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Macedonian Government Censors University Students ‘for Their Own Good’

Censorship of freedom of expression by Macedonian authorities is not a new appearance, but seems to be developing in the small southeast European country. Earlier in 2014, when the residents of a state-run student dormitory in Skopje began an online campaign to expose the horrific living conditions in the dorms, Global Voices reported about the campaign and how authorities had blocked access to several websites for the residents of the dorm. Only one media outlet from Macedonia investigated this further.

In March 2014, the students’ campaign to raise awareness about the incredibly unhealthy living conditions the state had provided for them went viral online and drew international interest in the matter. At the time, some media and Twitter users even went as far as to compare the living conditions to those in prisons:

Apparently, this drew much unwanted attention to the state-run facility. Prior to the scandal that broke after the students’ online campaign went viral on social networks throughout the region, the residents of the dorm had unrestricted access to Facebook and Twitter within and outside of exam seasons. During the break-out of bad publicity for Macedonian authorities, these and some other websites were suddenly off-limits to them [mk].

Albanian-language news portal Portalb.mk was the only media from Macedonia to publicly ask [sq] the Ministry of Education and Science for explanation. The Ministry claimed that never to have censored access to all of the Internet, but “only to social media in the dorms”:

About the student claims, regarding blocking the Internet, we have never done that and there have not been any problems with the Internet in the “Goce Delchev” dorm. On the other hand, those Internet pages and social networks [in question] have always been blocked, the same way they have been blocked in high schools and primary schools. We enable students to use the Internet for studying purposes only, and not to use pages which have no connection to education,” stated the Ministry representative.

The fact is that none of the student representatives or media ever claimed that access to all of the Internet was restricted. As a result of the internationalization of the scandal, the Macedonian government promised to repair that particular dormitory in Skopje and improve living conditions for students. Living conditions in other dorms remain substandard.

Albanian Activists Condemn ‘Terrorist’ Murder Verdict in Macedonia

Balkan Insight reports that an ethnic Albanian NGO in Macedonia has condemned a recent court verdict convicting six Albanian men for the execution-style murder of five ethnic Macedonians on Christian Orthodox Easter in 2012.

The NGO claims that the entire investigation and verdict were politically-motivated and set against the six accused men from the beginning, leaving little to no room for other suspects or a more in-depth investigation. The six men stood trial for terrorism and were sentenced to the longest possible prison term for terrorism in Macedonia – life in prison.

Balkan Insight previously reported on the murders and the jailing of the six accused men.

Macedonian Medical Students Live in Medieval Conditions

Independent student magazine Izlez (Exit) published photo galleries originally posted by students Dena Miladinoska and Kristina Ivanova [mk] of the state-run dorm for medical students at the University of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. The students posted the photographs of the desolate living conditions in an attempt to incite improvement of these conditions, similar to the initiative started several weeks before by the student residents of the Goce Delchev student dorm in Skopje.

Во меѓувреме, студентската населба „Невена Георгиева-Дуња“, лоцирана во кругот на универзитетските клиники во Скопје и попозната како „Медицинар“, останува нем сведок на несреќниот студентски живот во земјата. Ако не сте знаеле, неминовно да се спомене, секој студент месечно издвојува три илјади денари за сместувањето во „Медицинар“. Што се добива за тие пари?

In the meantime, the student quart “Nevena Georgieva – Dunja,” located within the campus of university clinics in Skopje and better known as “Medicinar” remains a mute witness to unfortunate college life in Macedonia. A little known but unavoidable fact is that each student pays a rent of 3.000 Denars (50 euro or 67 US dollars) per month in “Medicinar.” What do they get for their money?

In Skopje's “Medicinar” students not only have to do their laundry manually, they have to do it in what were once paint buckets.

Investigative Journalists Report on Macedonian Government Official's Hidden Wealth

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), together with Macedonian Nova TV and the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism published an investigative piece about the amassed wealth of the head of Macedonian Secret Service Sasho Mijalkov, who also happens to be a first cousin to the current Prime Minister of Macedonia. Among other things, the article cites:

Mijalkov belongs to a small clique of men who run Macedonia – men that include his cousin and best man. Meanwhile, under his leadership, his agency has been criticized for dodging oversight, failing to meet European Union standards and for intruding in places it should not.

This career government official owns number of businesses and properties in Macedonia and Czech Republic, where his father Jordan Mijalkov (1933-1991) hеld the position of manager of a foreign trade company during socialist Yugoslavia.

The Mijalkov-Gruevski political dynasty has held power during much of Macedonia's transition. Jordan Mijalkov was the first Minister of Interior after the country gained independence, until his death in car crash. His sister's son Nikola Gruevski was Minister of Finance (1999-2002) and Prime Minister (2006-2014). The son, Sasho Mijalkov, who is seen as the grey eminence behind the family “throne”, served in Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito's Honor Guard alongside his brother as military policemen [mk], and has held high positions in the ministries of Defense and Interior of Macedonia since 1998. He was a protagonist in a recent story covered by Global Voices, regarding the use of a defamation lawsuit as a means of punishment and intimidation against independent media.

Macedonia 2014 Elections Quick Reference Guide

April 2014 is election season in Macedonia. On Sunday, April 13, Macedonians began casting votes for a new president and a new parliament.

As is the case with the electoral process in many countries in the age of the Internet, much of the information related to these elections will be readily available online. Global Voices has collected a list of some of the resources Internet users can use to follow the elections in Macedonia, as well as a quick calendar of the voting dates.

Macedonia elections 2014. Photo by Global Voices. CC-BY.

Voter with a branded thumb holding election information leaflet issued by SEC. CC-BY.

Macedonia 2014 elections calendar:

Day Activity
April 12, Saturday Electoral silence begins
April 13, Sunday First Round of Presidential Elections
April 26, Saturday Electoral silence begins
April 27, Sunday Second Round of Presidential Elections
Early Parliamentary Elections

Key websites to follow:

Twitter hashtags:

Websites and Twitter accounts of the presidential candidates and their political parties (numbers reflect the order of candidates on the ballot):

  1. Gjorge Ivanov from VMRO-DPMNE (@timmakedonija, #Иванов – affirmative, and #Хорхе i.e. Jorge – critical).
    Slogan: “The State Above Everything Else.”
  2. Iljaz Halimi from DPA (@gurrapdsh).
    Slogan: “For an [ethnic] Albanian President.”
  3. Stevo Pendarovski from SDSM (@spendarovski, #Стево i.e. Stevo – affirmative, and #промени – changes).
    Slogan: “Macedonia Deserves a President. Stevo, my President.”
  4. Zoran Popovski from GROM (@PopovskiZ).
    Slogan: “Bravely for Macedonia. A brave man – a proud state.”

Komunikacii blog has published a concise and interesting analysis of the slogans [mk], while a Balkanist article “Elections in Macedonia: The Land of Promises” neatly sums up some of the major issues.

The early parliamentary elections in Macedonia have the same general cast as in 2011.

Artists Explore the ‘Melting Point’ of Art and Propaganda in Skopje

A not-for-profit, self-financed group of artists calling themselves Kooperacija (“Cooperation”, Macedonian slang for a general store in small villages) hosted an exhibition titled “Melting Point: Art as Anti-Hegemonic Propaganda” [en, mk, with photos] in Skopje recently.

'Fear makes the world go round' by Ines Efremova. Photo by Kooperacija, used with permission.

‘Fear makes the world go round’ by Ines Efremova. Photo by Kooperacija, used with permission.

As reported [mk] by several news outlets that cover culture [mk], including Belgrade-based SEE Cult [sr], the event presented works by several individuals and groups of world renowned artists. Among them were pieces by Vitaly Komar, IRWIN, Santiago Sierra, DETEXT, as well as by some of the most vibrant artists from the region, like Nemanja Cvijanović, Ibro Hasanović, Igor Toševski, Kristina Gorovska & Jure Lavrin, Ines Efremova, Filip Jovanovski, O-P-A, and others.

The group of artists who put together the exhibition described it on their pages as:

Kooperacija is an initiative whose purpose is artistic activity outside the inert institutional frameworks, thus suggesting an exceptional approach to the creation and experience of contemporary art [...]

[Its] basic strategy is the occupation of temporarily free space dispersed throughout the urban landscape and exhibiting through a chain of blitzkrieg events. The desired effect is a constructive dialogue regarding the re-questioning of the critical positions in art and producing a favorable environment for a free exchange of ideas, experience and freedom of expression.

Macedonian Site Takes Satirical Stance on Freedom of Expression Issues

Macedonia has a long tradition of humor, caricatures and satire, including hosting of the World Gallery of Cartoons. With the appearance of new media, many aphorisms and satirical tales are now modified into tweets and Facebook statuses, while the classical forms of caricatures, jokes, and short stories have given way to digitally altered meme images or satirical news articles modeled after The Onion.

Among the leading sources of such satirical news in Macedonia is the section “para-news” of news portal Okno.mk, satirical news site Brejking.net, another humorous site Panika.be, and the well-known portal Koza Nostra. The name of the latter is a play on words, combining the term “Cosa Nostra”, a term often related to Sicilian Mafia in popular culture, and the Macedonan word “koza”, meaning goat, surmounting to “Our Goat” in direct translation.

A recent example [mk] of their work, titled “Journalists from Macedonia and Belarus to Found Association ‘Reporters with Borders'”, refers to the dismal situation of media freedom in this region.

Новинари од меинстрим медиумите во Македонија и во Белорусија револтирани од извештаите на меѓународната организација “Репортери без граници” ќе прават контраздружение “Репортери со граници”. Целта на здружението е да се пишуваат извештаи кои ќе бидат многу пообјективни и авторизирани од владите за да не се доведуваат новинарите во неоријатни конфронтации со своите власти.

- Мораме да се спротивставиме на надворешната пропаганда која се повеќе зема замав а ја предводат разноразни неѓународни организации и организации под контрола на Сорос. Целта е таканаречени независни новинари да ги преземат нашите медиуми. Но, нашето контраздржение ќе ги разобличи овие обиди – велат добро упатени новинари од иницијативниот одбор.

Journalists from the mainstream media in Macedonia and Belarus aggravated by the reports of the international organization “Reporters without Borders” will form a counter-association “Reporters with Borders.” The goal of the association will be to write reports which will be far more objective and authorized by the governments, so the journalist would avoid unpleasant confrontations with their authorities.

“We must stand up to the foreign propaganda which increases under leadership of various international organizations and organizations under control of Soros. Their goal is to have so-called independent journalists take over our media. But our counter-association will expose these attempts,” claim well-informed journalists from the initiative's board.

Macedonia’s rank on Reporters without Borders’  World Press Freedom Index, 2003-2014

Macedonia’s and Belarus’ rank on Reporters without Borders’
World Press Freedom Index, 2003-2014

According to the World Press Freedom Index report by Reporters without Borders, in 2013 Macedonia reached a rank of 123, from to the relatively decent rank of 34 in 2009.

Serbia Mourns British-Serbian Legend Timothy John Byford

Author, actor, educator, television and film director Timothy John Byford died in Belgrade on May 5, 2014, after a long illness. Born in Salisbury, England, Byford spent most of his life in Belgrade, where he moved in 1971 and later became a naturalized citizen of Serbia.

As news portal InSerbia reports:

He is best known for his children’s TV series: Neven (‘Marigold’), Babino unuče (‘Granny’s Boy’) and Poletarac (‘Fledgling’) (all for TV Belgrade) as well as Nedeljni zabavnik (‘Sunday Magazine’), ‘Musical Notebook’ and Tragom ptice Dodo (‘On the Trail of the Dodo’) (all for TV Sarajevo). ‘Fledgling’ won a Grand Prix at the Prix Jeunesse International Festival in Munich in 1980.

Byford marked the lives and childhoods of several generations in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states through his television shows and educational programs. His presence was also felt in everyday Belgrade life, where he once rallied to have Banjica Park protected because of its feathered wildlife, and the term “Byfordian accent” has for decades been a popular way of describing someone who speaks Serbian well but with a heavy English accent.

Byford was genuinely beloved by his vast audience and fellow Belgraders, which has been touchingly apparent on social networks since his passing. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and local media have been adorned with praise and gratitude to Byford and his contribution to culture and happy childhoods in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states. Enes Dinić from Serbia was among those who recounted Byford's wise words on Twitter:

"Life is an adventure, if you live it courageously." R.I.P. Timothy John Byford

— Enes Dinić (@eniko_neno3) May 5, 2014

Fans in Skopje Gather to Exchange Football Stickers

Hundreds of people gathered on Sunday afternoon in a downtown park in Skopje to exchange stickers of the official Football FIFA World Cup album on April 28, 2014.

Sticker exchange in Skopje, Macedonia on April 27, 2014.

People of all ages exchanging stickers in Skopje City Park. Photo: F.S. (CC-BY)

In Macedonia, as in other countries of the former Yugoslavia, the tradition of collecting stickers is decades long, dating back at least to the 1970s and many vintage sticker albums are now valued collectors’ items. Adults participate in the exchange almost as much as children and popular brands have included Italian Panini and Croatian Kraš (Animal Kingdom). In 2006, local programmer Goran Slakeski founded the website slikicki.com [mk, en, si] which has been the center of an online sticker exchange community, extending its reach with occasional offline events such as this one.

Suspected Government #SelfieMacedonia Campaign Backfires

A Facebook campaign with the hashtag #SelfieMacedonia was launched in March 2014 and Macedonian social media users now suspect that the country's government is behind it all.

Bouts of young social media users from Macedonia, individually or in groups, have been taking photos of themselves, typically called “selfies”, and sharing them on Facebook with the hashtag. None of this would be unusual were it not for the peculiar fact that national monuments and buildings constructed ​​by the current government are in most of these photos.

The Youth Force Union, a youth group of the ruling party in Macedonia, began taking these “selfie” photos that sometimes include the ruling party’s flag and logo. The hashtag aroused great interest and many users began commenting these features on social networks, indicating suspicion that the campaign is being staged by the ruling party’s headquarters.

In response to the “selfies” with the monuments and political symbols, an even greater number of photo-montage images can be found on Facebook now, some depicting government officials attending current events.

A widely circulated photoshopped image showing a Macedonian government official and US President Obama, part of the response of Macedonian social media users to the #SelfieMacedonia campaign.

A widely circulated photoshopped image showing a Macedonian government official and US President Obama, part of the response of Macedonian social media users to the #SelfieMacedonia campaign.

A1on.mk commented on the campaign in a recent article and included several of these images.

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