“Bloody Thursday” Must Not Be Forgotten

Source/Author: Safejournalists.net
Source/Photo: Safejournalists.net
Natasa Stojanovska still trembles at the thought of entering Sobranje, the Macedonian parliament. This has been so ever since April 27, 2017, the day the Macedonian media dubbed “Bloody Thursday.” Then, in Sobranje’s Press Hall representatives of the opposition and journalists attending a news conference held by the newly-elected parliament speaker were attacked. 

Eight months have passed since, but Stojanovska’s trauma will not go away.

“I haven’t entered the parliament building since. I couldn’t muster enough courage, although I tried once, wanting to have a coffee there with the people I lived through that “Bloody Thursday.” But, believe me, I couldn’t; I turned around and left,” says Stojanovska.

What happened in Sobranje on April 27, 2017?

The Office of Prosecutor for Organized Crime is investigating the events that took place on that day considering them to be one of the gravest crimes against the state for which the most lenient penalty stipulated by the law is 10 years in prison. Among the suspects are the police officials and MPs of the then ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, which is now in opposition. While the investigation is in progress not many journalists dare say who is responsible for the violence against the journalists, although the April 27 events were not the only such instance.
Five years before, on Dec. 4, 2012, journalists were for the first time expelled from the gallery of the Parliament’s plenary hall, from which they cover what is going on in the legislative body. They were not allowed to attend a session at which the budget was being passed. Snezana Lupevska Sozen was among them.

“They told us that we have to leave. Of course, we refused, because we were supposed to report on the event. The forced us out from the gallery by literally dragging us,” says Lupevska.

To a question whether they asked for protection she says: “There was no one to ask for protection from. Those that were supposed to protect us – the security and police – were those who expelled us by using force.”

Macedonian courts did not consider the prevention of journalists from reporting as a case of their concern. Even the Supreme Court ruled that their right to report on that occasion had not been violated. The International Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, however, was of a different opinion and ruled in favor of Macedonian journalists.

Snezana Lupevska says that “self-censorship and fear” were the reasons why not all the journalists affected agreed to press charges.

“Only five of us signed the application. We were adequately compensated by the state, and, what is most important, we obtained the moral satisfaction”.

The moral satisfaction arrived five years later. And while the journalists in Skopje were physically prevented from reporting, those in the country’s interior, critical of the former authorities, were prevented from doing their job in equally efficient, albeit somewhat different way by local authorities.

Aneta Daskalovska lost her job at the time she was investigating the source and extent of the wealth accumulated by then mayor of Bitolj Vladimir Taleski. It was impossible for her to obtain any information on the issue.

“Each of my inquiries was met by tacit rejection by the Bitolj municipal authorities. They simply gave no answers to them. If Taleski’s press representatives would answer the call, they would offer incredibly shameful excuses for not answering my questions. For instance, they would listen to me, and would then say: ‘Would you please send an e mail, and we will answer it.’ And the answer would never come. Or they would say: ‘I am sorry, I am on sick leave because my children are ill, and I am not at work”, says Daskalovska.

She adds that her case is drastic, but that her colleagues, too, had been offended by Taleski.

“He would insult those who would ask questions during a public gathering. They would pose a question and he would reply: ‘You are charlatans,’” says Daskalovska.

Dzabir Derala from the Civil non-government organization explains that this has been the attitude of a power structure connected with politics or stemming from it for full 11 years.

“The authorities simply turned the media into a microphone stand. For them, the media were not something serving the public, but an instrument through which they can keep saying whatever they want”, Derala says.

The new Macedonian government elected after April 27, 2017, has promised it would work transparently. Led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia, the government has also promised a different attitude towards journalists and the media. One of its first decisions was to declassify certain documents and facilitate access to information of public importance.

Has, then, the attitude of the authorities toward journalists changed?

“There is a difference in that the policies are no longer implemented with such brutality. I hope that the editors and media owners are being treated in a better way”, says Lupevska Sozen.

“When they are in opposition, politicians are much more open. They will answer your calls always, they will respond to all questions, they will even provide interesting information or act as a kind of ‘whistleblowers.’ But as soon as they come to power, after a month or two, their openness dies out. And that ‘s how it is”, Daskalovska explains.

All our collocutors agree that time is needed for things to begin functioning as in every democratic state. Natasa Stojanovska insists that April 27 must not be forgotten.

“A failure to punish those responsible for expelling the journalists from Sobranje on Dec. 24, 2012 has directly led to the violent events on April 27, five years later”, Stojanovska concludes.

This project is financed by the European Union through the small grants program “Protecting Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in the Western Balkans”, implemented by the Croatian Journalists Association, as part of the regional project “Western Balkan’s Regional Platform for Advocating Media Freedom and Journalists’ Safety”, implemented through a partnership of six regional journalist associations – Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, Association of Bosnia-Herzegovina Journalists, Croatian Journalists’ Association, Association of Journalists of Kosovo, Association of Journalists of Macedonia and the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro.