News 22 May 13

Macedonia 'Hiding' Rise in Hate Attacks, Report Says

The authorities in Skopje are ignoring and even concealing the rise in crimes inspired by ethnic and religious hatred, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Ethnically-charged riots in Skopje in March | Photo by: MIA

A new survey by the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said the authorities are downplaying a rise in hate crimes, mostly committed for ethnic or religious reasons and involving ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. Attacks on gays and lesbians are also common.

“We sense a tendency for these acts to be camouflaged as ‘violence’. Furthermore, the failure to recognise these acts [as hate crimes] has a tendency to concealment that paints a wrong picture of the situation,” said the head of the committee, Uranija Pirovska.

The survey cites the example of a 13-year-old Albanian who was slashed with a knife after refusing to kiss a crucifix - a crime not even listed by Macedonian institutions as hate-related, according to the committee.

The survey says that in the past three years only 14 hate crimes cases have been recorded in courts across the country. The maximum sentence given was five months in jail, while most perpetrators were freed on probation.

“This figure does not correspond with the reality in Macedonia,” said Voislav Stojanovski, legal advisor for the committee.

“Even when perpetrators are discovered, they are being charged with ‘violence’, not for committing a hate crime, which is a graver form of crime,” Stojanovski added.

According to the committee, based on reports from the general public, only in the past two months, since ethnically-charged protests erupted in Skopje in March, there have been at least 35 hate-crime cases.

Most took place on public buses where angry encounters between ethnic Macedonian and Albanian pupils and students resulted in incidents.

In early March, ethnic Macedonian hooligans clashed with riot police in Skopje while protesting against the appointment of Talat Xhaferi, a former ethnic Albanian rebel commander, as the new defence minister.

The next day, clashes escalated as Albanians took to the streets in a counter-protest, alleging they had been targeted by mob attacks.

A year earlier, in March 2012, there was a similar spate of ethnically-motivated attacks in which adults and children were beaten and stabbed on buses in Skopje.

In 2001, Macedonia went through a short-lived armed conflict between the security forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents. The conflict ended the same year with the signing of the Ohrid Accord, which guaranteed greater rights to Albanians.

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