A contentious election in 2016 lays bare a country’s raw divisions. Sharp polarization brings protesters onto the street. A formal investigation looms over the most powerful figure in the nation, who acts to thwart the process. Rather than stand up against this blatant violation of principle, U.S. Republicans either shrug their shoulders or provide indirect support for the now-embattled leader. Moscow watches the situation with glee while attempting to sow doubt about the country’s institutions—indeed, about the very concept of democracy.
Although the parallels are striking, the above description does not refer to the United States but to Macedonia, a small Balkan country that is rapidly proving to be an example of what happens in democracies when leaders can disregard the rule of law. As Macedonia’s stability hangs by a thread, Republican senators in the U.S. Congress have irresponsibly entered the fray—and in doing so have abetted intensified meddling from Russia.
A DETERIORATING POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
Government misbehavior in Macedonia, as in the United States, is being driven by the threat of criminal proceedings. The country’s autocratic former Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, is the subject of several investigations that were launched last year by a special prosecutor. Allegations first emerged in 2015, when the leader of the opposing Social Democratic Party, Zoran Zaev, released a trove of wiretapped conversations that appeared to reveal systematic abuse by senior officials in Gruevski’s government, possibly even including conspiracy to cover up a murder. The sensational revelations touched off sustained protests and rising tension, setting Macedonia up for a violent confrontation.
Intervention in the crisis by the EU and the United States resulted in the Przino Agreement, which created the special prosecution and forced the once-invincible Gruevski to step down in January 2016 in anticipation of new elections three months later. Given his government’s complete control of the judiciary at the time, Gruevski originally calculated, mistakenly, that he would easily influence the special prosecutor as well and that no