Twenty-two such associations met in the town of Veles last week and formed a joint "Macedonian [sic] National Front". The group pledged to "defend" the country from the new coalition government and demands made by its ethnic Albanian coalition partners.
In a joint statement issued last week the associations said they would support protests against the announced new coalition government using "all available non-violent or violent means to defend the fatherland".
The "patriotic NGOs" pointed to ongoing protests against the proposed opposition-led government to justify their stance as respecting "the clearly-stated will of the people as the sole bearer of the sovereignty and statehood of the country".
The threat to use violence has alarmed observers who are concerned the associations could pose a security threat given the already tense political situation in the FYROM.
"The police and the prosecution are obligated to immediately asses these occurrences because we have a call for violence. According to the law, the call for the violent destruction of institutions in itself is a basis for reasonable suspicion for a criminal act," said Ljubomir Gjurceski, a former police chief and security expert.
Blagoja Markovski, a former army spokesperson and security exert, is additionally concerned that some of the 'patriotic association' membership – many of the groups are named after Ottoman-era revolutionaries – appear to work for private security firms and may own weapons.
"Only two state institutions in the FYROM, the police and the army, are allowed to use violent means in defence of the country... If they [the associations] call for violence they are breaching the confines of regular civic associations' activities," Markovski told Telma TV.
Both experts believe that the sudden emergence of 'patriotic associations’ in the past two months is directly linked to the VMRO-DPMNE, which is now faced with the prospect of losing power after eleven years in government. Some top-ranking VMRO-DPMNE officials also face ongoing criminal investigations and trials by the country’s Special Prosecution.
The VMRO-DPMNE is blocking the creation of a new coalition government led by the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM. The VMRO-DPMNE insist the sovereignty of the country is at stake because the SDSM has agreed to a number of demands presented by ethnic Albanian coalition parties, including greater recognition of Albanian as an official language.
The opposition, which just about mustered a majority in parliament thanks to support from the Albanian parties, has repeatedly denied it has accepted any harmful or unconstitutional ultimatums.
The 'patriotic associations' are now increasingly appearing in pro-government media, and are portrayed solely in a positive, uncritical light.
Members of these associations are recognisable to the public because of their pseudo militant 'uniform', which consists of black T-shirts, black or red berets, tattoos and oversized orthodox crosses. Most of these associations use emblems which portray weapons and human skulls and they do not hide the fact that they support the VMRO-DPMNE.
"We will represent the policies of the VMRO-DPMNE, and will support them, as long as they defend the national interests. If they abandon those interests or accept platforms, like the SDSM is doing, we will stand against them as well," Goran Angelov, the leader of one such association from the town of Veles called Andon Kjoseto, said in an interview for Telma TV on Monday.
Angelov, whose comrades regularly appear at peaceful protests against the proposed new opposition-led coalition government, insisted that they are not calling for violence. He accused some media of panic-mongering.
"I personally do not own weapons... We as an association do not possess weapons. Maybe some individuals do have [weapons]... We will continue using non-violent means as we have thus far, unless we are provoked. For example if someone attacks us, it would be normal to defend ourselves," Angelov said.
However, he added that "should the need occurs", they would "lead the people" who are currently protesting in Skopje against the announced SDSM-led government in an attempt to storm the parliament building.
These threats are not new. As parliament is currently being blocked by VMRO DPMNE MPs who are filibustering the election of a new speaker and government, protest organisers have already hinted that should the SDSM attempt to break the blockade, they could take more radical action.
Source: Balkan Insight | Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN)