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Police Arrest Protesters Protecting Macedonian City Park from Destruction

Eleven protesters who were demonstrating with several hundred others in Bristol Park, one of Macedonia's capital city of Skopje's few remaining parks, to save the green space from the construction of a government building, were arrested on the night between September 11 and 12.

The protests began more than a month ago and have since grown into a larger movement. Around 1 a.m., police surrounded the area, began breaking up the gathering and arrested the group [mk]. Macedonian and regional mainstream media are keeping silent about it.

Tamara Atanasoska, a blogger from Skopje, addressed the international community in a blog post on September 12 and gave a round-up of the events, explaining some of the issues Macedonian society is faced with today:

I hope you had a fine day. In fact, I am pretty sure you did. I myself, did not.
You see, today, in the city named Skopje, from where I come from, in front of the building in which I grew up, there are currently 400 policemen surrounding it. Peaceful protesters were arrested during the night, with the noble cause of saving one of the last remaining parks in Skopje, as the city is clogged with dust, dangerous particles and environment that sparks health problems.

This is not the first time. I’ve been woken up one night, some time ago, with the sound of the chainsaws. It was 4 a.m.. I cried as the old and big trees fell as the angry citizens were clashing with the police. Many, many of policemen, for just 30 citizens. Yes, we are not Gezi. But we are not the Turkish. Macedonia has not still recovered from the communist mentality. We had no resources for that. The governments after exploited that to the highest extent, killing all hope for citizen initiatives.

The demolishing of the park began in early August as preparation for a new government building in faux-baroque style that is part of a new urbanism plan dubbed “Skopje 2014″ by city officials and that many Skopje citizens regard as kitch and derogatory to Skopje's existing architecture and urban history.

A sign in downtown Skopje says: "Yesterday trees, tomorrow heads"; photo by  , used with permission.

A sign on a monument in downtown Skopje says: “Yesterday trees, tomorrow heads”; photo by Aleksandra Spaseska, used with permission.

The hashtag #Bristol (#Бристол [mk]) remains popular and active among Macedonian Twitter users, with live updates from the scene as the protests develop. Mainstream media however, remain silent, and many are also criticizing this fact online. Twitter user Stefan Manevski posted a comment and YouTube video showing the police crackdown on protesters at Bristol Park:

Some smaller independent online media and journalists have made attempts to report on the protests at Bristol Park, but have run into heavy resistance and even threats from the several hundred police officers guarding the park from protesters. NOVA TV reports [mk] on their website:

На новинари денеска пред паркот кај Бристол им беше забрането да фотографираат, а на екипата на НОВА и беше избришан видео материјал. Има ли право полицијата да спречува снимање и бришење на видео мат

Павле Трајанов актуелен пратеник и поранешен министер за внатрешни работи ни рече дека снимањето може да се ограничи само на места на кои постои јасна ознака дека снимањето е забрането

Според поранешен висок функционер во јавната безбедност полицијата нема право на таква мерка. Тој вели дека професијата полицаец е ризична но дека токму затоа имаат бенифициран стаж и други привилегии

Слободата на јавно информирање и на пристап кон информации, како дел од Уставот на РМ (чл.16) за секое демократско општество е повисока вредност од заштитата на интересите на прекршочната постапка

The journalists today outside the park in Bristol were forbidden to photograph, and the NOVA team also had their video deleted. Is it legal for police to prevent filming and to delete video mat. [material]

Pavle Trajanov current MP and former Minister of the Interior told us that filming may be restricted to places where there is a clear indication that filming is prohibited

According to a former senior public security official, the police has no right to such measures. He said the police profession is risky but this is why police officers have benefits in seniority and other privileges

Freedom of the press and access to information as part of the Constitution (Article 16) for any democratic society is of higher value than the protection of the interests of misdemeanors

And also describes in more detail the conduct of police officers on site with NOVA TV photographer and journalists:

Во случајот со екипата на НОВА, полицаецот кој го принудил нашиот новинар да го избрише видео записот не се повикал на никаква законска одредба, подзаконски акт, решение или било каков документ кој му го дава правото да забрани вршење на новинарска работа и бришење на снимен видео материјал.

Од нашиот новинар било побарано да се легитимира при што на полицаецот му била приложена прес картата која би требало да овозможи слободно извршување на новинарските задачи.

In the case of the NOVA team, the police officer who forced our journalist to delete the video recording did not cite any legal decree, subordinate regulations, resolution or any document whatsoever which provides him with the right to ban journalists in doing their jobs or to delete filmed video material.

Our journalist was asked for identification documents even thought the police officer had been shown a press card which should allow for the unobstructed pursuit of completing journalistic tasks.

Tamara Čausidis, a correspondent from Skopje for online weekly Forum.tm, reports [hr] on her journalistic team's experiences with police and the events on the night of September 12th at Bristol Park:

„Ako objaviš fotografiju, dobit ćeš kaznenu prijavu“, rekao je naoružani policajac mom kolegi nakon što je fotografirao skupinu teško naoružanih pripadnika specijalne policije koji su raspoređeni u središtu Skopja.

Novinar je na licu mjesta izbrisao fotografiju. “I vi novinari previše sebi dopuštate“, zaključio je ovaj specijalac, koji je s velikim brojem svojih kolega zadužen za operaciju „oslobađanja“ parcele koja je nekad bila mali park i koju su aktivisti branili tako što su zasadili nove mladice i u šatorima, na smjenu, danonoćno bdjeli nad njima.

U policijskoj akciji u dva u noći, isto kao što su prethodno posjekli park, sada su uhićeni i privedeni i parkobranitelji, kako se je ta grupa nazvala. U akciji je sudjelovalo nekoliko stotina – brojke se kreću od 200 do 400 – pripadnika obične policije, ali i specijalnih jedinica za brzo raspoređivanje, koji su krenuli na 11 aktivista i priveli ih na ispitivanje u policijsku postaju. Prema riječima policije, zbog „narušavanja javnog reda i mira“.

“If you publish that photograph, you will get a citation”, an armed police officer told my colleague after he had taken photographs of the group of heavily armed members of the special police squadron that was strewn in the center of Skopje.

The journalist deleted the photograph on the spot. “And you journalists allow yourselves too much”, the special forces officer concluded, who with a large number of his colleagues was tasked with the mission of “liberating” the parcel of land that once was a small park and that activists were defending by planting new seedlings and sitting in tents, guarding them day and night in shifts.

In a police action at two in the morning, just as they had previously cut down the park, the park defenders, as this group has named itself, were now being rounded up and arrested. The action was carried out by hundreds – reports of the number vary from 200 to 400 – members of regular police forces, but also special units for faster distribution, that came at 11 activists and brought them in for questioning at a police station. According to police sources, for “disturbing public order and peace”.

Others online, like a1on.mk, have managed to capture video and photographic material despite police warnings and post them online. The video below shows police officers at Bristol Park in full gear, surrounding the park, blocking passage and towing cars away from the park.

In calling for the support of the international community for Bristol Park, blogger Tamara Atanaskosa added:

We are not Syria. Our children are not dying on the street, gassed to death. But my country is dying in another way. For the first time after going out of Yugoslavia, my people got a country, to build, to grow, to develop, to evolve. As the years passed, those dreams of democracy, prosperity and future of any kind are less and less, as we are going rapidly down on all measured markers. This has a huge toll on young people. We try to keep our heads up from the gutter, but it’s quick sand under our feet.

The protests in downtown Skopje continue. As they bring to the surface much of the government pressure and disfunctionality in the country, these protests are slowly but surely growing into something bigger in Macedonia.

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