Huge protest against corruption & surveillance in Macedonia

By EDRi · April 20, 2016

The political crisis in Macedonia deepened on 12 April when the President Gjorgi Ivanov announced that he would issue a blanket pardon to 56 politicians suspected of involvement in serious crimes. Over the last eight days, tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets of the capital city Skopje and about a dozen other cities, demanding justice and restoration of democracy.

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In February 2015, the opposition started revealing excerpts of leaked wiretaps conducted by the state’s Secret Service, alleging that over 20,000 citizens were subject to direct illegal surveillance, as part of an alleged criminal conspiracy run by the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his family. The illegal surveillance was allegedly conducted with use of state resources and with compliance of telecom operators.

Using surveillance as a tool for control and intimidation has led to a decline in the respect for human rights, in particular freedom of expression. This is demonstrated, for example, by the fact that Macedonia’s rank on World Press Freedom Index sunk from 34 in 2009 to 118 in 2016.
In June 2015 a probe by group of experts lead by the former European Union (EU) Commissioner Reinhart Priebe confirmed these allegations and was the basis for further steps taken by the European Commission (EC). These steps included setting urgent reform priorities for Macedonia as an EU candidate country and joint mediation with the USA. The mediation led to the so-called Pržino Agreement, which stipulated gradual reforms that would reverse the backsliding from democracy.

One step included the formation of a new institution, the Special Public Prosecutor (SPP), in charge of investigating the crimes related to the illegal wiretapping. The SPP faced various obstacles from other state institutions after it started investigations of various wrongdoings, including electoral fraud, torture of political prisoners, and misuse of state funds. The legal grounds of the announced presidential pardon for suspects under its investigations is highly controversial, but if implemented would ensure impunity and make the SPP work irrelevant.

Angered by this abuse of state function and by the prospect of continuing rule of what they see as mafia structure maintaining the control of the state, citizens started protesting daily in the streets of Skopje, and later in other cities. At first numbering hundreds, their numbers swelled to tens of thousands in the capital and several thousands in the cities of Bitola, Strumica, Prilep, Kumanovo, Shtip, Kochani, with other cities announcing they would join the protests in the coming days.

The protest’s main demands are restoration of the rule of law, punishment of organised crime, and all perpetrators being held accountable. As a main slogan, the protesters chant:
“No Justice, No Peace!” They also address the lack of freedom of expression, with: “No More Silence!”

The protesters jokingly use the term “multicolored revolution” as some of them throw eggs and paint at government buildings, esp. those built under highly controversial project Skopje 2014, which incurred costs of over € 630 million without public consultation. These new constructions, such as the Triumphal Arch from 2012, new “baroque” facades and fountains are perceived as symbols of power of the regime. According to Macedonian law, these forms of vandalism, alongside graffiti, are considered misdemeanors and usually do not incite interventions by riot police.

The EU invited the leaders of the four biggest political parties in Macedonia, for negotiations in Vienna on 22 April, to find ways to continue the blocked implementation of the Pržino Agreement. The exclusion of the civil society from the previous rounds of negotiations lead to compromise solutions that fuel the anger of the protesters, who demand that end of impunity for criminal responsibility take precedence and be the precondition for all eventual political reforms supported by the international community.

Macedonia: Massive surveillance revelation: 20 000 people wiretapped (11.02.2015)

Macedonia: a superficial democracy in the shadow of crises (01.04.2016)

Macedonia president halts wiretapping inquiry (12.04.2016)

EU Commissioner Criticizes Macedonian President For Halting Wiretap Probe (12.04.2016)

Macedonia President’s Amnesty Move Prompts Civil Unrest (14.04.2016)

U.S. Mission to the OSCE: On Developments in Macedonia: Statement to the PC (14.04.2016)

U.S. Dept. of State: Macedonia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2015 (13.04.2016)

Macedonia corruption: Fourth night of protests as snap election called (15.04.2016)

‘Without Justice, There’s No Peace!’: Macedonians March Against President’s Pardon for Politicians Under Investigation (15.04.2016)

The Budding Autocrats of the Balkans (15.04.2016)

EU Attempts to Salvage Macedonia Crisis Deal (18.04.2016)

Protests in Macedonia Gain Momentum as New Round of Political Negotiations Is Announced (19.04.2016)

Macedonia’s political crisis: Make or break for civil society (19.04.2015)

“No to negotiations” shout citizens, they demand equality, justice and freedom (20.04.2016)

2016 World Press Freedom Index (20.04.2016)

(Contribution by Filip Stojanovski, Metamorphosis)