News 09 Dec 16

Macedonian War Crimes Convict Warns of Unrest

Johan Tarculovski, the only Macedonian convicted of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal, now running for parliament with the ruling VMRO DPMNE party, accused the opposition of preparing for unrest after the election.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Elena Andonovska
BIRN
Skopje
VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski (left) and Johan Tarculovski (right). Photo: BIRN.

Amid fear of incidents around Sunday’s high-stakes general elections, war crimes convict Tarculovski, whose VMRO DPMNE party is accused by critics of authoritarian tendencies, claimed the opposition was agitating to foment disorder.

“We [the VMRO DPMNE] have never initiated any problems; at least at these elections, and that should be known,” Tarculovski told TV Nova on Thursday.

“But we are receiving information that the other side [the opposition Social Democrats] is preparing and agitating, teaming up some criminal groups of young and more senior people… to cause some bigger incidents at a national level, to cause quarrels. Someone is thinking of stirring up a civil war. But we will not let that happen,” Tarculovski said.

Tarculovski, a former policeman and current VMRO DPMNE’s organisational secretary, joined the ruling party following his release in 2013, after he served eight years of his 12-year jail term.

The Hague Tribunal convicted him of leading a police unit that killed ethnic Albanian civilians and committed other atrocities during the 2001 armed conflict between the Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents.

The country’s ethnic Albanians were unhappy about his MP candidacy, but it did not come as a surprise because since his return, the VMRO DPMNE has sought to exploit his fame among ethnic Macedonian right-wing voters.

The ruling party has portrayed him as a true conservative and a patriot, a "defender" of Macedonia who fell victim to an unjust trial in The Hague.

In 2013 the government staged a hero’s welcome in central Skopje for his return, attended by thousands.

Macedonia’s 2016 parliamentary election comes amid a prolonged and deep political crisis centered on the opposition's claim that Nikola Gruevski, the former prime minister and head of the VMRO DPMNE, is behind a mass illegal wiretapping; an allegation which he denies.

In February 2015, the opposition began releasing batches of covertly recorded tapes, which it claims shows that the VMRO-DPMNE-led government was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people. Among those secretly recorded were: ministers, politicians from the ruling and opposition parties, businessmen, journalists, scholars and activists.

The opposition has also claimed the tapes provide evidence that several top members of government and their associates were involved in illegal schemes including rigging general and presidential elections in 2014, manipulating the justice system, intimidating and controlling the media, and covering up the murder of a young man by a police officer.

The fear of possible violence around the elections is due to the high stakes for both main political parties as the election result will probably determine whether the allegations relating to the wiretapped recordings are ever fully investigated, and the speed at which any investigations move forward.

Most of the allegations resulting from the tapes concern members of the VMRO DPMNE party, including the current president.

The election follows two years of large anti-government protests - attended by tens of thousands of people at their peak - sparked by the release of the tapes.

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