In a brutal TV interview, former Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski acknowledged that the Ministry did not order a sufficient quantity of blank passports with the imposed name “North Macedonia”. After the Government, based on Greek requests, declared all passports with the name Republic of Macedonia invalid on February 12th, estimated half a million Macedonian citizens are not able to travel and printing of passports with the adjective “North” has stopped.

Spasovski was removed from office three weeks ago, as part of the preparations for elections, that meant appointing an opposition official in his stead. While citizens were aware that something is going badly wrong with the simple process of issuing new passports, the the true extent of the disaster was made clear only after Spasovski was out.

The data on the dynamics on procurement can be found in the Ministry.. If there was a decision by the steering committee to make a certain change in the contract, then it’s possible that it happened – this was Spasovski’s bureaucratic, evasive answer to the question whether it’s true that the Ministry ordered 400,000 blank passports, and then, in December, ordered just 22,000.

Current Interior Minister Pance Toskoski from VMRO-DPMNE, who is supposed to inspect and prevent abuses by Spasovski’s cadres in the Ministry in the run up to the elections but was forced to do massive damage control over the lack of passports, said that the Ministry was left with just 15,000 passports – 5,000 in Macedonian and 10,000 in Albanian language. Toskoski was able to repair another failing segment – the huge delays in the application for passports which meant that citizens had to wait for hours, often starting at dead of night, in the cold of winter, to simply have their picture taken by an Interior MInistry clerk. Applications now move somewhat faster, but it helps little if the applicant has to wait for months to actually receive the passport.

Spasovski was clearly running a presidential campaign, challenging incumbent Stevo Pendarovski, by assembling an army of online bots to praise his work and launching an operation against a large Albanian drug gang on his last day in office – which operated with impunity during his eight years in office. Other rumors indicated that he hopes to take over the SDSM party from Dimitar Kovacevski if, as the polls indicate, SDSM loses both the general and presidential elections. But after the passports fiasco, he went missing from public eye for days.

During his interview with Telma TV yesterday, Spasovski kept deflecting, as the journalist grew more and more anxious, trying to get a concrete answer. “Whoever was Minister at the time would have had to implement all the procedures with respect to upholding the Constitution and the legal clauses that we have”, was a typical word salad offered by Spasovski to the public.

At one point, Spasovski tried blaming the citizens themselves for not starting the process sooner. The Government hiked the prices by 10 EUR to 35 EUR, which is not an insignificant expense in inflation hit Macedonia. As Government officials were promising for a long time that the hated name change will not force citizens to pay for new documents out of pocket, many were expecting that the Government will stay true to its word and print the documents for no additional cost. Even after the forced name change in 2018, the Government continued issuing passports with the name Republic of Macedonia – it only began using the imposed name on the documents issued after 2021, which only infuriated citizens who paid for passports just a few years ago, and now have to pay again.

The Government was also unable to explain why is it not able to get Greece to postpone the implementation of this requirement from the Prespa Treaty for a few months, especially considering that the main promised benefit from the treaty – quick EU accession – never materialized. Greece also didn’t implement the few obligations it has from the treaty, such as replacing road signs with the name “North Macedonia” – many signs in the northern parts of Greece still point to “Yugoslavia”, “FYROM” or “Skopia”, avoiding the word “Macedonia. Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, who refused calls from the public to try to negotiate with Greece on this issue, yesterday said that Greece informed him that it replaced ONE traffic sign near the border. Osmani visited Munich where he, together with the new interim Prime Minister Talat Xhaferi met with largely fellow ethnic Albanian citizens of Macedonia to give them new passports.