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Comment 18 Apr 16

Time to Confront Macedonia’s Little Dictator

As Macedonians take to the streets in protest against their autocratic and corrupt regime, the international community should apply pressure from the outside as well.

Vladimir Lazarevik
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonians took to the streets of Skopje last week in protest against their autocratic and corrupt regime. Photo: BETA

It took over a year for the people of Skopje and other cities across Macedonia to wake up from dreams of antique glory and baroque beauty that had lasted for the previous eight years.

When the first wiretapped recordings of Nikola Gruevski’s corrupt regime were played in public in February 2015, some of us believed this was the end of an anti-democratic era.

However, it was not to be. A robust PR media campaign combined with widespread fear for jobs, pressures on private companies and threats to the civil sector prevailed over the rule of law and democratic values.

It was early for people to wake up to reality and face the little dictator and his associates on the streets. Last year’s protests were massive but were not sufficient to topple down the regime.

One year on, times have changed. Thousands of Macedonians have fearlessly taken to the streets to protest against the recent decision of President Gjorgje Ivanov to pardon 56 senior politicians and businessmen accused of involvement in corruption schemes and various grave crimes.

Former Prime Minister Gruevski leads the pardoned group, as do his former interior and transport ministers. Among those pardoned by the President is also the eminence grise of the regime, Saso Mijalkov, the former secret police chief who is held most directly accountable for the wiretapping of thousands of people.

Covered by a figleaf of democracy, Gruevski’s regime won every parliamentary and local election over the last 10 years. However, the recently established Special Prosecution has revealed new evidence that the electoral roll of voters has long not corresponded to the actual number of voters. Numerous irregularities have been uncovered, including the issue of 35,000 identity cards, and over 60,000 new citizenships approved for unjustified reasons.

The Special Prosecution launched indictments in the case, codenamed “Titanic”, against key individuals involved in this mega electoral fraud. The electoral roll, it was clear, had been propped up with voters from other countries and with dozens of individuals living in same addresses. People who had migrated, or who died a long time ago, were also still present on the voting list. But the work of the Special Prosecution prompted the President to issue his pardon, which he justified as a move to peacefully resolve the political crisis that has continued since December 2012, when members of the opposition were forcefully throw out of parliament. 

Over the past 10 years, since he was first elected in 2006, Gruevski has successfully created an artificial democracy using populist rhetoric, a strenuous media campaign and abuse of power and corruption at all levels of the system. He has manipulated every democratic mechanism to create and maintain an autocratic regime. He has also manipulated the country’s international partners, such as EU and US, and the problems Macedonia has with its neighbours, Greece and Bulgaria.

Gruevski, his family and close business partners, have created fortunes and do not hesitate to use these funds to remain in power. They use money stolen from citizens to pay lobby groups, the media, influential politicians and individuals in order to present an image of international support among the local population.

It is time to break this chain. The international community has the power and the means to deal with such small dictators and should not hesitate to apply it. This should involve travel bans, blocking of foreign bank accounts and the revelation of hidden treasures. Such actions would be received among ordinary citizens with joy.

Macedonia has lost thousands of young and bright individuals who have left the country in search of a better life and more freedom. Many have left because of the corrupt political regime created by Gruevski and his supporters. It is the time for them to come back and support the grassroots civil society movements aimed at toppling the autocratic regime. Justice must be done, and all those involved in crimes and corruption should be held accountable.

After ten years of autocracy, the foundations of the new democratic society should not be built on the remnants of the former regime. A new and fresh start is required to restore hope among people who, 25 years after independence, are still struggling with the same questions: what will happen to us and to the country? Are we going to survive as an independent state?   

It is time for Macedonia and its citizens to move on and away from autocracy and to find their way back to democracy and rule of law.  

 

The author is former deputy minister of health in Gruevski’s first government from 2006 to 2008, and founder of civic movement “There is a future”

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