Macedonian protesters intensify pressure on government to resign

Macedonian protesters intensify pressure on government to resign
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje June 7, 2016

Colourful Revolution protesters in Macedonia have announced they will step up their pressure on the government, led by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, to resign, thereby restoring democracy in the country.

Protests dubbed the Colourful Revolution have been held every evening except Sundays since April 12, when President Gjorge Ivanov made the shock decision to pardon 56 people including top politicians under criminal investigation. Ivanov recently revoked his pardons for 22 "politically exposed persons" under domestic and international pressure, but protesters want all the pardons to be scrapped.

The June 6 protests coincided with the fifth anniversary of the death of 21-year old Martin Neskovski from Skopje, who died after being beaten by a policeman in the capital’s central square during the celebrations of VMRO-DPMNE's election victory in 2011. The authorities were blamed for trying to hide official responsibility for his murder.

On June 6, protestors asked for two conditions to be met urgently: for the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the Special Public Prosecution and for the authorities to stop prosecuting protestors. The deadline for meeting these conditions is June 18.

The Special Prosecution Office was established at the end of 2015 to probe wrongdoing and corruption among top officials revealed in illegally wiretapped conversations. The scandal emerged earlier in the year when the leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) Zoran Zaev revealed a series of recorded conversations between government officials, which he said he had obtained from a whistleblower. Former prime minister and leader of VMRO-DPMNE Nikola Gruevski says the tapes were sent to Zaev by foreign intelligence services.

Police have so far filed charges against 26 protestors in Bitola and seven activists in Skopje for vandalising the parliament, government and ministry buildings and monuments during protests. Protestors’ tactics include throwing paint at institutions and monuments in protest against the controversial and costly Skopje 2014 project to revamp the capital.

After the June 18 deadline, protestors will make other demands, including the resignation of Ivanov and the government, and for a technical government to be established to conduct fair and democratic elections, as well as for the inclusion of civil society in the process of solving the crisis.

The June 6 protests were larger than the usual daily protests, with thousands of people of all ages on the streets, louder than usual, shouting for the government's resignation and blowing whistles.

The police blocked the main streets in downtown Skopje to prevent protesters reaching the parliament or the government. However, demonstrators managed to peacefully bypass the armoured vehicles and get to the government building where they threw paint at the newly refurbished building, as usual.

“It’s enough!” was one of the slogans of the protest, held on the rainy evening of June 6.

The Colourful Revolution movement urged citizens in a June 4 statement on its Facebook page to support further protests with the aim "to put end to criminal governance in Macedonia".

“We drew the red line! We start counting on Monday [June 6]! The crisis has lasted long enough!” they said. Some of the protesters had red lines drawn on their faces.

Protestors also announced they will block the main streets of Skopje on June 8 in a symbolic gesture to illustrate how it looks to live in a nonfunctional system.

Most of the protesters are not in favour of radicalisation of the protests in terms of using force to oust the government, but want to increase pressure for achieving their goals.

“Anything that will change the situation, the people to be liberated from this evil,” a pensioner from Skopje told bne IntelliNews.

However, they must sit down and talk to find a solution to this crisis, he added.

The main demands remain for the pardons to be rescinded entirely and the Special Prosecution Office to work unobstructed.

“The rule of law should be restored and politicians involved in criminal activities should be held responsible,” Jovan, a Montenegrin who lives in Skopje, told bne IntelliNews.

“The government was doing well until 2008, and then it went astray,” he said.

“The pressure must be intensified and protests should be larger, with 100,000 protestors to be on the streets daily so as to reach melting point,” former central bank governor Petar Gosev, who participated in the protest, told bne IntelliNews.

Asked about the economic situation in the country, Gosev said that the system cannot survive without borrowing. The government needs to borrow some €300mn only for the second half of the year, he said.

Reuters reported on June 6, quoting two unnamed sources, that the Macedonian government is planning a Eurobond issue and has asked banks to submit proposals.

The last Eurobond issue was on November 24, 2015, when Macedonia raised €270mn through the sale of a five-year Eurobond. Most of the money was intended for budget support and refinancing old debt. In July 2014, the country sold €500mn worth of seven-year Eurobonds.

Macedonia is rated BB- by Standard & Poor's. The opposition and other critics have warned repeatedly that the government is uneconomical in spending public money and relies on heavy borrowings.

The protests ended at Skopje square to mark the fifth anniversary of Neskovski’s death.