Announcing Macedonia’s new lustration bill, the coordinator of the ruling VMRO DPMNE caucus in parliament says the left can no longer conceal its opposition behind complaints about bias and transparency.
With Macedonia’s existing lustration law ensnared in the Constitutional Court, the ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party of Nikola Gruevski has recently said it will submit a new one to the parliament.
The law, aimed at purging former police informants from public office, was originally passed in 2008 on the behest of Gruevski’s government. But the process soon came under fire from critics who accused the ruling party of using the law to target its opponents.
Ending the controversy, the Constitutional Court this Wednesday scrapped 12 controversial provisions of the law, limiting both its time span and the range of professions to be checked.
Boneva admits that the “credibility of the current lustration process has been shaken” by the fact that the Lustration Commission, the state body tasked to carry out the process, has not been allowed to reveal spy dossiers in public “and explain on which basis it was pronouncing someone a collaborator”.
But she says the new law will amend weaknesses by making the process transparent and so eliminating suspicions of bias.
“Anyone will be able to see the spy dossiers on the Internet and see who has been snitching on people for ideological and political reasons,” she says.
Boneva argues that this way the public will see for itself “whether this is a politically motivated process that hunts only government critics”, as the opposition says, or a historic breakthrough that will help heal society’s wounds.
She says the party has been additionally encouraged to propose the new law after the European Parliament on March 14 adopted a resolution on Macedonia.
In it the parliament recommend that the Lustration Commission communicate its findings to the public in future. “In this resolution we find the basis for a new lustration law that will be more transparent,” she says.
Although the Constitutional Court ruled that it was not right to oblige people from a wide range of professions, including clergy, journalists, NGO activists and others, to swear that they did not collaborate with the secret police during the Communist period and afterwards, Boneva still disagrees.
“We do not want to make lustration step by step, like Bulgaria did,” she says. “Instead of broadening the scope of professions one at a time, usually after the eruption of big spy scandals, we opted for a broader lustration right from the start.”
But, to avoid encountering further obstacles from the Court, Boneva says the new law will not directly task various professionals to submit statements to the Lustration Commission but will rather allow citizens to request lustration of certain individuals that they suspect were spies.
“I hope the Constitutional Court will keep in mind that the priority of lustration should be to ensure the rights of the victims, not preserve the moral integrity of the spies.”
Saying that she expected obstacles “from leftist forces”, Boneva notes the example of Romania, which adopted a lustration law in 2010 that was contested by the Constitutional Court, since when they have adopted a new one.
One novelty in the draft law tackles Macedonian oligarchs, Boneva continues.
Many of them were former directors of state companies who benefited from their privatization, which occurred mostly in the 1990s after the fall of Communism. Now they will also have to prove they did not collaborate with the secret services.
“One of the ways that the former secret services used to preserve their power and social influence was through the process of privatization, by transferring economic power to their own people,” Boneva maintains.
She says it would be good to know where, and how, state properties worth more than five billion dollars in total went after privatization.
“People deserve answers as to why a few individuals were chosen to practically grab the entire state property for themselves, and whether they were rewarded for their collaboration with the secret services,” she says.
On the other hand, she says this would lift the veil of suspicion from other businessmen who have earned their money honestly.
Macedonia followed in the steps of many former Communist states that have enacted similar laws in order to address past injustices stemming from politically motivated judicial proceedings.
All persons found to be former collaborators are obliged to resign from office and if they do so they are guaranteed anonymity.
The Court this week also shortened the time span of the law that was previously applicable until 2019.
The Court ruled that that it may cover only the Communist period from 1945 to 1991 and not the period after the country gained independence from Yugoslavia and became a democratic society.
Boneva again dissents. Explaining why the ruling party chose 2006 for the new time limit, Boneva says it is “only a coincidence” that this was the year when the opposition Social Democrats left power and her own party took over.
She says that the ruling party was only following the recommendations of the German Marshal Fund.
In 2005 and 2006 they gathered more than 150 regional experts to debate Balkan lustration. One recommendation was that countries should apply lustration until the adoption of their public information access laws.
“Everyone knows that the process of following certain individuals on an ideological and political basis resumed even after the fall of Communism. That is why these experts set the time span until the adoption of such laws, because they [the laws] empowered citizens to ask for the secret dossiers,” Boneva explains.
Speaking about the main opposition Social Democrats, she accuses them of hiding their opposition to lustration behind the Constitutional Court.
“They are strong on words in expressing support for the lustration process, when in fact it seems they hope the Court will do the job for them and hamper lustration, so that much of the dirt remains hidden,” she says.
Many experts have suggested that lustration in Macedonia will not be complete and credible if the country fails to get many dossiers that ended up in Serbia following the breakup of former Yugoslavia. Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, was the former Yugoslav capital as well.
Boneva agrees but says this issue can be dealt with in terms of closer cooperation.
“We cannot have real reconciliation between Balkan peoples without opening the secret archives of former Yugoslavia now kept in Belgrade,” she says.
“That is the only way to make sure that Belgrade no longer controls people in neighboring countries. I expect Serbia, in the spirit of good cooperation between the two police ministries, will make these dossiers available to us in future”.
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