SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia has fallen back into political crisis, a chapter frighteningly illustrated by images of protesters rushed into parliament and leaving several lawmakers bloodied.
The country of just over 2 million people that occupies only a little more territory than Wales hasn't had a government for five months. It also has a long list of challenges that are familiar in the Balkans: highly confrontational party politics, a large ethnic minority, unfriendly neighbors, and an uncertain future in Europe.
Add old-fashioned power dynamics to the mix, and a picture of Macedonia's problems becomes a little clearer.
WHY DID PROTESTERS STORM PARLIAMENT?
Elections last December produced a hung parliament, with the two main parties — the conservatives and rival Social Democrats — refusing to talk to each other. Demands from lawmakers representing the country's ethnic Albanian minority have stalled efforts to form a coalition government. The proposed terms include making Albanian the country's second official language.
To break the deadlock, the Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties voted Thursday for a new speaker of parliament. Conservatives called the action illegitimate. Their supporters rushed into parliament and beat up Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev, 42, as well as other lawmakers.
CAN'T THE TWO MAIN PARTIES FORM A GRAND COALITION?
Not likely. Zoran's Social Democrats and the conservative former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, 46, have been locked in a fight for years.
Their heated spat over minority party demands has triggered months of street protests, mostly by Gruevski supporters who argue that giving in would undermine the country's sovereignty.
The showdown between the two sides also is rooted in a major wire-tapping scandal, allegations of corruption, news media interference and escalating tensions between Russia and Western Balkan nations over Moscow's influence in the region.
LOOKING EAST OR WEST?
The European Union and the United States were quick to condemn Thursday night's attacks and to express their willingness to work with the new parliament speaker.
"The acts of violence in the parliament are wholly unacceptable and we call for calm and restraint," EU Commissioners Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn said in a statement .
Russia had a very different explanation of events. It accused the west of backing Zaev in an attempt to seize power.
"The West is obviously pandering to the advocates of a Greater Albania," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
LEGACY OF INSTABILITY
The Balkans: World War I started there. World War II saw the region's nations turn on each other. And during the 1990s, they were the scene of Europe's most deadly fighting since World War II ended.
Macedonia became independent as Yugoslavia was broken apart by war. Since then, developments have not been smooth for the young republic. Armed groups from the ethnic Albanian minority staged a 9-month insurgency in 2001. Greece blocked its NATO membership due to a long-standing dispute over the country's name and claim to ancient Macedonian heritage.
The country remains among Europe's poorest. Greeks, despite eight years of financial crisis, are roughly twice as wealthy. And politics as usual remains fierce. Elections were only held last year after months of political deadlock, following an agreement brokered by the European Union.