Analysis 28 Jul 16

Court Deals Macedonian Lustration Knockout Blow

The highly controversial process of naming and penalizing former secret police collaborators in Macedonia is ending in farce, as the courts annul its decisions one by one.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic BIRN Skopje
Macedonian lustration commission. Photo by: kvf.gov.mk

After Brussels exerted pressure on Macedonia to scrap its much-disputed lustration process - which it said the government had turned into a weapon for dealing with its critics - Macedonia is now trying to put the entire process in mothballs.

This is how a number of lustrated Macedonians who have won their own battles with the Lustration Commission interpret a recent series of decisions by the Administrative Court.

In June and July alone, the Court annulled 17 decisions of the Macedonian Lustration Commission. Another 40 contested decisions await rulings.

As these rulings stand to affect many of 200 lustrated persons that have been pronounced former collaborators with the secret police, the entire process is now in deep trouble.

But critics of the process say the annulments by the court are only the first step.

They argue that much deeper analysis of all the inconsistencies done in the name of lustration is needed in order to rectify past wrongdoing and prevent future governments from resorting to the same methods.

“Right from the start, it was obvious how this crazy game, this castration of common sense, would end,” the former head of the Constitutional Court, retired judge Trendafil Ivanovski, says, colourfully.

Ivanovski won his own case against the state before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after being pronounced a collaborator back home.

At the start of this year, the Strasbourg court ruled that Macedonia had broken his human rights by not giving him the right to defend himself before the commission, and by denying him access to the evidence being used against him.

At least ten other people are currently suing Macedonia in Strasbourg on the same grounds.

In its explanation of its latest decisions, the Administrative Court said the Lustration Commission had broken the Law on Administrative Procedure from 2005.

The Commission “did not allow active participation of the plaintiffs [lustrated persons]” in the procedures against them, and denied them access to the incriminating documents being used against them, it said.

“The Administrative Court in Macedonia should have reacted sooner but for a long time it exhibited clientelism towards politics, only confirming that the judiciary sits firmly in the lap of the government,” Ivanovski told BIRN.

“Now they have understood that they made mistakes - and are seeking for a solution to save what can be saved,” he added.

Marred by controversy from the start:

Macedonia followed in the steps of many former Communist states that brought in lustration laws as a way of addressing past injustices.

However, ever since the Lustration Commission started work in 2009, it was dogged by controversy and by accusations of partisan politics.

Opposition parties soon decided the process was being blatantly abused to attack and undermine critics of the VMRO DPMNE party-led government.

In December 2012, the opposition removed two of its members from the eleven member Commission in protest.

The biggest blow to the process followed in August 2015, when, after criticism from Brussels, the Commission said it was terminating the lustration process, starting from the beginning of this year.

Macedonian lustration commission. Photo by: kvf.gov.mk

However, it decided to uphold the sanctions it had imposed on more than 200 lustrated persons, including the ban on anyone declared to be a former secret police collaborator from working in state institutions.

Earlier, in June 2015, as part of the EU’s efforts to resolve the political crisis in Macedonia sparked by mass surveillance allegations, the European Commission had handed the government a list of suggested reforms in a report.

Among other recommendations, the report, written by a group of experts led by former European Commission director Reinhard Priebe, urged the Macedonian authorities to “revise/repeal the Law on Lustration and its implementation”, on the grounds that “ideological or party reasons [are being] used as grounds for lustration”.

This criticism came after wiretapped tapes of officials’ conversations, released by the opposition, suggested that the government had been meddling with the lustration process.

The rulings by the Administrative Court “are probably a result of the Priebe report”, Voislav Stojanovski legal advisor at the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia, observed.

Stojanovski, who also represents some of the lustrated people now suing the Macedonian state in Strasbourg, does not believe the Administrative Court acted without getting a nod from the political elite.

He told BIRN that the intention was probably to save the country from having to pay further damages from cases that it was likely to lose - as well as shore up the country’s battered international image.

Consequences still felt despite annulments:

“The annulment of the lustration decisions by the Administrative Court means that legally these decisions never existed. Since that is the case, the [Lustration] commission now has no grounds for renewed procedures and new decisions,” Stojanovski explained.

“But the consequences [for the lustrated people] remain,” he added,” following the publication of their identities, along with their ID numbers, their work posts, [damaged] reputation, private life, family life, privacy...

“Due to these human rights infringements... These people can now seek damages through the domestic courts,” he continued.

The head of the Lustration Commission, Tome Adziev, has meanwhile called the Administrative Court's decisions “odd” and said that they have undermined the commission’s work.

He said he feared that all the other contested decisions of the commission may now be annulled in future.

Adziev said the court had wrongfully interpreted the Lustration Law, “which does not envisage that the person being checked by the commission can take active participation [in the case]”.

He also insisted that the court had ignored ample police evidence proving - he said - that those lustrated persons named as police collaborators had been guilty as charged.

The Administrative Court on Wednesday declined to respond to these accusations.

In a brief statement, the court told BIRN: “All decisions by the court for 2016, including those from the area of verification of facts [lustration] are publicized and available on the court’s official web page.”

Many in Macedonia contest Adziev’s claim, accusing the commission of conducting politically motivated purges.

Jadranka Kostova, a journalist from the weekly Fokus was among those lustrated persons whose verdicts were annulled by the court in July.

“At the beginning, on the news desk, we supported lustration, but it soon became apparent that it was being turned into a tool for dealing with political critics [of the government],” she recalled.

“The original idea was to purge the system of people who had collaborated with the [Communist-era] police for money or career gains,” she told BIRN.

“But now we saw that most of the members of the [lustration] commission were themselves collaborating with high officials, precisely for financial or career gains,” she added.

If there is a change in political power in Macedonia, “the new government will unavoidably have to examine the entire lustration process and start measures for the possible rehabilitation of the lustrated persons,” retired judge Ivanovski agrees.

Kostova and Ivanovski say many others are determined to continue the fight for justice in Macedonia, until they are satisfied that the damage done to their reputations and careers has been rectified.

Additional reporting by Igor Bosilkovski.

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