News 20 Sep 13

Macedonia Denounces Ex-Police Minister Over Surveillance

Former interior minister Tomislav Cokrevski has been targeted for allegedly ordering illegal surveillance of right-wing activists in the 1990s for ideological and political reasons.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Macedonian Lustration Commission

Macedonia’s state Lustration Commission has targeted the former police minister Tomislav Cokrevski for allegedly ordering surveillance of the leadership of the ruling right-wing VMRO DPMNE party during the 1990s.

The alleged surveillance happened between 1996 and 1998, while VMRO DPMNE was in opposition and the Social Democrats were in government.

Cokrevski, now a retired law professor, was reported to the state commission, which is tasked with rooting out former collaborators, by former VMRO DPMNE legislator Filip Petrovski.

Petrovski became famous for being one of the leaders of anti-Albanian student protests in Skopje in 1997, which were supported by VMRO DPMNE and coincided with the alleged police surveillance.

The protests that lasted for weeks were staged by right-wing youth groups against a government announcment that it would launch Albanian-language classes at the Skopje pedagogy faculty.

The protest organisers accused the then ruling Social Democrats of treason for allowing the classes.

All but one member of the Lustration Commission voted for the conclusion that the surveillance that Cokrevski ordered was ideological and thus illegal.

The disseneting commission member, Cedomir Damjanovski, argued that there were no grounds for the lustration of the former minister and another 11 lower-ranking police officials of the time, because the surveillance was ordered based on the suspicion that a political group was working against the constitutional order.

Following the practice of many former Communist countries, Macedonia adopted a lustration law in 2008 aimed at rectifying injustices from the Communist era, when people were tried and jailed based on information from police informants.

Tomislav Cokrevski

The law allows the identification of people who collaborated with the secret services during the Communist era, banning them from public office and other government benefits.

The Cokrevski case however is unusual as it is the second high-profile case in which the government body has probed a senior police official who was active after Macedonia declared independence in early 1990s.

Most of the cases that the commission usually investigates concern suspected former police informants and not those who gave orders.

In May, the commission lustrated another former police minister, Ljubomir Frckoski, also for ordering surveillance for ideological reasons. Frckoski, who was also a presidential candidate supported by the opposition Social Democrats, condemned the accusations against him as a “political witch hunt”.

Lustration has proved highly controversial in Macedonia, with critics and the opposition claiming it is used to smear critics of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s government. The government denies these claims.

In its latest report on human rights and practices in 2012, the US State Department said that the Macedonian government has "used lustration as a means of attacking political opponents and disloyal former associates”.

In December, two members of the lustration commission resigned, saying the body had become a “government instrument”, but its head, Tome Adziev, insisted it was not a political tool.

Macedonia’s parliament passed a new lustration law last June, after the constitutional court twice scrapped key provisions from the 2008 law, narrowing its time span and the range of professions subjected to checks.

But the new law “contains numerous elements of an older law previously struck down twice by the constitutional court”, the US report said.

Macedonia’s Helsinki Committee for Human Rights is contesting the new law in court, insisting amongst other things that lustration for the period after 1991, when Macedonia became a democracy, is nonsensical.

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