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Macedonian Government Systematically Attacks the Media: Albanian MPs Attack Each Other While Police Beat and Arrest TV Crews

by Natasha Dokovska
Macedonia

A scandal recently occurred at the Macedonian Parliament on September 28th, when the Albanian members of parliament physically attacked each other. Even worse, the fight escalated into a bigger brawl between the police (who are much too fond of exercising their power) and the well-meaning journalists who were just doing their job by covering the events in a professional manner.

The result: a journalist beaten and humiliated in the very building that houses the country’s highest legislative body, the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia. A cameraman was also attacked and one TV crewman was arrested, simply because they were capturing the violence on camera.

The melee erupted on the heels of a heated discussion over election laws (that had just passed in the Macedonian Parliament) when one of the Albanian representatives made disparaging remarks about the Albanians from the opposition party.

When the insulted Albanians realized Abduladi Vejseli was talking about them, they responded with physical force: they began shoving and pushing each other in front of everyone present.

While everyone’s attention was on the physical dispute between the MPs, someone from the security force of the “offended” party slapped journalist Lirim Dulovi (of the privately-owned TV station, A1) in the face. This occurred in plain view of all the accredited journalists in the Parliament, in front of every MP present, and worse yet, in front of the Parliament’s own security, who are charged with maintaining safety, order and peace within the Parliament building.

A heated discussion followed inside Parliament about exactly who had attacked the A1 journalist and why – a question that’s easily answered, since Dulovi reports regularly on the most controversial topics in Parliament, as well as on the “Albanian question” in Macedonia. Meanwhile, another drama began to unfold in front of the building.

The police arrived outside and started asking everyone in the crowd for ID, as if they all intended to enter Parliament. Then they started inspecting the cars in the Parliament parking lot. But mainly, the police were mostly interested in preventing journalists from doing their jobs. They arrested the crew from ALSAT TV (the national Albanian language station), saying the cameraman had no right to record the events taking place. In other words, the police blatantly attempted to stop the media from recording the chaos in and outside the Parliament building.

This situation smacks of the Bolshevism that once ruled the country. Only now, the people of Macedonia are fed television soap operas because they are the only shows left on television. Meanwhile, the police beat the journalists who dare try to report news to the nation. They are good for nothing else; only the paramilitary forces of the Albanian political parties can keep order. And so they did!

A day later, when all the journalists were headed for Tetovo, home to the head offices of the Albanian political parties, the police again started exercising their ”power”, only this time they used much stronger methods!

Just as the police were trying to identify one of the MPs driving on the Tetovo-Skopje road, Igor Ljubovchevski, the cameramen from ALSAT TV, was brutally beaten by the police, getting broken ribs and massive contusions on his head and chest for his troubles.

Stupidly, the police wonder why they trigger such negative reactions from the public. They fail to realize that the public sees that their sole reason for existence is to beat anyone they choose, present spectacular arrests, and prevent journalists from informing people about what is really happening in their own country.

The Government even forgets that the public is comprised of the very people who voted for them, allowing them the privilege of sitting in Parliament’s Hall. Have they forgotten that it is their duty to keep the people informed about everything that takes place there?

The editor-in-chief of ALSAT TV, Muhamen Zekiri, sent a message to the government warning that it is impossible to stop the country’s journalists from doing their work because they are far too numerous and definitely professional enough to find out what is going on, regardless of attempts to stop or fool them.

The president of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, Robert Popovski, demanded that the individuals who beat the ALSAT cameraman, assaulted the A1 TV journalist, and those who arrested the ALSAT TV crew all be identified immediately. Alternatively, he asked for the resignation of the Minister for Internal Affairs, Gordana Jankulovska, if the government fails to produce those responsible.

But for now, no one has responded to the journalism community’s protests about the police misconduct; only the international community in Macedonia has attempted any action, demanding shortly after the incidents that the media must be allowed to work without restrictions because they are the ones who convey the picture of the country’s democracy to the outside world.

The timing of the disgraceful incidents in and around Parliament couldn’t be worse: the country was just a few steps away from getting the EU’s report on Macedonia’s progress in implementing reform. Clearly, that report is not going to be positive now. Instead of drawing closer to the European family, Macedonia has buried itself in darkness again, showing all too clearly that its “democracy” is a farce. When the government attempts to silence journalists and literally starts to knock the media down, the world sees that the current government is only interested in demolishing even the most basic postulates of democracy.

Unfortunately, our government has not yet gotten even a “D” for the concept of Democracy.

Albanian rebels staged an uprising in early 2001, demanding greater rights. The conflict created a wave of refugees. After months of fighting, the Macedonian president, Boris Trajkovski, struck a peace deal; Albanian fighters agreed to lay down their arms in return for greater ethnic Albanian recognition within the Macedonian state. In August 2004, the Macedonian parliament approved legislation redrawing local boundaries and giving ethnic Albanians greater autonomy in areas where they predominate.

Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. analyzes the “Albanian problem” in Macedonia this way:

“The irony is that the current government of Macedonia has gone out of its way to accommodate the demands of the Albanian population. Macedonians are very touchy when it comes to the territorial integrity of their tiny (25,000 sq. km.) country, to the official version of their history and to their language. The current Albanian troubles are perceived to threaten all three. There is a multi-annual heated debate about whether Albanians should be allowed to use their language in their own higher education institutions.

“According to the last official census, Albanians constituted around 25% of the population. Add to this Albanian expatriates, a decade of high fertility in bearing children, and census-dodgers, and 33% of the population would seem a safe bet. There are Albanians everywhere in Macedonia – but mostly in its Western part which borders on Kosovo. The Albanians in Macedonia are economically better off than their brethren in Albania and in Kosovo. But they are a minority and, inevitably, suffer some discrimination (especially in the job market and in education).

“Unemployment and discrimination (mostly real, some of it imagined) – especially among the well-educated – breeds resentment. That ostensibly Macedonian Albanians insist on waving the flag of a neighbouring country (Albania) rather than [Macedonia’s] on official occasions add[s] to the already shaky mutual trust among the communities.”

– Ed.

About the Author

Natasha Dokovska has been a journalist for 23 years, covering social issues and human rights in Macedonia. She has been an editor for international policy, an advocate for human rights as an NGO activist and publisher, and has edited books related to peace journalism and other topics.

She is currently the editor for the first internet alternative radio in Macedonia and is also the Executive Director of JCWE, Journalists for Children and Women’s Rights and Protection of the Environment in Macedonia.

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