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News 03 Mar 17

Macedonia Reporter Blames Assault on Ruling Party

Amid regular reports of attacks on Macedonian journalists, veteran reporter Borjan Jovanovski said Wednesday's incident when he was spat at in a restaurant, was likely ordered by an official of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Borjan Jovanovski

Borjan Jovanovski, an editor at NOVA TV, told BIRN that he suspected that an attack on him on Wednesday, when a young man approached him in a Skopje restaurant, shouted "traitor" and spat in his face, was commissioned by a senior official of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

"I suspect that it was commissioned by a high-ranking VMRO DPMNE party official who was present in the restaurant," Jovanovski said, adding that he did not wish to reveal the suspect's identity.

"This was obviously a manipulation with minors as the young boy who assaulted me was clearly under age. This is only a culmination of the hate speech that inspires such things. The biggest problem is that for years hate speech has not being sanctioned," Jovanovski said.

The spitting incident, apparently filmed by an unidentified third person, appeared in a video published on social networks.

BIRN could not reach VMRO DPMNE officials on Friday to respond to the claim.

The attack is one of several committed against government critics this week, all reportedly carried out by youngsters.

On Tuesday, A1on news outlet cameraman Vladimir Zelceski and journalist Aleksandar Todevski were attacked by unknown assailants in the centre of Skopje, while reporting on the protest staged by VMRO DPMNE supporters.

VMRO DPMNE later condemned the attack but insisted that it was not responsible for the incident.

In another incident this week, journalist and columnist Branko Trickovski said boys turned up at his home and accused him of being a "traitor."

BIRN Macedonia reporters were also targeted on social networks by supporters of the VMRO DPMNE party this week.

The Journalist's Association of Macedonia, ZNM, pinpointed former prime minister and VMRO DPMNE party leader Nikola Gruevski for inspiring the latest physical and verbal attacks with speeches in which he has called on patriots to "mobilize" in defence of Macedonia's sovereignty.

"Gruevski's instrumentation of youngsters to carry out this dirty work is cowardly," the ZNM said on Friday.

"Yesterday's primitive provocation against journalist Borjan Jovanovski, who was spat on in a restaurant, as well as the disturbances at the family home of the journalist Branko Trickovski, are a direct attack on the freedom of speech", ZNM said, adding that such attacks could easily escalate into physical violence as was the case with the two A1on reporters.

The head of the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers, SSNM, Tamara Chausidis, agreed that the attacks appeared orchestrated.

"These are not accidents or spontaneous assaults but an organized action whose goal is to intimidate journalists. The goal is to convey a message that they are being targeted and that in the future the attacks may be more dramatic," Chausidis said.

This is not the first time that Jovanovski has been targeted.

In April 2015, an unidentified person sent him an apparent death threat by delivering a funeral wreath with the words "Final greetings" to his family home while Jovanovski was out.

The wreath was handed to his wife and children by an unidentified person who said the sinister "greeting" came from Todor Aleksandrov - believed to be a cover name, borrowed from Macedonian history.

The attacks are taking place against a background of an escalating political crisis in the country.

Tensions – high since the election in December – soared further on Monday after opposition Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev asked President Gjorge Ivanov to offer him a mandate to form new government, which he refused to do.

VMRO DPMNE party supporters have meanwhile staged daily street protests denouncing Zaev’s announced government, in Skopje and in other towns.

Like VMRO DPMNE, the demonstrators claim a potential coalition government between the Zaev's Social Democrats and the ethnic Albanian parties would endanger Macedonia's sovereignty.

Zaev has in turn accused Ivanov of carrying out a coup and of suspending democracy, insisting that the protests are a cover designed to allow Gruevski to cling onto power and so escape justice.

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