Skopje's first LGBT pride takes place as civic freedoms improve
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs reported on 4th July 2019 the UN adopted decisions regarding the third Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights in North Macedonia. The comments were mostly positive with member states sharing their gratitude regarding the progress the country has made to improve the conditions for civil society. In particular, CSOs welcomed the positive advancements made in legislation and practice to promote civic space, particularly the Government’s decision to end the financial inspections of the 22 CSOs critical of the previous government. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, in 2017 the previous government of Macedonia used financial inspections as a tool to harass critical civil society organisations affiliated with the Open Society Foundation. These 22 CSOs were later publicly cleared of any wrongdoing.
Onlookers have viewed North Macedonia's positive transformation as bucking the trend within the western Balkans, where neighbouring countries are reneging on their commitments to civic freedoms. On 11th July 2019, a forum on the enabling environment for civil society in Macedonia attended by CIVICUS Monitor research partner, the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) reflected this positive trend. During the meeting an organisational member of BCSDN, the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation (MCIC) noted the progress made. Spokesperson for MCIC said:
“The environment in which civil society acted during 2018 was significantly enhanced for the CSOs, considering the fact that for the first time after six cycles of monitoring of the enabling environment, numerous achievements have been registered in the direction of support and development of the civil sector.”
Despite these important improvements, the convening also suggested areas where the North Macedonian government could improve. In particular, the report called for state financing of civil society as Macedonian CSOs need greater institutional support. Another recommendation related to a change in the Criminal Code which would make representatives of civic associations and foundations exempt from responsibilities regarding abuse of the official duty. Furthermore, the possibility for financing terrorism through CSOs should be addressed as well as simplifying the procedures for registration of projects that are relieved from paying VAT.
History is being made today, as the very first Skopje Pride is currently taking place in the capital of North Macedonia! 🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/YNIXRBohty— ERA - Equal Rights Association (@lgbtiera) June 29, 2019
On 25th June 2019, several thousand people took to the streets of Skopje to join the city's first Pride Parade. Signalling government support for the event, the Minister of Social Policy, Mila Carovska addressed the crowd gathered in the park outside Macedonia's national assembly. The march took place without any recorded incidents. However, a counter-protest was organised by the association ‘Union for life’. The aim of this anti-protest (named ‘Testimonies of family’), as stated by the organisers, was to “tell the truth” about marriage, family and gender and how they contribute to life. The two protests were kept separate by Macedonian security forces. Video footage from the pride parade can be seen below.
On 27th May 2019 the citizen initiative "critical mass" was held to encourage people to cycle en masse through the streets of Skopje. The aim was to mark seven years since the first event was held and to urge Macedonian authorities to regulate and improve biking infrastructure. The group also stated that every large city in the country should have its own mobility plan in order to reduce pollution and promote sustainability and greener cities, as well as citizen agency in decision-making and participatory planning.
Чадиковски: Главен проблем на новинарите е неказнивоста на напади врз нив https://t.co/lBFvvft5Zl— Plus Info (@PlusInfomk) July 11, 2019
On 11th July 2019, at a Global Conference on Media Freedom held in London, the director of the Association of Journalists of North Macedonia, Mladen Chadikovski stated that the main issue facing journalists is a failure to prosecute those who perpetrate attacks against journalists. Using the example of a recent attack on a TV21 team in Aracinovo in April 2019, Chadikovski noted that while the incident had been recorded by local police, they had failed to launch an investigation. He went on to explain that impunity for violence against media workers has undoubtedly impeded freedom of expression in North Macedonia. Chadikovski also noted the issue of media ownership and the relatively small pool of private media owners and their close links with political parties. By highlighting the collusion between political elites and media outlets, he highlighted the worrying trend of media financial sustainability and the future of independent reporting. In his address, he said:
"At the moment we have a certain level of freedom of speech where everyone speaks freely, but I must emphasise that the independence of the media is still questionable due to the fact that we have a small corrupt media market. In a country of 2 million people, there are about 150 broadcasters in the market, less than 10 print media and hundreds of online media. All of these media outlets operate in a media market that is not worth more than € 25 million a year."
Finally, concerns have continued regarding the circulation of fake news, especially with stories related to migrants in North Macedonia. Representatives from the media stated that fake reporting is misleading the public regarding the plight of migrants instead of showing their real struggle, which could ultimately hinder their human rights.