One week ahead of Macedonia's presidential elections, incumbent candidate President Gjorge Ivanov provoked widespread discussion among Macedonian social media users by making a series of gaffes in his first campaign interview.
Users quickly shared information about Ivanov's blunders using the hashtag #хорхе (a satirical Macedonian transliteration of the Spanish version of the name Gjorje – Jorje), reaching large audiences both in and outside the country.
Among other mistakes in the interview, Ivanov claimed that former French President Jacques Chirac had served as president of the US:
When Jacques Chirac was President of America, he took the position after being mayor of Paris, and because of that experience he coped with the immigrants issue.
Macedonian news portal A1on.mk published an excerpt of the televised interview that includes this claim:
Referring to the newly opened Macedonian embassy in Kazakhstan, Ivanov then claimed that Kazakhstan is larger than all the countries in Europe put together:
“I was even in Kazakhstan and opened an embassy there. And to show you how big Kazakhstan is – just imagine how big Europe and all European countries are. That is how large the surface of Kazakhstan is.”
The president is known for refusing to take part in a public debate since starting his campaign, aside from a few interviews on state-supported media.
At the start of the presidential campaign, one of the country's national television stations, Telma, claimed that it faced [mk] unequal access to information and unfair competition in the media market and blamed this on the government. Telma stated that it had invited Ivanov to participate in a live televised interview, but that he had declined their invitation. Telma responded on their prime time news programme, saying that “Ignorance is the method of the insecure”:
The man who wants to be the president of all citizens, and that means to us too, decided to play by the rules from the centre and ignore us, without saying whether he will accept our invitation or not!
Ivanov's rejection of Telma's invitation to participate in an interview provoked a discussion among many Macedonian users on Twitter. Twitter user @parg0, a social media activist from the capital Skopje, said:
— Parg0 (@parg0) March 27, 2014
#Хорхе beginning to decline invitations. There's going to be an empty chair in the studio I see. http://t.co/AIzDm1P4ub Or they'd have [an empty chair] either way.
After this tweet, other users reported that Ivanov had rejected or ignored invitations for interviews or debates from other independent media outlets.
The web portal Libertas noted that several hours after the beginning of the online discussion about Ivanov's clumsy television appearance, several videos containing content from the interview in question were removed from YouTube [mk]. After the removal of some of the videos, some Twitter users compared Ivanov with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdoğan, who has also faced criticism for blocking social media sites in late March 2014
Вчера гледам го скинале видеото каде изјавува Иванов дека Ширак е претседател на Америка. Не заборавајте, на #Хорхе срцето е со Ердоган.
— Слонче (@Elislonce) March 28, 2014
I saw yesterday that the video where Ivanov said Chirac was president of the US was removed. Don’t forget, #Хорхе’s heart is with Erdoğan.
It remains unclear why the videos are no longer available. Some social media users have suggested that YouTube could have taken them down following user complaints, that the original posters of the videos have now removed them themselves, or that they had been forced to remove them under pressure from the authorities.