While political leaders are notorious for being economical with the truth, it is rare that they are accused outright of lying by their bilateral partners. But this is the embarrassing political situation now facing Zoran Zaev the leader of the opposition in Macedonia. The scandal has not only damaged his own credibility but it threatens to put at risk the international reputation of Macedonia.
The source of the debacle is when Zaev visited Israel on 13 October, and met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel and Minister of Internal Affairs Silvan Shalom.
Where things started to go pear-shaped for Zaev is when his reported account of what happened at his meeting differed sharply from the official Israeli government record.
Zaev reported to the media in Skopje that he discussed with Israel the progress of cooperation between the two countries, agriculture, energy, water resource management, and facilitating telecommunications cooperation. He said he also discussed the cooperation which Macedonia had already established in the areas of defence and the education of the Army.
He also claimed that he met with Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service, and discussed the wire-tapping scandal that has gripped Macedonia for months.
But to the utter humiliation of Zaev, his account to the media of his official meetings with Shalom drew a very swift denial and rebuke from the Israeli Government.
Deputy Prime Minister Shalom said that he met with Zaev, but that the encounter was simply a short friendly meeting as is normal for two friendly countries. He says that they discussed general issues, especially the need for improved relations between Israel and Macedonia, but that the meeting did not discuss any security or financial issues.
The Israeli Government also took the unusual step of flatly denying that a meeting had taken place with Mossad, or that such a meeting had even been planned. There was absolutely no discussion about wire-tapping.
The revelation that Zaev represented reports to to the press concerning his meetings in Israel which have been absolutely contradicted by the Israeli Government has undermined his credibility with the public and caused an uproar in Macedonia. It has given rise to criticism of his behaviour for damaging not only bilateral relations with Israel, but also the international reputation of the country.
The Macedonian government and the opposition led by Zaev are currently in a struggle to find common ground to complete negotiations for implementation of an agreement that was reached between the parties on 15th July. Zaev has been accused of continuously changing his demands. His lack of credibility threatens to undermine the EU’s negotiations for Macedonian negotiations for accession to the EU, which will have catastrophic consequences for the country and its future.
In the meanwhile he has still to apologize to the media for his behaviour.
As Macedonia prepares for Parliamentary elections next spring, the public has a right to demand greater honesty and deserves greater transparency from their politicians than has been shown by Zaev on this occasion.