Stories from Quick Reads and Macedonia
On Saturday, June 20, human rights expert and activist Suad Missini ended the hunger strike he started six days prior in protest of inhumane treatment of migrants passing through Macedonia. Mr. Missini issued the following statement [links added]:
While the effects of the changes of the Asylum Law are yet to be seen in practice, the conditions in the migrant center in Gazi Baba has not been improved. The refugees are still kept in the center which gains characteristics of a concentration camp, under impossible, inhuman and degrading conditions, out of the legal framework and international human rights standards which are part of the national legal system.
Authorities in Republic of Macedonia chose to remain deaf to the demands for solving of this problem by numerous international organizations and institutions. They act blind to the fact that the UN Committee Against Torture characterized the treatment of refugees in this center as torture and breach of the UN Convention Against Torture in its latest report. And all this while our country is a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
On the other hand, I'd like to stress that Macedonia, as member of Council of Europe (CoE), received a visit by the CoE Committee for Prevention of Torture, which included a visit to Gazi Baba center. This summer, the president of this committee Mikola Gnatovskij visited Macedonia and also talked to the authorities about this center, among other things. I emphasize that Macedonian authorities have still not issued approval for the report of this visit to be published.
Finally, two days before the start of the hunger strike, the Ombudsman of Republic of Macedonia presented the catastrophic situation and lawlessness that rule in this center.
Today, we can acknowledge that the public in Republic of Macedonia, as well as the international public and foreign media and organizations, are fully aware and informed about the problem with this center. These days, Gazi Baba center is an international topic. If the government decided that this catastrophic problem should not be a subject of immediate reaction and subsequent solution, then this definitely puts our country among those which openly and unscrupulously conduct torture, while the authorities are legitimized as institutions lead by persons which have no respect for human lives. The lives of hundreds of people detained within this center. And finally, about my life.
Therefore, on this day I end the hunger strike. Because the limits of health risks are already surpassed, and because the potentials of this strike are fulfilled.
My demands, which are demands by an enormous part of the public in Republic of Macedonia, are partially fulfilled.
My civic act was a drop which made waves, which, I sincerely hope, together with all the other efforts, will lead to solving of this problem which turns our country into an uncivilized space.
I am immensely grateful to the thousands who sincerely and unambiguously expressed their support, making this civil act as much theirs, as it was mine.
Meanwhile, Twitter users continue sharing leaked photos showing the conditions of detained refugees.
The local council of the Municipality of Centar, part of the Skopje downtown area, approved a proposal to hold a referendum to preserve the authentic look of the iconic Skopje Shopping Center. As Meta.mk reports, the referendum will take place on April 26. For the referendum to be successful, it needs a turnout of 50 percent plus one of the registered voters in the Municipality of Centar to vote in favor of preserving the original edifice.
The decision is the result of a two-year-long campaign to save the landmark from a faux-baroque reconstruction plan. The Skopje City Shopping Center is known by the local acronym GTC.
“GTC requires nurturing, renovation, reconstruction, while not losing the concept and function. Project for changing the look of GTC means distorting the essence of the object. The investor who will reconstruct the facility has to know the essence and what does GTC means to the citizens. We have nothing against the reconstruction of the GTC, its authenticity as a heritage must be kept,” said Danica Pavlovska from the Association of Architects.
She added that the referendum is the most democratic way to solve the problems of citizens and is something that allows the citizens to be aware of their power.
— Го сакам ГТЦ (@GoSakamGTC) March 30, 2015
Centar decided! On April 26, we go to referendum to save GTC.
The voice of the citizens will be heard. Municipality of Centar voted to allow a referendum on GTC.
Prominent investigative journalist Meri Jordanovska wrote a testimony about her experience on receiving evidence that she was one of allegedly twenty thousand individuals who have been subjected to state surveillance in Macedonia. In an op-ed on Balkan Insight, Jordanovska explains:
Each report on one of my wiretapped conversations was true: the date, the story I was working on and the sources I was getting briefed by. Everything was correct. I am not sure I will get another “diploma”. This folder was more than enough for me to clearly see what is happening in my country.I can clearly see that someone knew in advance what story I was working on. Enough for me to conclude that my sources of information were endangered. Enough for the centers of power to be able to react preventively before the story was published. Enough to become aware, even though I had always suspected this, that some people know the problems of those closest to me – people who had shared personal matters with me over the phone.
Jordanovska received a file containing surveillance of her communications during a press conference by the opposition party SDSM, at which representatives of the party also revealed that journalists had been wiretapped en masse in Macedonia. Besides publishing several conversation as proof, twenty journalists were given folders with CDs containing their own files, leaked by sources from within the Ministry of Interior. Her text is also available in Macedonian and has been republished by several independent portals in her home country, including Mojot grad.
SDSM leader Zoran Zaev claims that National Security Services illegally targeted over twenty thousand people with the surveillance, which involved illegally recording and storing phone conversations of these individuals over at least four years. His party has not yet published a list of all the alleged victims, nor a list of the wiretapped phone numbers. According to SDSM representatives, these included both citizens of Macedonia and foreigners using local telecom services, including several diplomats.
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) was among the very few media to report about an attack on the second anniversary celebration of the center for support of the LGBT community in a cafe in the Old Bazaar are of Skopje. On October 23, 2014, some 20 hooded young men attacked those attending the celebration and vandalized the venue.
“The hooligans entered the cafe and started throwing everything, like bottles, crates… It was a stampedе. One girl was injured and was taken to the accident and emergency center. She is fine, but still recovering,” Uranija Pirovska, director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia, a host of the event, said.
Outgoing Dutch Ambassador to Macedonia, Marriët Schuurman, also spoke to BIRN openly about the use of violence to “shut people up” in Macedonia, in particular expressing deep concern about how acceptable such practices had become in the country.
Schuurman says Macedonia faces serious problem when it comes to the rule of law: “Citizens no longer feel protected by the authorities who, under the constitution, should protect their rights, and particularly those minorities.”
Traveling duo Jürgen Horn from Germany and Mike Powell from the United States wander around the world by picking a country and staying there for three months, or about 91 days. During their three-month stays, the two globe-trotters attempt to experience life in their new location more thoroughly than a regular tourist and relate their experiences in a blog, saying they plan on eventually authoring e-books on the subject.
Horn and Powell have visited lands on different continents, from Japan to Yucatan, from Idaho to Iceland and Istanbul, with Sri Lanka and many others in between. Currently, they are exploring and writing about Macedonia, providing multimedia notes on the small southeast European country's cities and towns, places related to culture, history and nature. The duo's journey can be followed on social networks and their blog
— For 91 Days (@for91days) September 1, 2014
The growing migration crisis has recently also affected countries in southeastern Europe, with new issues arising almost daily. Reacting to the inhumane treatment of migrants who pass through Republic of Macedonia, renowned human rights activist Suad Missini started a hunger strike in front of the Parliament building in Skopje. He began the strike immediately after publishing his three demands in a Facebook post on Sunday, June 14, which garnered almost 300 likes and over 90 shares in just the first day.
I am just starting a hunger strike.
In front of the Parliament.
I demand urgently and immediately:
- Urgent adoption of the changes of the Asylum law, that would enable safe transit or temporary stay of refugees passing through the Macedonian territory, as well as free use of all publicly available means of transport.
- Concrete and publicly announced measures by the Ministry of Interior in view to safeguard the life, security and possessions of refugees passing through Macedonia.
- Immediate liberation of all refugees and migrants detained in the Gazi Baba center and its immediate closure.
The strike will not end unless these demands are fulfilled.
Thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and other war zones pass through Macedonia, traveling from Greece towards Serbia on a path to try to reach Germany or other well-off EU countries. The migrants used to follow the railway tracks on foot, suffering horrific “accidents.” Lately the migrants buy bicycles, reportedly at inflated prices, in southern Macedonian towns and cycle on the main highway. Many of them fall victim to human trafficking rings and gangs of robbers. Some of the refugees are held as “witnesses” in the Reception Center for Foreigners “Gazi Baba” in Skopje in what Macedonian Ombudsman Idzhet Memeti has called “inhuman, unhealthy, and undignified” conditions.
The Government is supposed to discuss the amendments to the Asylum Law on June 16.
Although southeast European countries are progressive in many other ways, the decline of women's reproductive rights in some Western Balkan countries has been a worrying trend. In Macedonia, several small protests have been held in recent years to demonstrate people's opposition to government involvement in determining public sentiment on issues like abortion and family planning, after the government implemented a national anti-abortion campaign that began in 2011.
In recent years Macedonia has undergone a very subtle, yet dreadfully pervasive deterioration of the situation with women's rights. Mainly unnoticed or overlooked, the government latched on the popular, deeply misogynist sentiment of the suffering mother (a metaphor often used for the country itself) and after the initial surge of promise with the introduction of the gender quotas in 2006 and the adoption of the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, which paired with the history of equal treatment from the previous system led to even higher percentages in female representation in certain areas compared to the EU average, things started moving downwards steadily, without sufficient public resistance.
It can arguably be claimed that the ploy began with the anti-abortion posters and newspaper ads which started littering the public space out of nowhere circa 2006-2007 without anyone claiming responsibility for them…
Macedonian Metamorphosis Foundation has developed a first among mobile applications – an app against hate speech, aiming to bring information from this area to the fingertips of mobile phone users and help them battle this odious occurrence on the Internet.
The app, available for free download both Android and iOS users, was developed in order to more effectively combat hate speech online, enabling access to the latest news in this area, access to educational and expert resources, such as a library with e-books on the matter, interactive tutorials about the various opportunities for reporting hate speech, as well as participation in events related to the fight against hate speech through an integrated calendar.
The application, dubbed simply “Don't Hate”, is the first mobile app of this kind in the world and is currently only available in Macedonian and Albanian, while its creators do plan on developing it further for other languages and markets in the near future.
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) appealed in October 2014 to all journalists and citizens to show solidarity with the journalists of Fokus magazine, who are subject to what has been deemed by many as harsh punishment due to a lost defamation law suit for some of the investigative pieces they published. A Fokus journalist and its editor-in-chief have to pay over 9,300 euros to the Director of the Macedonian Security and Counter-Intelligence Directorate Sasho Mijalkov, who brought the defamation law suit against them.
AJM believes that the verdict is unfair and directed against critical journalism, which is essential for the functioning of Macedonian democracy.
Our colleagues are not able to pay the fee, therefore AJM appeals for mobilization and solidarity of the membership, the journalistic community and the public in Macedonia.
We believe that our support will be a contribution for the survival of free thought and criticism towards the ways the government is practicing power in the country.
Moreover, we believe that the support of the press and public will be a direct contribution to safeguarding the freedom of expression in Macedonia. Therefore we urge within your capabilities to donate to the following bank account:
AJM Solidarity Fund: 300000003296484
The Commercial Bank
Purpose of payment: Donation for the reporters from Focus
Mijalkov announced that, when Fokus staff paid the fine, he would donate the part of the money he receives to an orphanage. This, nevertheless, means endangering the survival of the magazine and the livelihood of its staff.
Other civic organizations also sounded alarms after hearing of the fine decided by a Skopje court. For instance, the National Network against Homophobia and Transphobia of Macedonia is organizing a fundraising event in Skopje Old Town on October 14, 2014, to aid Fokus in covering the defamation fine and cover court costs.
„Патриотскиот“ говор на омраза е препознатлив по намерата за разгорување, поттикнување, или оправдување на омраза кон внатрешните и надворешните „непријатели“. Во основата на ваквиот говорот на омраза е поделбата на „Ние“ („патриотите“) и „Тие“ (непатриотите), кои се етикетирани со најразлични стигматизирачки називи. „Патриотскиот“ говор на омраза честопати се користи како инструмент за психолошко насилство врз критичарите на актуелната власт, од страна на провладини политичари, новинари или колумнисти.
Во првиот дел од анализава ќе се фокусираме на повеќе примери на „патриотски“ говор на омраза во кој се таргетираат домашни „предавници“, „странски платеници“, „кодоши“…
“Patriotic” hate speech is recognizable by the intention of inciting, encouraging or justifying hatred towards internal and external “enemies.” At the core of this hate speech is the division to “We” (“patriots”) and “Them” (non-patriots) that are labeled with various stigmatizing names. “Patriotic” hate speech is often used as an instrument of psychological violence against critics of the current government, by pro-government politicians, journalists or columnists.
In the first part of this analysis we will focus on several examples of “patriotic” hate speech targeting domestic “traitors”, “foreign mercenaries“, “informers” of the former regime…
Three parts of Trajanoski's independent analysis are available in Macedonian and English, while the author has promised to continue the series in the near future. The examples are informative both to those interested in the political and media situation in Macedonia, but also to students of hate speech as a wider phenomenon, in particular as an instance of wider anti-democratic trends in southeastern Europe.
The first part of the analysis covers Hate towards internal “enemies”. The second and third parts of Trajanoski's study document and discuss examples of hate speech directed at activists and non-government organizations in Macedonia. Trajanoski's work is also part of a larger on-going civic fact-checking project of Macedonian media.