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February 23 2014

February 11 2014

Prisoners Lists Stir Informbiro Memories in Former Yugoslav Republics

The recent publishing of lists of prisoners of Goli Otok, victims of communist purges in Yugoslavia from 1949 to 1956, has reignited dormant debates and opened some old wounds, across all the former Yugoslav republics.

Goli Otok is a Croatian island that was used as a prison camp during the so-called “Informbiro era” – the post-World War II breakdown between the communist leaderships of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For many Yugoslavs, “Tito's historical ‘No!’ to Stalin” was a source of pride, especially because it solidified their country's role as an intermediary between the Western and Eastern Bloc. The purges that were part of the clash officially included persecution of alleged “pro-Soviet communists”. According to the victims and dissidents of the time, this was often just an excuse by the country's power-mongers to get rid of anyone they disliked for any reason and, thus, people of many other political affiliations were sent to the notorious camp.

Prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

Abandoned prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

During the last two months of 2013, Croatian portal Novi Plamen (New Flame) published two lists compiled by UDBA (Yugoslav State Security Service) from the State Archive of Croatia – the list of the 413 people [hr] who died in the camps, and the list of all 16,101 prisoners [hr] who had served sentences there. The second link spread widely through social networks and then through news portals in all six former Yugoslav republics.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment... Published by Novi Plamen.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment… Published by Novi Plamen.

Slovenian right-wing blogger Pavel noted [si] that the publishing of the lists coincided with the recent December 9, 2013, death of Jovo Kapičić [sr], who had allegedly been the man in charge of Goli Otok. In an August 2013 interview, Kapičić, a Serb, claimed [sr] that the Serbs had made up the majority of prisoners at the camp.

Twitter user ‏@flusteredcooler from Montenegro commented on this issue as well and, while people from all of the former Yugoslav republics often claim that their nationals made up the majority of those sentenced to serve time at Goli Otok, he noticed:

Legend says that most of the population of Goli Otok consisted of Montenegrins? The lists show that it was Yugoslavia in a nutshell [representing everybody]

A senior Macedonian blogger, among the oldest members of the local blogosphere, and a World War II anti-fascist resistance veteran, Buv (“Owl”), posted an announcement [mk] by the Association of former Goli Otok prisoners, advising caution in relation to the lists and offering first-hand consultations to all interested parties:

Темата за “голооточаните“.“информбировците“затвореници што ја издржувале казната во логорот Голи Оток е дел од пошироката историска тема за конфликтот меѓу СССР и СФРЈ.Не може да се зборува за казнениците на Голи Оток,без да се разгледуваат во комлесот на историските збиднувања.

Независно од тоа колку биле свесни/идејно свесни/за својот однос кон конкретните настани,учесниците во збиднувањата,што подоцна се нашле на Голи Оток,се учесници во еден политички судир кој има исклучително историско значење,за нив,за нивната земја,за пошироките светски движења.

Ова отклонување го направивме за да обрниме внимание на оние лесно искажани карактеристики што се даваат по повод на објавените списоци за голооточаните/информбировците/ и во други прилики.Без да се има во вид поширокиот контекст на случувањата,може паушално да се кажува се и сешто.Важноста на историската проблематика бара сериозен пристап.

Здружението Голи Оток,меѓу другото,ја има и таа задача да ја објасни,документира,да ја покаже историската вистина за настаните во кои независно од нивната волја се нашле и овие страдалници,што така строго ги казнила историјата.

The topic of the “inhabitants of Goli Otok,” the “Informbiro prisoners” is part of a larger historical topic about the conflict between the [USSR] and the [SFRY]. One cannot talk about the Goli Otok prisoners without taking into account the complexity of historical events.

Regardless of how much they were aware or ideologically involved in these concrete events, the participants who were detained on Goli Otok were engulfed in a political clash with exceptional historical importance, for them personally, for their country and the wider world movement.

We publish this notice to draw attention to the reactions that have been published with great ease after the lists of prisoners were exposed, as well at other occasions. Without taking into consideration the wider context of events, anyone can say anything without arguments. The importance of the historical issues requires a very serious approach.

The Goli Otok Association has the mission to explain, document and disclose the historical truth about the events which unwittingly encompassed these sufferers, who were so severely punished by history.

Informbiro activities left deep trauma in the collective former Yugoslav memory, parts of which were artistically expressed through popular cult movies like When Father Was Away on Business (1985) by then young Bosnian/Serbian director Emir Kusturica, and Happy New Year '49 (1986) by Macedonian director Stole Popov.

December 30 2013

Nude Twitter Calendar Promotes Sex Education and Gender Equality in Macedonia

Avid Twitter user and freelance photojournalist Ivana Batev has joined forces with other Macedonian Twitter users for the second year in a row to create and publish a calendar that promotes sexual education and gender equality through nude subjects and interior design concepts.

After the successful first run in 2013, the 2014 charity calendar with artistic nude photos of Macedonian Twitter users, who volunteered their time and bodies, was launched on Sunday, December 29, 2013 in Skopje. While last year's edition promoted breast cancer awareness, the topic for this year's Twitter calendar is sex education with a secondary focus on interior design. The current edition also introduced a much wider diversity of models, including males, while last year's calendar featured a brave all female cast.

Macedonian Twitter Calendar 2014. Message for November: Gender equality is not a threat to the family.

Macedonian Twitter Calendar 2014, message for November: “Gender equality is not a threat to family.”

The driving force behind the 2014 calendar, Ivana Batev, known as @REF on Twitter, tweeted:

…Whoever thinks that to undress in Macedonia is not revolutionary doesn't live in the same society as me, and I envy them.

The tweet was also quoted by Kristofer Blomdahl from Sweden in his English-language post about the calendar. He wrote:

I agree with this and I think that this is the strongest statement we can send with the photographs today. Kudos for all the people who were audacious enough to undress before her.

Also, big thanks to HERA who provided sex education tips in 140 characters twitter format and to everyone who bought photographs. The money will be used to help marginalized communities in Macedonia.

Macedonian Twitter Calendar 2014, message for January: No always means No! Nakedness is not a substitute for consent.

Macedonian Twitter Calendar 2014, message for January: “No always means No! Nakedness is not a substitute for consent.”

Aside from the social change and awareness that the authors and participants of the calendar intend to raise, there is also a charitable aspect to this unique project. Namely, funds gathered from the sale of the hard copy calendars will be donated to people from marginalized communities in Macedonia.

The Twitter discussion around the hashtag #твитеркалендар (#Twittercalendar) included many positive reactions, from applauding the courage of its participants to praises of the characteristics of some of the models, who went by their Twitter handles or anonymously in some of the more revealing photos. The few nagging trolls that spoke up on Twitter were soon directly contradicted with tweets like this one by Macedonian Twitter user @ordanoskiv:

Instead of (unjustified) criticism of the Twitter calendar, you should aim your weapons at the kitsch on the Vardar Quay.

[Referring to the construction Skopje 2014 project which resulted in world media such AP and Spiegel deeming Skopje "capital of kitsch."]

According to local news aggregator Time.mk, some 40 online media in Macedonia reported on the calendar. However, only a few of them included links to the entire calendar and, even though it isn't labeled as pornographic, some of them labeled the articles and its images as “18+” material.

November 25 2013

Global Voices Meetup in Skopje, Macedonia

gv-meetup-logo-gvmeetup-400Global Voices in Macedonian is thrilled to invite you to a meeting of the members and supporters of the community, happening on Saturday, November 30, 2013 from 12:00 to 15:00 at the GEM Club in Skopje, Macedonia.

During the event, we'll introduce the possibilities for becoming part of the Global Voices community, but also the opportunities for micro-grants by Rising Voices. The event will be used to strengthen the Global Voices community in Macedonia, by mixing old and new members to define the future of the team together.

Some of the topics of the event are:

  • Why are we here and what we want to achieve?
  • Overview of the work that we do at Global Voices, including Rising Voices, Advox, and Lingua
  • How to improve the process of Rising Voices micro-grants
  • What can we do to strengthen Global Voices in our community

If you want to attend, and we know you do, please fill out the following form, so we have a better picture of the number of participants: http://0.mk/GVMeetup

Gvmk-meetup

See you on Saturday!

November 10 2013

Journalist Dubbed ‘Macedonian Assange’ Arrested in Serbia

Zoran Bozinovski, a journalist known as “the Macedonian Assange”, was arrested in Serbia on an Interpol arrest warrant on November 7, 2013. Bozinovski runs the Macedonian site Burevesnik.org, often referred to as the Macedonian WikiLeaks due to the fact that he and others have released documents there in the past that reveal foul play and corruption in Macedonian politics and business.

Still image of Zoran Bozinovski from an interview with Croatian Nova TV.

Still image of Zoran Bozinovski from an interview with Croatian Nova TV.

Another Macedonian journalist recently sentenced to prison for “revealing the identity of a protected witness”, Tomislav Kezarovski, was released earlier that same day to serve the remainder of his four-and-a-half-year sentence under house arrest.

Macedonian citizens and journalists on social media were surprised to hear of the arrest of another journalist on the very day that Kezarovski had been released into house arrest, with some ironically calling it “a trade off”, and others saying there was now an open witch hunt on Macedonian journalists. Comments on Twitter regarding Kezarovski's release and Bozinovski's arrest are mostly ironic, with many suspecting authorities knew this was coming.

Aco Lazarov from Macedonia asked:

There wasn't room in prison for Bozinovski so they let Kezarovski out?

— Ацо Лазаров (@AcoLazarov) November 8, 2013

Another Macedonian Twitter user, Jana, commented upon learning the news of Bozinovski's arrest:

I don't know why or how but this is a bad day for investigative journalism in Macedonia. Journalist Zoran Bozinovski arrested http://t.co/cKcPxUVXiz

— Јана (@PaliKukja) November 7, 2013

Bozinovski was arrested by Serbian authorities on charges of espionage, extortion and criminal conspiracy. He was easily located in one of the two apartments he had been renting in Novi Sad, Serbia, where he had living for the past several months. Police confiscated two computers and several yet unspecified documents from the apartment at the time of the arrest, and stated that Bozinovski will be held in a local jail until extradition to Macedonia, after the Macedonian government officially files for the extradition.

Some Serbian and Macedonian media are reporting [sr] that Bozinovski, also known as a conspiracy theorist who has dubbed himself “Crazy Milojko” on his own site and elsewhere online, is deeply involved in espionage, although no evidence has yet been put forth:

Osumnjičeni je deo kriminalne grupe koja je pre nekoliko meseci raskrinkana kada su pohapšeni visoki zvaničnici makedonske Vlade i zaposleni u bezbednosnim službama te zemlje pod optužbom da su špijunirali u korist Grčke. Prema informacijama iz istrage, oni su špijunirali za strane tajne službe, ali ucenjivali su i pojedince iz javnog života Makedonije. Takođe, pod kontrolom su imali i nekoliko medija, kao i određene internet stranice preko kojih su pretili da će objaviti poverljive sadržaje, što su i činili.

The suspect is a member of a criminal group that was cracked several months ago when high officials of the Macedonian government and employees of [national] security services were arrested and charged with spying for Greece. According to information obtained during the investigation, they spied for foreign secret services, but also blackmailed individuals from Macedonian public life. They also had several media under their control as well as certain Internet pages through which they threatened to publish confidential content, which they did.

These accusations seem to stem from Bozinovski publishing certain files and confidential information that he obtained regarding corruption and foul play within the Macedonian government and Macedonian organized crime, which Bozinovsski and some of his associates claim are closely tied.

He has also been researching these ties and alleged manipulations in Macedonian politics, as well as the tragic death of Macedonian singer Tose Proeski, who died in a car accident at the age of 26 in 2007. Bozinovski began writing a book on this subject and, after being rejected by 32 publishers in the region, finally announced that he had found a publisher in Zagreb, Croatia willing to make his research public.

In the video below, Bozinovski gave an interview to Nova TV in May 2013, during which he listed several things that he found suspicious about the young singer's death, claiming he had evidence of how the then ruling politicians and media exploited Tose Proeski and continue to profit from the singer's legacy. Bozinovski also stated in this interview that he does not necessarily believe that the late musical prodigy is dead, citing that no real evidence of his death was ever provided. The book is planned to come out sometime in 2014.

Twitter user Parg0 from Skopje noted:

#божиновски [Bozinovski] may be crazy, but I don't think he's stupid. I expect http://t.co/gwxwK000J7 to begin putting out a lot of interesting documents.

— Parg0 (@parg0) November 8, 2013

Whatever the case regarding his upcoming book and work on Burevesnik.org, several media associations have condemned the arrest of Bozinovski, including the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS). In an official statement on their website, they remind Serbian authorities that this arrest has also been publicly condemned by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), as well as Central and Eastern Europe Media Organization (CEEMO), and they add:

УНС подсећа да је суд у Македонији недавно, без ваљаних правних разлога, осудио новинара дневника “Нова Македонија” Томислава Кежаровског на четири и по године затвора „због откривања идентитета једног сведока у случају нерасветљеног убиства“. [...]

УНС због тога тражи од Министарства правде Србије да приликом одлучивања о изручивању Зорана Божиновског држави која спорним пресудама осуђује новинаре и тражи њихово хапшење, буде посебно обазриво и испита све околности од значаја за заштиту професионалних права интереса новинара.

The UNS [Journalists' Association of Serbia] reminds that a court in Macedonia recently, without valid legal reason, convicted journalist from the daily “Nova Makedonija” Tomislav Kezarovski to four and a half years in prison “for revealing the identity of a protected witness in an uncleared murder”. [...]

Due to this, UNS requests of the Ministry of Justice of Serbia that, during their deliberation concerning the extradition of Zoran Bozinovski to a country that convicts journalists under debatable rulings and requests their arrest, they be particularly wary and look into all circumstances relevant to the protection of professional rights and interests of journalists.

While there are reports that the extradition process has been started [mk], it is now unclear whether Bozinovski has obtained Serbian citizenship during his stay in Serbia and, if so, whether the extradition process to Macedonia will be able to be carried out. When asked by Macedonian media, the Macedonian Ministry of Interior could neither deny nor confirm whether Bozinovski was also a Serbian national at this time.

Curiously, Bozinovski posted this photograph of himself in handcuffs on his Facebook profile on October 11, 2013, adding the note:

fotografijata e od edno minato vreme. taka beše, dali pak ke bide – ke vidime!?

The photograph is from a past time. So it was, whether it will be so [again]- we shall see!?

October 23 2013

Macedonia Sends Investigative Journalist to Prison for Reporting on Local Murder

A criminal court in Macedonia's capital city of Skopje found journalist Tomislav Kezarovski guilty for allegedly revealing the name of a protected witness in a high profile murder case from 2005, and sentenced him to four and a half years in prison. Journalists and media workers in Macedonia and other countries are condemning the sentence, handed down on October 21, 2013.

“Freedom for Kezarovski”, a frequent image that has been circulating the Macedonian Web and social networks recently.

Kezarovski, a well-known investigative reporter, was arrested in May 2013 for a story he wrote five years ago – about the murder of 57-year-old Lazar Milosevski in the village of Orese near Veles – for a publication that no longer exists. Coincidentally, in February 2013 and before Kezarovski's arrest, a “protected” witness in that case came forward to claim that he had falsely testified against the defendants in the Orese case because he had been threatened by the police.

In the months prior to his arrest, Kezarovski had also been investigating an unrelated case – the death of Nikola Mladenov, who was the publisher and editor of an independent media outlet – and had brought to light certain discrepancies in what officials had labeled as a “classic traffic accident” in which Mladenov was killed.

The official reason for Kezarovski's arrest in May and sentence in October, however, is endangering a protected witness and, thus, helping in overturning the convictions of the men sentenced for the Orese murder. As Balkan Insight reveals:

Two brothers, Ordan and Ljupco Gjorgievski, were charged as perpetrators while Gjorge Petrovski, who was extradited from the United States, was charged with ordering the murder.

But in a spectacular twist in February this year, a former protected witness, Zlatko Arsovski, admitted falsely testifying against the defendants, saying he did so after threats from the police.

The sensational admission resulted in the release of the defendants who had claimed all along that a police inspector had framed them out of revenge.

The prosecution in Kezarovski’s trial claimed that the publication of Kezarovski’s article allowed the murder trial defendants to find out who the protected witness was and influence him to change his testimony.

OSCE Media Freedom representative Dunja Mijatović has made several statements since Kezarovski's arrest in May expressing concern that the case will lead to more stifling of media in Macedonia and the region. Upon hearing the sentence Kezarovski received, Mijatović reiterated her concern in an official OSCE statement:

Today’s verdict has serious consequences for free expression and media freedom. Criminal prosecution of reporters for their journalistic activities violates the fundamental human right to free expression and the country’s OSCE commitments to develop and protect free media.

Social networks have been overwhelmed since the reading of Kezarovski's sentence with outrage and concern, coming mostly from Macedonian journalists and their colleagues from other countries. Twitter user @MoPkoB4E, a Macedonian living abroad, said:

Elena Stavrevska also commented on Twitter:

No, no need to choose political affiliation for the sentencing of #Кежаровски to have a direct impact on you. There is no yours and ours on this one!

— Елена (@EStavrevska) October 21, 2013

Twitter user @sheretoto added:

The sentence for #кежаровски [#kezarovski] is shameful for the justice system, for the state and above all for all of us. I feel defeated and so empty today. I'm going to throw up

— x→∞ t=0 (@sheretoto) October 21, 2013

Aleksandar Sazdovski was among the many media workers who could not hide his disgust, reminding everyone of the 2012 tragedy in which Miodrag Jovanovic, mayor of small town Staro Nagoricane near the Serbian border, hit and killed a man [mk] with his car, then fled the scene. Jovanovic was never detained for this incident or charged with anything and later was named CEO of a government-owned company.

Justice in Macedonia: mayor kills a man with his car and becomes a CEO. A journalist writes and gets four and a half years in prison. #Кежаровски

— Aleksandar Sazdovski (@sazspasm) October 21, 2013

Journalists and watchdog organizations around the world were also deeply concerned with the entire case from beginning to end and are protesting the disproportionate sentence online. On the day of sentencing, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle also tweeted from his official account:

Tomislav Kezarovski has not officially begun to serve his sentence, but he has been refused release by the Skopje court and will remain in detention until his sentence begins. This case, however, seems to be far from over, and online Macedonian journalists are calling for protests in Skopje to demand his release.

September 16 2013

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:

A sign on one of the few trees left around Bristol Park says: “Yesterday trees, tomorrow heads”; photo by Kaleš Anga, 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.

August 29 2013

A Historian's Pessimistic Farewell to Macedonia

Historian, analyst and blogger Harald Schenker, who has lived in Macedonia since 1999 and is now moving to Switzerland, created social network buzz with his farewell post, addressed to a “failing Macedonia”, in which he provides a diagnosis for the country's demise and a plea for rebuilding Macedonian society. The article now has over 900 likes on Facebook and has been shared on Twitter over 80 times.

(more…)

August 06 2013

Macedonians Protest Clearing of Trees in Skopje

As workers began cutting down trees over the first weekend in August in downtown Skopje Bristol Park to clear a portion of the land for the construction of the Macedonian National Broadcast Council's new baroque-style building, citizens of Macedonia's capital gathered to protest. Like in nearby Turkey and Serbia, the protest that seemed to revolve around a few trees brought up other legislative and political questions in the country.

Skopje authorities secured a perimeter of some 300 meters around the site that cars were not allowed to pass as workmen armed with saws began to do their work on Saturday, August 3, 2013, due to previous alerts and smaller protests by activists. While some protesters managed to gather in the park, citizens living nearby were reportedly not allowed to leave their buildings, which authorities explained was a sort of safety precaution.

An article in Libertas, titled “About the Massacre at Bristol” describes the details and includes pictures of the morning in question, as well as specifically points out some of the alleged illegalities of the act. Author Nicholas Naumoski lists:

Пристапот со кола беше забранет во радиус од 300 метри.

Луѓе што сакале да се приклучат на протестот одејќи низ Градски Sид биле запрени од полицијата и задржувани со потреба од претрес. На крајот не ги пуштиле да поминат.

Ниту полицајците ниту дрвосечачите немаа никаков документ (наредба, овластување или решение) за сечење на дрвјата. Наспроти тоа, Советот на Општина Центар на првата своја седница ја прифати иницијативата на Плоштад Слобода за зачувување на парковите околу Бристол со што се искажа политичка волја за нивно опстојување и обновување. Прикажаниот документ со печатот на општината и потписот на Градоначалникот и Претседателот на Советот не му значеше ништо на командирот затоа што тој примил „усна“ наредба.

Access to cars was not allowed in a radius of 300 meters.

People who wanted to join the protest by way of the City Wall were stopped by police and detained for searches. In the end they were released.

Neither the police nor the loggers had any documents (work orders, permission or resolution) for the cutting of the trees. In contrast, the Council for the Center Municipality, during its first session, accepted Freedom Square's initiative to preserve the parks around Bristol, expressing political will for their survival and recovery. The provided document which included the seal of the municipality and signature of the Mayor and President of the Council did not mean anything to the [police] commander because he received “verbal” orders.

The next day on Sunday, netizens took to social networks to organize further protests at Bristol and report [mk] on the gathering of protesters at the site.

Trees being cut down at the park in Skopje; photo by @blagdusha on Twitter, used with permission.

Trees being cut down at the park in Skopje; photo by @blagdusha on Twitter, used with permission.

Although the protests were much smaller than expected, many Macedonians on social media sites have compared them to Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Twitter user Gotze wrote:

#Bristol is far from Taksim, and we from Turkish protesters… on the day when there should have been the largest response barely 250-300 people showed up…

— Gotze (@Gordiev_jazol) August 4, 2013

The protest brought together some 300 people, while police barricades were set up around the location again. Macedonian Plus Info site provides a photo gallery [mk] of the barricades and protests from Sunday, while Libertas provides photos and video [mk] of the initial cutting at four a.m., strangely, on the night between Saturday and Sunday, calling the midnight act “cowardly”. Some social media users noted that the protests were indeed peaceful, that there was little police presence at the protest site itself and that police forces present mostly remained on the sidelines [mk].

The park at Bristol is seen by Skopje citizens as one of the favorite landmarks of the city's center. Although some were disappointed by the low turnout on a Sunday protest, many are saying that this is the beginning of something bigger as Macedonians seem fed up of such arbitrary decisions by government institutions. The trees in the park, however, have been cleared and construction of the new National Broadcasting Council building is now underway.

Construction site where the trees at Bristol Park used to stand; photo by @blagdusha on Twitter, used with permission.

Construction site where the trees at Bristol Park used to stand; photo by @blagdusha on Twitter, used with permission.

July 01 2013

Roberto Beličanec, Macedonian Media Expert and Vocal Activist, Dies

Macedonian media expert, activist and blogger Roberto Beličanec died of heart attack [mk] on June 29, 2013 at the age of 41.

Beličanec was one of the few remaining publicly vocal proponents of liberty and human rights in the country, daring to speak the truth to power [mk]. He had a large social media following as a result of his courage to openly speak against the misuse of power, against corruption, censorship, and hate speech (which he deemed “verbal violence”), combining his wast expertise with wit and kindness.

After a distinguished career in journalism, including working for Fokus weekly in the 1990s, Beličanec served as a media expert and was instrumental in implementing the inclusive process for enacting the 2005 Broadcasting Law. As an activist, he was a founding member of Citizens for European Macedonia.

"Silence is not a solution" - Roberto Beličanec, 1972-2013. Photo shared as meme.

“Silence is not a solution” – Roberto Beličanec, 1972-2013. Photo shared as meme.

In the last several months, as director of the Media Development Center, Beličanec was engaged in a strenuous [mk] struggle against the new all-encompassing Media Law, intended to provide a legal means for total control over freedom of expression in Macedonia. His latest expert contribution was within an analysis of this draft law (pdf).

As a reaction to this draft law, Beličanec recently moved his blog “This is not America” from a domestic to foreign platform. His final blog post [mk] condemned a recent instance of endemic homophobic violence, a night stoning attack on the home of the family of actor & human rights activist Petar Stojkovikj who publicly announced his homosexuality, drawing parallels to 1930s Nazi pogroms. In his last Facebook post [mk], referring to propaganda intended to soften the perceptions of stalled international integrations of Macedonia, he asked:

И сега? Како? Уште 7 години ќе се занимаваме со вуду економија и вуду политика?

And now what? How? Shall we spend seven more years on voodoo economics and voodoo politics?

Fellow bloggers [mk, mk], journalists and other social media users posted mementos to Beličanec, also publishing his links or quotes as Facebook statuses, and expressed outrage at several (quickly removed) gloating comments [mk]. One often shared quote included an excerpt [mk] from an interview with а local portal from his native town of Prilep:

… Односот кон институциите секогаш ми бил конфликтен – да се почитуваат, но да се менуваат за да им служат на луѓето, а не луѓето да им служат на институциите. Тоа е слободно живеење и тоа не се сменило. Не трпам паши и друг тип на феудалци. Немам респект кон моќта, а уште помалку кон силата. Не верувам дека наведната глава сабја не ја сече – напротив – најлесно ја сече, само треба да се спушти раката. Не верувам дека човекот е способен да создаде совршена творба. Мора вечно да се менуваме за да опстанеме и да просперираме. Не знам дали сум бил бунтовен како средношколец – веројанто сум бил… Но не сум бил бунтовен без причина. Моите бунтови секогаш имаат и цел и причина. Не е тоа дифузен бунт на човек кој не знае зошто е гневен… О, не! И тоа како добро знам што и кој ми смета и зошто. И никогаш тоа не заради мене и заради мои лични цели, секогаш тоа е поширока приказна околу која се врти приказната за слободата. Не само мојата лична, туку и на другите. Слободата е основен предуслов за самоостварување на човекот . Не мислам дека трпењето спасува…

Трпењето создава робови. Ваквите ставови ми овозможиле да изборам некоја лична слобода никој да не ме управува, никој да не ме насочува и никој да не ме злоупотребува. Можам денес да мислам, да зборувам, да работам и мирно да си се гледам во огледало знаеќи дека никој нема да ми се појави на врата и да побара да вратам некој долг со нешто што не сакам да направам. Не е малку!

…My relationship with the institutions was always conflicting – they should be respected, but also changed to serve the people, and not the people to serve the institutions. That is what I consider a free life and that has not changed. I cannot stand [pashas] or any other type of feudal lords. I have no respect for power, and even less for brute force. I do not believe [a defeatist folk proverb] that “a bowed head is not cut by the sabre” – on the contrary, such heads are cut most easily, the executioner needs just to let his hand fall down. I do not believe that a human being is capable of creating perfection. We eternally need to change to survive and prosper. I do not remember being a rebel in high school – I probably was… But I was never a rebel without a cause. My rebellions always have a goal and a purpose. It is not a diffused rebellion of a man who does not know why he is angry… Oh, no! I very well know who and why is bothering me. And I never speak out only because of me and my personal goals, it is always a wider story related to the story of liberty. Not only my personal freedom, but also others'. Freedom is a precondition for self-realization in human beings. I do not think that putting up [with oppression] can save you…

Tolerating [oppression] creates slaves. These positions enabled me to win some degree of personal freedom – so nobody can rule over me, no one to direct me and nobody to abuse me. Today I can think, talk, work and peacefully look at the mirror, knowing that nobody can come to my door and ask me to return a debt with something that I would not like to do. And that is not a small thing!

Roberto Beličanec is survived by his loving wife and three small children.

June 05 2013

Police Brutality in Macedonia: Two Years On

Stop Police Brutality June 6 2013

On Thursday, June 6, in the center of Skopje, the Movement Against Police Brutality will mark two years since the murder of Martin Neshkovski, which sparked the biggest grassroots protests in Macedonian history. The Facebook event [mk] about the memorial service states:

On Thursday, June 6, at 11 AM, we shall visit the crime scene and light a symbolic candle to remind us that we allowed ourselves to lose a young life. May he be remembered!

During the gathering the “Stop Police Brutality” Movement will hold a press conference to present activities marking its second anniversary. Additionally, we shall express support for the Turkish people who mount bloody resistance to police brutality these days. [...]

(more…)

May 31 2013

Macedonian Journalist's Arrest Stirs Protest

"Who's next for Liquidation?" - a poster at today's journalist protest in Skopje, referring to the official code name of the operation ("Liquidation"), in which journalist Tomislav Kezarovski was captured on May 28. Photo by Biserka Velkovska/@bvelkovska, used with permission.

“Who's next for Liquidation?” – a poster at today's journalist protest in Skopje, referring to the official code name of the operation (“Liquidation”), in which journalist Tomislav Kezarovski was captured along with others on May 28. Photo by Biserka Velkovska/@bvelkovska, used with permission.

Macedonian journalists gathered [mk; video and text: sq, mk] in front of the Criminal Court in the capital Skopje today to protest against the arrest of their colleague, Tomislav Kezarovski, according to this note [en] posted in the Macedonian Facebook group titled “Journalists and citizens in defense of the right to freedom of information.” It appears that the official reason for Kezarovski's 30-day detention is a story he wrote five years ago for a publication that no longer exists. On the other hand, he has been investigating the death of Nikola Mladenov, publisher and editor of an independent media outlet, for the past two months. (more…)

April 22 2013

“Manipulative” Coverage of Macedonia's Media Law

“Practice indicates that responsible and ethical journalism is never the result of state legislation and regulations, but of the voluntary compliance with the code created by the media community itself.”

This statement from the Guide on Ethics in Journalism [mk] opens Žarko Trajanoski's analysis [en] of the “manipulations” by Macedonia's “pro-government journalists” who “fanatically support and promote [the proposed Media Law].” The English-language version of Trajanovski's text was published by Metamorphosis: Foundation for Internet and Society (@fmeta), and it is also available in Macedonian and in Albanian. One of Trajanoski's conclusions is that “the most vigorous advocates for the adoption of a new Media Law since 2011 are exactly the journalists and editors flagrantly violating the ethical norms of the journalist code.”

March 18 2013

Welcome Spring and Good-bye Evil Eye

File:Martenitsa E5.jpg

Martenitsas on a blossoming tree.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Μάρτης [el], мартеница [bg], мартинка [mk], mărțișor [ru]…however you call it, an ancient tradition [el] with multiple variations that takes place in the Balkans. So, weave your red-and-white threads for protection against the “evil eye” or to welcome Spring!

(more…)

February 24 2013

Macedonian Anti-Fascists Protest Against Harassment

Vanco Dzambaski published a photo gallery from the gathering that took place on February 16 in the center of Skopje, commemorating the February Campaign of 1944, when Macedonian partisans marched through the snowy mountains to deal a decisive blow to the fascist forces in Macedonia and Northern Greece. World War II veterans and their supporters [mk] protested against the forced neglect of the Allied Forces’ achievements (which include the founding of the Macedonian state), and the continuous harassment of the veterans’ organization by the current government at all levels.

February March, Anti-Fascist Protest in Skopje, Macedonia

Anti-fascist protesters: “Proud of the past that actually happened.” Photo by V. Dzambaski (CC NC-SA)

In December 2012, the veterans’ organization [mk] was thrown out of their premises through a controversial court order, with the help from an out-of-town security agency [mk], after a local one failed [mk] to deal with the old fighters.

The city government tried to stop the February 16 protest [mk] by denying permission to use the public square. They claimed other events were scheduled in the area at the designated time, but refused to specify. The protesters decided to march anyway, continuing the tradition of the original February march, commenced against the will of the then-authorities.

Elderly participants in anti-fascist protest in Skopje, Macedonia

Keeping the memories alive. Photo by V. Dzambaski (CC NC-SA)

On the day of the protest, it was the only event there. Instead of covering the protest, the major pro-government media, such as SITEL TV, propagated the government's communiqué [mk] that announced their respect for the heritage of the World War II.

Media expert Roberto Belicanec wrote [mk; Wikipedia links added]:

1. No news whatsoever about what happened on the square.

2. The image of the monument to Čento, instead of the images of the event. Čento, because he is selected by the ruling party to demonstrate some meager connection to National Liberation War. Čento – abused for ideological whitewash of NLW, because he was not a communist, but participated in the [communist-led] movement.

3. A government spokesman in fact explained that “we witness that we have invested in creation of cultural heritage, to mark this important period of our history, including building of monuments such as to Metodija Andonov Čento, to the participants of ASNOM, and others.” Besides the oxymoronic aspect of “creating cultural heritage,” this phrase also reveals ideological operation of reshaping history and erasing all that does not fit within their worldview. And again, Čento, of course. His murder was not enough, now every opportunity is used for his symbolical killings. Furthermore, the ASNOM monument in the memorial park dedicated to the Women Fighters, a place massacred with new monuments, its original function devastated, was erected only as a counterweight for the monument of the historical VMRO, in order to arrogantly present the current political party with the same name as a continuity of the Macedonian struggle. If they could, they would have circumvented ASNOM too.

4. In the end – “The Government of the Republic of Macedonia,” underscored Gjorgjiev, “has no participation nor contact within the framework of the court case led by the Veterans’ Association with another veterans’ association.” One more frame – rule of law in the form of “I act dumb, and you act as if you believe me.”

January 29 2013

“The Un-European Union”

GV Author Filip Stojanovski, on his blog Razvigor, has translated into English a mock story [sr] by Njuz.net, “the Serbian equivalent to The Onion,” about the UK striving to join “the Un-European Union”:

The Council of Ministers of the countries of the Un-European Union stated today in Skopje that a long road lies ahead of United Kingdom in order for it to join this international organisation. […]

The Macedonian translation of the story is here.

January 22 2013

Macedonian Sports Journalist Protests Harassment

Ticket for 2013 World Men's Handball Championship for Barcelona, Spain

A ticket for the 2013 World Men's Handball Championship from Filevski's blog. Photo used with permission.

A prominent Macedonian sports journalist Igor Filevski, who works as a correspondent from Spain, announced [mk] on his blog that he will no longer cover Macedonian sports in order to protest the silence of his colleagues and relevant institutions, who have been patiently ignoring the harassment inflicted on him for daring to cover the malfunctions within the Macedonian Handball Federation, including nepotism and a recent hushed-up scandal of disorganized transportation of the National Team [mk] to the World Men's Championship in Seville and Barcelona.
(more…)

January 21 2013

Macedonians Ask State News Agency to Stop Manipulations

An online initiative against media manipulations [mk] perpetrated by the state-owned Macedonian Information Agency (MIA) asks citizens to express their dissatisfaction by sending e-mails to the agency. The action was spurred by the latest example of blatant spin, when a MIA correspondent distorted U.S. diplomat Philip Reeker's statement about the disappointment with the Balkan leaders, making it appear as if he referred to the Macedonian opposition. Reeker repudiated this in a statement [mk] for the critical portal Libertas, clarifying that he alluded to leaders who are actually in power and are backsliding from democracy. Libertas also claims the government and MIA declined to comment afterwards.

January 16 2013

Macedonian Activists Collect 10,000 Signatures for Legislative Change

Activists of the civic initiative AMAN [mk] continue to fight for a better energy legislation [mg, fr, mk, es], despite pressure and infiltrations. In November, “unknown persons” prevented them from talking to PM Gruevski [mk] at an “open meeting with citizens.” Currently, there's an ongoing signature-gathering campaign for the change of the law (the deadline is January 31, 2013), and AMAN has posted this announcement [mk]:

(more…)

December 27 2012

Macedonia: Beer Belly Blog Anniversary

Logo of the Beer Belly Blog (Пивски стомак)

The Beer Belly original logo, voluntary contribution by @dasaf

The “Beer Belly” blog celebrated [mk, mk] its first anniversary. Its author @Twibi thanked members of the Macedonian Twitter community who have been bringing him beer samples from their trips all over the world to review. So far, he has made 198 posts about beers from 20 countries, including Kenya [mk], thanks to the local GV Summit 2012 participants - @ieli and @bjasari.

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