The Parliament today adopted changes to the law on traffic safety that will extend the validity of driver licenses with the name Republic of Macedonia until the end of the year.

The urgent measure, adopted with 90 votes in favor, is an attempt to reduce one segment of the mess created by the SDSM – DUI Government, which declared all passports that don’t have the imposed name “North Macedonia” as invalid. To prevent widespread abuse of voting rights in the coming elections, the Government agreed to have identity cards valid, but the driver licenses would expire tomorrow. Interior Minister Pance Toskovski yesterday warned the citizens that they face serious problems if they get into a traffic accident while using licenses with the name Republic of Macedonia – insurance agencies could decide not to honor the insurance because the driver was essentially using an expired document.

Both VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM proposed changes to the law to quickly fix this issue. Eventually, the proposal was submitted jointly by all the main parties, and was approved with no votes opposed.

While this avoids one crisis, two major areas of gridlock remain. Citizens are now flocking to garages that perform the annual vehicle checks, to obtain stickers with the abbreviation NMK – the Government insists that these will be required to leave the country. Distribution of the stickers began only today, and as the Government insists that they must be administered by official clerks, huge lines developed, and soon after, shortages were reported.

Another, far more serious problem, is the lack of passports. Toskovski yesterday put the number of citizens who still haven’t changed their passports at whopping 1.2 million. The problem is mainly concentrated in the capital Skopje and in the diaspora. Toskoski also said that the previous Minister Oliver Spasovski left him only 5,000 blank passports in Macedonian language and 10,000 in Albanian, meaning that even citizens who were able to register for a new passport, and to have their pictures taken, could wait for a long time until it’s their turn to get the passport. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are now effectively under house arrest in Macedonia, unable to leave the country. It’s possible that countries like Albania, Kosovo and Serbia will allow them to go there with identity cards, but it’s not sure if they will be admitted, especially if the identity card has the name Republic of Macedonia on it.

Professor Borce Davitkovski, usually a supporter of SDSM, urged that the persons responsible for this disaster are prosecuted. “Somebody kept ordering the old blank passports and issuing them until 2021. He should bne summoned before the state prosecutors and held responsible for violating human right guaranteed by the Constitution”. Another SDSM official, polling expert Gjorgji Spasov, warned that his party will pay a heavy price for its incompetence in the elections.

The epicenter of the problem is the Macedonian Television building in Skopje, where hundreds of people are present at all times, waiting to see if their passport has been printed out, or trying to begin the issuing process. Currently, the earliest you can receive an appointment to begin the process is in May, but even then, it’s unlikely that the document will be printed out in the usual period of 20 days. Meanwhile, citizens who began the process and had their pictures taken in December still haven’t received the passports. People who live abroad, who have family or have urgent business abroad are constantly interviewed by TV crews, crying, panicked, unsure how to leave the country.

Over the years, citizens were assured that the Government will organize the process on its own and will cover the costs (which are substantial for low income families). It was only months ago that the Government increased the prices of the documents and informed the citizens that they are on their own and the majority mass of these documents will be replaced all at once – at volumes far beyond the abilities of the Interior Ministry to process the claims. Toskovski, who is an interim Interior Minister nominated by VMRO-DPMNE and should focus on reducing abuse by the ruling parties SDSM and DUI – not on putting out fires of these proportions – quickly ordered the quadrupling of processing capacity, but notified the citizens that the deliveries of blank passports from the international supplier are unlikely to meet the demand. Greece refused Toskoski’s request that the timeline to replace the passports is prolongued and sent out diplomatic notes across the world that the “old” Macedonian passports are no longer valid in accordance with the imposed Prespa Treaty. SDSM officials, President Stevo Pendarovski and former Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, did not even try to conduct a diplomatic push with Greece – instead they were shifting blame to each other over who should try to appease the Greeks. Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani from the DUI party insists that Macedonia must follow the Prespa Treaty to the letter and that no delays are possible, and is not even expressing sympathy to the citizens over the impossible situation they are in, to be locked in one of the smallest countries in Europe, unable to travel on business, for medical emergies or to visit their families abroad.

A similar crisis was put in place in 2020, during the previous interim Government that was formed ahead of the 2020 elections. Then the interim Interior Minister Nake Culev, also nominated by VMRO, was met with a similar lack of blank passports and the process of issuing passports was delayed. But that was nothing compared to the disaster the country faces now.

SDSM today issued several press releases trying to blame Toskoski for the disaster (even though he has been in office for barely two weeks). SDSM blamed Toskoski of wanting to fine citizens with expired driver licenses (even though he specifically said that fines are not an issue but the problem can appear in case of traffic accidents), that he is implementing the Prespa Treaty despite VMRO’s rejection of it, and even blamed him for the major passports scandal in which it was revealed that under Oliver Spasovski, over 200 major criminals from the region and Europe got Macedonian passports under false identities – the scandal was wholly arranged under the SDSM – DUI Government, was revealed to the public by VMRO-DPMNE and eventually the SDSM – DUI dominated office of state prosecutors charged only a few low level passport clerks for it.

So far, these attempts by SDSM to shift the blame for the disaster are only causing adverse reaction in the public, considering that SDSM are seen as the party that imposed the name change, insists on changing he documents even though Macedonia has not obtained most of the main promises made during the signing of the Prespa Treaty (primarily the promised quick EU accession) and have managed the process literally until yesterday.