Feature 14 Oct 16

Dozens of Lawsuits Challenge Macedonia’s Spy Hunters

The lustration law that sanctioned Macedonians declared to be former Communist secret police collaborators has been scrapped, but dozens of lawsuits are underway to reverse its allegedly politically-motivated decisions.

Semra Musai BIRN Skopje
The Macedonian Lustration Commission. Photo: kvf.org.mk

After the European Court of Human Rights ruled at the start of this year that Macedonia had violated the human rights of the former head of the country’s Constitutional Court, Trendafil Ivanovski, who was pronounced a Communist secret police collaborator under the controversial lustration law, dozens of others who have brought cases against the state in Strasbourg are expecting a positive result.

The ECHR said that Ivanovski’s rights were violated because he was not given the right to defend himself before the Macedonian Lustration Commission and was denied access to the evidence against him.

As well as the suits at the ECHR in Strasbourg, around 40 of the 200 people declared collaborators by the Macedonian Lustration Commission have also taken their cases to the Administrative Court and the Higher Administrative Court in Skopje.

In June and July, the Administrative Court annulled 17 decisions made by the Lustration Commission.

The process of rooting out former collaborators and preventing them from holding public office – which government opponents said was used to silence critics – was scrapped in January this year after criticism from the EU.

But the authorities said that those identified as collaborators would continue to be banned from working in state institutions for a five-year period.

Margarita Tsatsa Nikolovska, a former judge at the ECHR in Strasbourg who is now president of the Institute for Human Rights in Macedonia, said that the disputed process should be reviewed and its “victims” rehabilitated.

Nikolovska told BIRN that the process not only failed to address past injustices but also created new violations of human rights.

“This situation should be corrected. The state should find a legal mechanism to compensate for the damage,” she said.

“How they felt after being named as collaborators cannot be compensated with money,” she added.

Vladimir Milcin, the former head of the Open Society Institute - Macedonia, was one of those who was declared a collaborator and has taken his case to Strasbourg.

“I think that there are enough arguments for the decision to be in my favour. I think that the court in Strasbourg will notice that my human rights were violated,” Milcin told BIRN.

He said that the Lustration Commission targeted him despite the fact that there are documents saying that he was spied on by the secret police from 1976 to 1987 under the suspicion that he was an anarcho-liberal who was working to destroy the constitutional order of the country.

“Imagine, a person who has that dossier was pronounced a collaborator, although in that dossier there is no statement about collaboration, or any kind of signed statement. Not to mention that there is no proof that I took any financial compensation,” he said.

He argued that the Lustration Commission actually covered up the real collaborators with the Communist-era secret police.

“They spied on the victims of the secret police services and not the collaborators,” he said.

Targeting government critics?

Vladimir Milcin. Photo: BIRN.

Milcin also alleged that his lustration was ordered to tarnish him in the public’s eyes because he is a vocal critic of the government led by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO DPMNE - a claim that has repeatedly been made by rights activists.

“A large number of people, activists with a critical approach towards the government were victims of the process,” Uranija Pirovska, the head of Helsinki Committee told BIRN.

“This process in Macedonia happened for one reason, to deal with political opponents and those there were criticising this government,” she added.

She explained that the process was realized wrongfully, the law itself was problematic with lots of ambiguities and confusions, which she says helped the government to achieve its goal.

Macedonia was following in the steps of many former Communist states that have brought in lustration laws as a way to address past injustices stemming from politically-motivated prosecutions.

But after the Lustration Commission started work in 2009, it was hit by controversy.

The opposition also argued that it was misused to target government critics and in December 2012, it removed two of its members from the commission in protest.

But the head of the Lustration Commission, Tome Adziev, insisted that there were no violations of human rights and all the cases were “crystal clear”.

“They are not politically motivated. Those people were found in the [secret police] dossiers to have collaborated and now they are opposing it, that’s normal,” he added.

Adziev also insisted that the Administrative Court made a mistake by annulling some of his commission’s decisions.

“They did not decide based on the documents, but only based on the assessment that we had not called the people to say something in front of the Commission,” he said.

Strong international disapproval

Lustration Commission chief Tome Adziev. Photo: Sinisa Jakov Marusic.

The lustration process was halted in January, four years ahead of schedule, after expressions of concern from Brussels and Washington.

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”.

The US State Department, in its human rights report for 2015, also expressed its disapproval of the lustration process.

“The government continued to use lustration - originally designed to identify publicly individuals who collaborated with the secret services during the communist era and ban them from public office and other government benefits - to attack political opponents and disloyal former associates,” the State Department report claimed.

But despite the fact that the Lustration Law has now been terminated, Tome Adziev said that the Lustration Commission has the right to repeat the process if any of its decisions are reversed by the courts.

Tsatsa Nikolovska argued however that Adziev’s body should now comply with any legal ruling.

“The commission should confirm the court’s decision that there is no lustration process against a person,” she said.

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