical style, he responded that Mijalkov may have been “in the white palace” – the VMRO office.

Where was Mijalkov? You tell me. I am thinking that maybe he was in the white palace. We hear they keep rooms for him and Gruevski still, Zaev slurred.

VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski responded this morning. “Zaev has his type of humor, but he doesn’t realize that he is causing problems for himself with such jokes. If he knew where Mijalkov was all the time, he confirms that he was an accomplice. He should be arrested just for that”.

Zaev issued a statement after Mijalkov’s sentencing to the near maximum of 12 years in prison today, insisting that he has “traced the path to justice” and that there will be “no more impunity”. But given the nature of Mijalkov’s actions after 2017, with the name change and his attacks on VMRO and Mickoski, the mood was far more celebratory in his former party.

Literally, the day before his escape, a small group of Mijalkov’s supporters – former VMRO officials, gathered to announce a push to remove Mickoski from office – it was seen as a desperate, last-ditch attempt from the former secret police chief to curry favor with Zaev and reduce his sentence. Apparently, it didn’t work.