Expert body established for approving names of associations, LGBTQI+ hate attack
North Macedonia’s small Jewish community condemned the decision by an association of Bulgarians in Ohrid to name itself after Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria, who led Bulgaria into a wartime alliance with Nazi Germany. According to the community, this represented “an intentional provocation and offence for the Jewish community and an offence for the Macedonian state and its citizens.” Following the reaction, the Ministry of Justice claimed that it had not received any request for their opinion in the procedure for the registration of the association "Tsar Boris Treti."
The Jewish Community recalled that back in April 2022, another Bulgarian cultural club was registered in the town of Bitola, named after another Nazi collaborator, Ivan Mihajlov, and urged institutions in the country to check whether it is legal to name clubs and associations after such people. A few months later, the opposition party Levica, demanded the “Ivan Mihajlov Cultural Center” be banned on the grounds of “denying the freedoms and rights of the Macedonian people for the free expression of their national identity”, and for “regularly publishing articles with content that incites national hatred," referring to the Law on Associations and Foundations. In addition to the criminal charge submitted by Levica regarding the registration and operation of the cultural center "Ivan Mihailov" in Bitola, the Basic Public Prosecutor's Office from Bitola is proceeding with another criminal charge filed by citizens. The State Commission for Protection also acted on a complaint from another association for discrimination on ethnic and national grounds.
Criteria for CSO registration
At the end of August 2022, during a government session, the Minister of Justice of North Macedonia initiated a proposal for establishing an expert body that will define the criteria for registering CSOs after a strong public response about the established associations in the country that bear disputed historical names. According to the minister, the expert body should function before the new law for associations and foundations is adopted to prevent abuse of the legal options for establishing associations under any historical name. On 6th September 2022, the Government of North Macedonia decided to establish an Advisory Body to provide opinions on the use of the name of historic figures and other famous persons by associations and other legal entities. This is a transitional decision for claims filed by associations and all legal entities that have a historical personality in their name. The body will analyse the submitted cases and give the competent institutions an opinion on the character of historical figures, avoiding the abuse of specific figures with a negative context in different eras.
Related to this, an NGO’s name was again an issue of concern later that month, after the Ministry of Justice denied the registration of association “Youth for Macedonia” for not including “North” in the name. The NGO appealed this decision, saying they have the right to identify as Macedonian and to use the term Macedonia, while the Ministry of Justice indicated that they stand by the adopted decision prohibiting the use of the term Macedonia, referring to the Law on associations. The constitutional Court is set to make a decision on the name In September 2022, after the association appealed.
President of LGBTQI+ CSO attacked
On 8th August, the president of the NGO LGBTQI+ United, Bekim Asani, was attacked in Strumica at a public event to promote their organisation. According to Asani, an adult male began directly threatening and hurling insults at him, after which he charged and physically injured him, and the group of volunteers fled the scene of the attack in fear. He adds that he faced further discrimination and insults when he reported the matter to the police. The National Network Against Homophobia and Transphobia condemned the physical attack on Asani and asked the competent institutions to urgently confirm the identity of and sanction the perpetrator of what they say is this act of hate. Asani has allegedly been attacked three times during four months in different cities around the country, and during a protest.
"Considering that crimes of hate against members of the LGBTI community rarely receive a legal epilogue, we insist on immediate and thorough action by the law enforcement authorities and a complete clearing of this case. It should be taken into account that ignoring hate speech and acts against LGBTI persons and the impunity of the perpetrators of these acts leads to a deepening of mistrust in the institutions, which is why many such attacks are not even reported at all,” said the network.
Following the events around the “French proposal”, after the Macedonian government approved the proposal and Bulgaria lifted its veto, opposition parties declared that they would vote against changes in the constitution to accommodate the document’s provisions. In September 2022, the opposition also announced it was seeking a referendum to cancel the 2017 Treaty on Good Neighbourly Relations between the two countries, which was rejected by the parliament.
In the reporting period, conditional sentences were handed down to six more people for the incidents during the protests on the French Proposal, after they pleaded guilty for the 5th July events in front of the parliament. A total of 39 people have been detained and criminal proceedings were initiated for their actions during the protests. Smaller protests on the issue were also organised, such as the protest in Skopje in front of the Bulgarian Embassy.
Different groups of agricultural workers held several protests around the country during the reporting period.
- Fruit growers from Prespa, Ohrid and Bitola protested on several occasions demanding their promised payments since 2016 by blocking the regional roads.
- Producers of rice and milk products, as well as wine growers, protested due to their financial issues and lack of state support.
- Livestock farmers and agricultural workers from the Sveti Nikole region protested due to the depopulation of pigs following the risk of spreading swine fever. The protesters used their agricultural machinery to block the centre of the city of Sveti Nikole in revolt. Pig breeders from the Maleshevo Region also protested on the same grounds.
Peaceful protests on workers’ rights were organised in Kocani, where employees of the water company "Bregalnica" protested several times due to the delay in salaries for the last four months, and in Skopje, where employees of the state company "Vodostopanstvo" protested demanding the payment of three unpaid wages as well as health insurance for two months. Other protests were organised by professional drivers and truckers. General medical practitioners held a three-day strike demanding improved financial arrangements for their work.
Activists and NGO representatives in Skopje and Tetovo joined the regional protest against violence against women and girls, also taking place in Kosovo and Albania, after the case of an 11-year-old girl from Pristina being raped by five men made headlines in the media. The Platform for Gender Equality supported the protests and demanded from the authorities better prevention and protection of victims of gender-based violence, and timely and appropriate sanctions for the perpetrators.
The Roma community protested in the Skopje Municipality to express their dissatisfaction with the discriminatory policies that, according to them, the city administration has towards this Municipality. Under the motto "Shuto Orizari - a forgotten municipality", several hundred citizens marched seven kilometres in protest at the disorganised and poor quality public transport in the Municipality, the landfill in Vizbegovo, as well as the lack of infrastructure and greenery. The Avaja movement joined the protest, expressing their dissatisfaction with the budgetary investments for the municipality of Shuto Orizari by the City.
Other smaller protests happened in Tetovo:
- pupils and their parents protested the dismissal of teachers, in Bitola;
- art students organised an action by painting in front of the Ministry of Education and Science as a sign of protest because their financial support has been cut off for the first time after 30 years;
- In Skopje, blind people protested demanding an increase in state allowances to afford them a dignified life; and
- residents of Arachinovo Municipality protested after having no electricity for several days.
The Independence Day of Ukraine was celebrated on 24th August 2022 in Skopje, organised by the Embassy of Ukraine in the country and the Association of Ukrainians "Lesja Ukrainka". Foreign ambassadors in the country participated and gave support for Ukraine at the celebration.
- The media crew of TV Alsat was obstructed from doing their work by residents of the Saraj Municipality in Skopje. After a verbal conflict, the journalists were forced to leave the area. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM) reacted that such treatment of journalists contributes to their censorship and limits the citizens’ right to be informed.
- ZNM also condemned the action of officials from the public relations department and from the security of public enterprise Komunalna higiena Skopje (KHS) who violated the rights of journalists Furkan Saliu and Avni Tahiri by forcibly confiscating their equipment and illegally detaining them against their will. A week later, employees of the same company threatened and insulted journalist Ilinka Iljoska from the media agency Meta after she photographed a pile of garbage in a public area. KHS later condemned the verbal attack by their employees and announced that disciplinary proceedings would be initiated against them.
- Police officers came to the home of Focus journalist Vicki Klincharova to issue a warning due to a complaint by a female driver who hit an 11-year-old child on a street in Negotino and demanded that the journalist be warned because she published false content about the accident. ZNM stated that the procedure of the Ministry of Interior to warn journalists because of a published text is inappropriate and unnecessary because in this way pressure is exerted on their freedom of expression. Acting on ZNM’s report for unprofessional police behavior, the Ministry of Internal Affairs initiated disciplinary proceedings against three police officers.
- ZNM and the Agency for Audio and audiovisual media services (AVMU) reacted to the plan of the City of Skopje, through public procurement, to invest 5 million MKD from state funds for campaigns in private TV and online media for the promotion of the city's activities. The Association stated that while such activities go against the law, paid public campaigns, through which space would be purchased in a selective way by the Government and local authorities, is not a way to support the media, but can turn into an attempt to corrupt them and at the same time promote political-party agendas that are not of public interest. After this reaction, the marketing agency "Element PR" decided to amicably terminate the contract with the City of Skopje as an act of social responsibility.
Hate speech remains a concern
During a debate "Raising awareness of the rights of refugees, migrants, stateless persons and asylum seekers" held as part of the Skopje Media Festival (MFS), it was highlighted that journalists often approach topics around vulnerable groups such as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers with sensationalism, that intrudes even on the privacy of a certain group of citizens. Moreover, media are often uncritical and do not respect principles and standards when publishing information, which allows for the easy spread of propaganda and disinformation, and further fuels divisions and hatred. In this regard, government representatives announced their commitment to improving media freedom and fighting hate speech and hate crime, especially against vulnerable groups. Still, in the long term, the lack of sanctions for hate speech has led to its repetition, dissemination and abuse as "normalised" behavious in the political fight against individuals and groups with different opinions.