Protests Continue Across Macedonia
The opening of political negotiations aimed at resolving the political crisis resulted in a somewhat calmer period for public mobilisation in Macedonia during June, July and the first half of August 2016. Nevertheless, protests in July turned violent as demonstrators clashed with police, leading to the threat of water cannon being used against members of the public. Suspicions have also arisen that the government is abusing the legal system by deploying the Prime Minister' former bodyguard to oversee protests and the use of the much feared Rapid Deployment Unit, members of which dress as policeman or civilians to infiltrate demonstrations. Government interference, as of yet not fully verified, has been recorded: governing party members were sent messages instructing them to participate in a protest, while employees of the state administration received the day off so as to protest.
While authorities have not denied permission for any protest, on several occasions protesters have been prevented from reaching their destination.
The Colorful Revolution protest movement continued to hold events in the capital, Skopje and other cities including Kavadartsi, Kriva Palanka, Kumanovo and Ohrid. The group's demonstrations in Skopje included blocking bridges, walking the city with torches, imitating False Prophets (a series of protest performances in public spaces that have been filmed in the video below) and painting graffiti on the street outside of the US Ambassador’s residence, urging him to ensure that CSO representatives are included in the political negotiations. The number of arbitrary arrests and charges has increased, with some activists briefly detained and four Colorful Revolutionaries fined for a misdemeanor. On several occasions drivers of the Colorful Revolution van were either stopped by police, detained and later on released; journalists have similarly been summoned for questioning.
Macedonia also saw a range of other protests during June and July: from pro-government civil society supporting the Mayor of Bitola; students and academics protesting over the student parliament at St. Cytil and Methodius Univeristy; court administrators demanding more pay; the Roma community protesting against the proposed demolition of their settlement in Skopje; local residents in Stip protesting against the planned demolition of a local park; and finally supporters of Turkish President Erdogan gathering to condemn the recent Turkish coup.
Between June 15th and August 10th, respect for the right to free expression was undermined through censorship, attacks on the political opposition and a lack of access to government information. The state's aggressive stance towards activists and critics has led to derogatory and demeaning language, and sometimes violence, used against civil society. The former Prime Minister of Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, verbally attacked CSOs labeling them Soros' hordes (in reference to billionaire philanthropist George Soros) and opposition party servants. On 9th August, an opposition political party member was attacked by Gruevski's security guards after criticising the former administration.
In June, a journalist who photographed a police commander’s burnt car was urged to delete the photos, and other journalists were forbidden from covering the story and forced to leave. Meanwhile, an anti-Government political party activist was attacked by two masked men on her way from the party headquarters to her home.
The state has also used the legal system to target government critics. On 17th June, local media reported that the former Prime Minister's security guards broke into news station TV 21 in an attempt to delete photos of the former Prime Minister.
Respect for online expression also suffered during June and July, with private messages and threats directed towards opposition party members, and verbal attacks through comments addressed at anti-government activists. A member of the LGBT community was ridiculed online by pro-government media for greeting a friend upon release from a police station.
Finally, authorities also consistently prevented the media and citizens from accessing information of crucial public interest, including details of the second round of negotiations between leading political party members aimed at resolving the long-lasting political crisis.
The government's decision to establish a Council for Cooperation to improve relations between the government and civil society has come under fire from local groups. Leading Macedonian CSOs have boycotted the selection of candidates, while the government continues to forge ahead using candidates that are unknown to the civil society sector. In a press statement, 89 Macedonian organisations stated that the lack of consultation on the formation of the council was inadequate and the composition of the body was bias in favour of the government.
Government critics have drawn attention to authorities' attempts to infiltrate the activities of civil society. The Macedonian President sought information from Serbian and Bulgarian intelligence services on ‘dangerous' CSOs and activists with the intention of creating a black list. Furthermore, authorities have directly accused anti-government activists and civil society groups as destabilising the country and deepening the political crisis.