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news 01 Jul 13

Macedonian Journalists Mourn Media Freedom Advocate

Journalists and rights activists paid their respects to prominent Macedonian media analyst and free speech campaigner Roberto Belicanec, who died of a heart attack at the weekend.

BIRN
Skopje

Friends, human rights activists, media workers and journalists gathered on Sunday for Belicanec’s funeral after his unexpected death on Saturday night at the age of 41.

Belicanec was the founder and programme director of the Centre for Media Development but was also seen as fighter for freedom of speech who used his analytical skills to dissect political trends within Macedonian society.

Colleagues and relatives described Belicanec as one of the few outspoken critics of government policies and social injustices in the country.

Social networks and the media were awash with quotes and articles of Belicanec mostly about the freedom of speech and human rights.

“I’m scared of being afraid,” Belicanec recently wrote on his Facebook profile, expressing alarm that freedom of speech was declining and saying that public fearfulness about expressing criticism was the biggest enemy faced by society.

He used social networks on daily basis to comment, analyse and take sarcastic swipes at the government.

“Roberto left in the same way as he was living – very quickly,” said Gazmend Ajdini, executive director of the Centre for Media Development and Belicanec’s closest colleague.

“He tried to use every moment to criticise negative tendencies in society. Obviously he gave everything, spent himself. He was an intellectual and I’m very sorry that he didn’t listen [when urged] not to give himself so much,” Ajdini said.

Belicanec will be remembered for his incisive remarks that almost always sparked controversy.

Speaking about mistakes in the political system and state institutions, and the injustices that ordinary people face, he once stated that it was no time to be neutral and that “all neutrals are idiots” – a comment which brought him widespread criticism and threats.

“My relationship to the [state] institutions was always a matter of conflict – to respect them but to change them so they can serve the people and not vice versa,” Belicanec said in one interview.

Before crossing over to the civil society field, Belicanec worked as a journalist for various media. He was one of the founders of the Macedonian Institute for Media before setting up the Centre for Media Development.

He was one of the key players in improving media legislation over the years, but recently he also became one of the main critics of the new, government-drafted law on media.

Belicanec was also the founder of Citizens for European Macedonia, an organisation that advocates Macedonia’s EU integration and the rule of law.

Belicanec was born in 1972 in Prilep, where he was buried on Sunday. He was survived by his wife and three children.

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