Censorship of freedom of expression by Macedonian authorities is nothing new, 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, access to Facebook and other websites for the residents of the dorm was cut off.
Albanian-language news portal Portalb.mk was the only media outlet from Macedonia to publicly ask [sq] the Ministry of Education and Science for explanation. The ministry claimed that it never blocked access to all of the Internet, but “only to social media in the dorms”:
“Probleme me internetin nuk ka pasur, nuk është bërë ndonjë ndalesë në konviktin ‘Goce Dellçev’, sa i përket ankesave të studentëve, ato faqe dhe rrjete sociale gjithmonë kanë qenë të bllokuara si për studentët ashtu edhe për shkollat e mesme dhe fillore. Atyre u mundësohet qasja në internet për të mësuar dhe jo të hynë në faqe me përmbajtje që nuk ka lidhje me mësimin”, thonë nga sektori për informim i MASH-it.
“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.
None of the student representatives or media ever claimed that access to all of the Internet was restricted. Prior to the students’ online campaign going viral on social networks throughout the region in March, the residents of the dorm had unrestricted access to Facebook within and outside of exam seasons.
The campaign to raise awareness about the unhealthy living conditions the the state had provided for them 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:
A prison? No, a student dorm in Macedonia: Fed up with living in squalor, students in Macedonia have shared sh… http://t.co/1vTi1il5py
— Taylor (@spaceheaterdeal) March 27, 2014
This drew much unwanted attention to the state-run facility, and during the break-out of bad publicity for Macedonian authorities, Facebook and some other websites were suddenly off-limits to them.
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.