Hungary Grants Asylum to Fugitive Former Balkan Leader Gruevski

(Bloomberg) -- The fugitive former premier of the Republic of Macedonia received asylum in Hungary in what’s bound to fuel questions over Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s western commitment.

Nikola Gruevski, who led Macedonia for a decade until 2016, announced the decision on his Facebook page on Tuesday, a week after escaping to Budapest to avert starting a jail term for abuse of power. The decision creates a rift between the European Union member and Macedonia, which Russia has long sought to keep as a geo-political buffer and which is hoping to join the EU and NATO following Gruevski’s ouster.

Orban, who has cultivated ties with nationalist leaders inside and outside of the EU, was a political ally of Gruevski. The Macedonian politician campaigned in a September referendum against an agreement with Greece over the country’s name and opening the way for the Balkan nation to join the EU. Macedonians overwhelmingly backed the deal, though turnout was low.

Gruevski escaped Macedonia earlier this month just as he was about to begin a two-year prison sentence for abuse of office. Separate charges including for election fraud and inciting violence are still pending. Macedonia had urged that Hungary extradite Gruevski.

Diplomatic Cars

Hungary’s immigration authority, by granting the asylum request, agreed that Gruevski was politically persecuted. That’s at odds with the assessment of the U.S., which called the judicial process against Gruevski in his homeland “thorough and transparent,” Politico reported on Nov. 15, citing an unidentified State Department spokesperson.

Though Orban’s government had insisted that adjudicating Gruevski’s asylum wouldn’t be politicized, the process was a mere formality after authorities around the Balkans confirmed that Gruevski made his way to Hungary in the vehicles of Hungarian diplomats.

The government in Budapest has never confirmed or denied its role in organizing Gruevski’s journey. Yet as soon as Gruevski arrived to the Hungarian capital, Orban’s ruling party declared that the Macedonian leader was persecuted at home and as such will receive asylum.

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