Politics & The World

by Ivan Šuklev

Macedonia is a country that is momentarily riddled with difficulties. Beginning with the enormous waves of refugees, that are trapped and extremely dissatisfied because of their status-quo between the borders of Macedonia and Greece, then of course there is the famous name dispute with Greece, a conflict that has been around for over 20 years now (resulting also in the blocking of Macedonia’s EU integration by Greece), and last but not least, massive demonstrations and protests in the bigger cities as a result of the abolition that President Ivanov signed on the 12th of April 2016. Large problems for a petite country with 2 million inhabitants. But the latter of them may prove to be the biggest obstacle that this country may have to overcome in order to prove its EU aspirations.


It all started roughly about one year ago, when the opposition’s biggest party (SDSM) leader, Zoran Zaev publicly announced that he possesses transcripts from bugged telephone conversations of 20,000 people involved in Macedonian politics, many of which were conversations between people of the highest order from the ruling party, VMRO-DPMNE. The ‘bombs’, as Zaev called them, unravelled massive levels of corruption and crime, rigged elections, conspiracy to cover murder and other despicable acts committed by the leading people of the Macedonian government. The wiretapped transcripts incriminated Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his closest collaborators of atrocities so far unseen in Macedonian history, including but not limited to corruption in the judicial system (political prisoners, judicial bribery), election fraud (the opposition leader claims that the ruling party stole up to 150,000 votes in the last parliamentary elections), threats and arrests carried out against journalists and politicians critical of the ruling party, a public administration under the direct control of the ruling party.. The list goes on and on and if we got into details about every criminal behavior of the ruling party in the past 10 years, we could surely write half a dozen of books. The crimes were committed by a group of people very close to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, in some cases blood-relatives that are part of his government.


The people led by the opposition party’s leader Zaev took it to the streets to show their disapproval of the ruling party. Massive protests and demonstrations were held in the capital city of Skopje, visited by no less than 100,000 people. Although at first the ruling party rejected all claims from the opposition party (new elections with a clarified voters list, resignations from all culprits from the wiretaps, investigations about the crimes committed by the Prime Minister and his closest people), the EU got involved and sent European Commissioner Johannes Hahn to help Macedonia out of the crisis. Hahn’s appointment for this crisis was met with scepticism at first by the opposition party, because Hahn used to be a member of the board of directors of the gambling company Novomatic, a company that has its own casino in Macedonia called Flamingo. This casino was built during the term of office of the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE and withstood allegations that it only employs voters of the ruling party. But Hahn was adamant that something had to be done in order for the crisis to be overcome and so the Przino agreement took place. The main points of the Przino agreement were new elections fulfilling all European criteria, resignations from the culprits of the wiretaps, the clarification of the voters list so that phantom-voters can be eliminated from it and the creation of a Special Public Prosecution, tasked with investigating the wiretapped conversations.


After the implementation of the Przino agreement had begun, many observers found it difficult for the measures to take place in a short period of time. Difficulties in the clarification of the voters list resulted in several postponements of the elections. The ruling party ignored these difficulties and declared the new elections to take place on the 5th of June, a decision that forced the opposition to declare a boycott of the elections. But, the biggest turn-around was yet to take place. On the 12th of April, President Gjorgje Ivanov gave a press conference in which he signed an abolition involving the wiretaps, pardoning 56 people involved in the wiretaps, including Prime Minister Gruevski, his cousin and ex-chief of the national security service Saso Mijalkov, ex ministers Gordana Jankulovska and Mile Janakieski and so on. With this move the president effectively destroyed the work carried out by the Special Public Prosecution.

On the list of pardoned people was also the opposition leader Zoran Zaev, who was being charged with creating a ‘serious internal crisis in Macedonia’ by the ruling party. The opposition party leader denounced his own pardon, stating that everyone involved in the wiretaps who felt innocent should do so. After this announcement, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski denounced his pardon as well. The President’s move made many experts question his abolition, stating that it directly breaks the authorization given to him by the Constitution of Macedonia. They also warned of the consequences of this move, especially because with this abolition, the Przino agreement governed by the EU was effectively buried.


Many people protested and demonstrated against this scandalous act by the President, who even today has not removed the abolition act. After the abolition, every day protests and demonstrations take place in the bigger cities in Macedonia. The protests have taken place under the banner of #Protestiram, and are directly aimed against the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE (president Ivanov is also a member of the party). Many acts have been committed by the protesters, such as the coloring of the Government building in many different colors and the coloring of many statues and monuments built by the ruling party in the past 10 years, an investment worth more than 500 million euros, an investment that has been ridiculed by foreigners and frowned upon by people not belonging to the ruling party since this investment has indebted the country to its European creditors for more than a billion euros. This is why for the last couple of days the revolution got a new name: A colored revolution, taking place every day at 6 p.m. with public announcements made by the protesters on twitter under the hashtag #Protestiram.


What will happen in Macedonia remains a mystery. The country finds itself in a position that has not been shared by any other country in Europe, ever. The massive allegations against the leading party have brought the people to the streets, and they demand justice for the crimes, justice and trials that won’t be carried out unless the shameful abolition act is removed by President Ivanov. Rumour has it that EU politicians have been outraged by the abolition act and are seriously contemplating a package of sanctions against the country and its politicians, mainly the politicians from VMRO-DPMNE, sanctions such as the prohibition of travelling to EU countries or seizure of properties that they possess in the EU.

It is fair to say that the country is on a crossroad. One road leads to democracy, EU integration, justice for the criminals. The other road seemingly leads to the abyss, to international isolation, to the demolition of the law and the very last fractions of democracy that remain in the country. Let’s just hope that the people will make the right choice.


Image by European People’s Party, taken from flickr

Pitching Europe

Anti-Corruption International (ACI) is an innovative non-profit organization aiming to bring together young people from around the world to research and combat corruption related issues, share experiences and develop ideas in a constructive environment to fight corruption and to put pressure on institutions to implement anti-corruption mechanisms. We know that ACI can bring about revolutionary change in the world and we are determined to make a world free from corruption a reality.  Following the International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFiT), we were successfully established the 20th March 2015 and have been expanding across Europe and indeed the world, establishing national chapters and working on local and international corruption issues. Our first national chapter was launched in Dublin, Ireland, the country where the international organisation is now registered.

From our early stages of development we have sought to ensure mutual growth through collaboration, and working with partners such as the European Student Think-tank has been a tremendous help for the work we do. So if you are interested in ensuring corruption finds no home within Europe, then you are more than welcome to join the work we do. Over the next months we have a number of plans to revolutionise not only how corruption is discussed but to explore how it impacts core underpinnings of such important values as democracy, rule of law and development. For us it is important to ensure that young people use the energy and motivation to ensure that we harness their propensity for change and see real tangible results. In this regard, during the next few months we will be working on launching our first young African leaders summit in Uganda and also kicking off projects in Germany on whistleblowers and corruption. We are really excited to be a part of the Pitching Europe project: It is so important to highlight how valuable it can be to work together towards a common goal(s) and we look forward to working more with this initiative over the coming months and years to come.

Anti-Corruption International is looking forward to working with the EST in Macedonia within the next months, where we have a series of Anti-Corruption workshops planned to promote transparency and create corruption awareness amongst citizens and students.

President of Anti Corruption International, Jason Deegan, was an EST Ambassador two years before founding the organization. About his experience in ACI, Jason has stated:

“This is where I am writing from now, because of my experiences in the EST I have been inspired to work with young people from around the world to tackle a global issue, the issue of corruption. Within 6 months we have expanded rapidly and consider to do so, we are reaching out to build partnership with youth organisations such as the EST and will continue to work with young people from around the world in relation to how we can best tackle corruption”.

Campus Europe Goes BalkansPolitics & The World

by Ivan Šuklev

July 25th, 2015. Five thousand refugees are desperately trying to enter the city of Gevgelija, a city that lies on the border of Greece and Macedonia. Their goal is to continue their long journey from the hells of Syria to their final destination, the paradise of Germany and Western Europe. On their way stands more than 2000 km of road, police brutality, negligence, President Orban’s well known stance and… corrupted Balkan politicians.

In the news nowadays, people can hear a lot about the Syrian refugee crisis that has hit Europe. How they escaped in order to live, how General Assad is killing his own people with his politics, how some of them may be terrorists in disguise sent from ISIL, how precarious their journey is (hint: remember the boy that drowned?) and how their arrival to Germany is a dream come true. But let me tell you a story that you won’t find in any of the news stations. Let me tell you a story in which you will understand just how this crisis has helped some of the politicians in the Balkans get rich, and not a single one of the Western European news agencies reports about this. After all, everyone knows that it’s all about the money, right?

As a guy who was born in the city of Gevgelija, I am well familiar with the ways of public transport. A bus ticket to Skopje (70 km from the Serbian border) is about 7 €. A train ticket costs even less, 3 €. This is because of the fact that Macedonia is a country that has a very, very low living standard (minimal pay check: 180 €/month) and ergo, the prices for public transport are very, very cheap. Except for refugees.

Several days ago, reports have surfaced which said that Macedonian police has acted upon the refugees stationed in the camp of Gevgelija with brutality. As a guy who is highly sceptical of every news agency, I decided to talk with some people who live closely to the railway station in Gevgelija (the refugee camp in Gevgelija is about 1-2 km from the railway station) and also to some local taxi drivers. What I found out was absolutely stunning.

The taxi drivers expressed their disgust towards the police and the local authorities in Gevgelija because the police was stopping them to transfer refugees from Gevgelija to the border with Serbia. This statement seemed pretty absurd to me, because after all, in the news reports every Balkan politician has said that they want to help the refugees to get to Germany. So, why did the local taxi drivers  come up with this frankly ludicrous accusation?

And yet again, the answer was – very simple. Money. Unknown to me or to the rest of Western Europe apparently, the prices for public transport are different if you are a refugee. Bus ticket to Skopje? 30 €. Train ticket? 25 €. Maximum capacity of a bus – 50 to 70 people, depends on the type of the bus. An actual bus filled with refugees – 100 people! Maximum capacity of a train with wagons – 400 to 500 people. An actual train filled with refugees – 800 people! And the local taxi drivers have also said that they witnessed how the police has boarded the refugees on the trains using police brutality and force. I insisted on seeing these busses with my own eyes. When I arrived at the railway station, I saw at least 20 busses parked, from 20 different firms, and not a single one was a public transport company. Not a single one has ever before showed up at the bus station and not a single one has ever made a transport from Gevgelija to Skopje. Then it all added up.

The Macedonian politicians from the government (a government widely known to be an authoritarian and in some instances even totalitarian) had sent these busses and trains because they saw an opportunity of a tax-free material gain. According to the local taxi drivers, at least 4 trains part from Gevgelija every day filled with refugees. That’s about 3200 refugees. A ticket costs 25 €. Daily, that’s about 80.000 euros. No receipts are being issued for the tickets, so these numbers are just speculative. They could be much, much higher. Daily, about 5-6 busses part from Gevgelija to the Serbian border. Roughly about 500-600 refugees. Around 15.000 to 18.000 euros per day.

And this continues on a daily basis. The local taxi drivers are stopped of doing what they are supposed to do (some were even beaten by the police for trying to stand up to them) and their hopes of getting actually paid to do what they are supposed to do – shattered. A taxi driver that looked resignedly at his fate told me in his final sentence: ‘That is just the way things happen around here. Not much we can do about it.’

So next time when you hear a report in the news in which it is stated that many refugees entered Germany or any other country in the EU, think about the fact that around 90% of them passed through Macedonia. Think about the money that went into the pockets of the corrupted Macedonian and Balkan politicians (Serbian and Croat politicians are accused of using a similar transporting scheme). Think about the horrors that the refugees had to endure. Think about the fact that in the Balkans, they had to survive a hell not much different from the one they escaped from.


Image by Fotomovimiento, taken from flickr

Campus Europe Goes Balkans

by Nikola G. Petrovski

would start with a brief introduction of Macedonia’s path towards the EU. On the one hand the Republic of Macedonia is the first state of the Western Balkans that signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement in April, 2001, which came into force three years later in 2004. But on the other hand, we are still stuck in between the name issue, the Copenhagen criteria and the domestic political transition. Along with the last Progress Report, the EU Commission once again set (the 6th) positive recommendation to start negotiations for EU membership.

The problem is that the evaluation has been made basically according to the fact – how many changes have been made in the legislation in particular areas, where the European Union pointed on the needed changes, but not on how that changes the reality.

A European Future

Thus, the comments on the last Progress Report regarding the Macedonian accession were not so warm. Most of the previous problems the country had faced during the enlargement process remained more or less on the same level, such as the rule of law, judicial independence, the reform of public administration, freedom of expression, electoral reform and strengthening the market economy.

Hence, the ex-Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule stressed that “the integration process faces a halt, and [that] concrete actions are required in areas such as the freedom of media and the independence of the judiciary. There is also an urgent need to find a solution to the name row with Greece and the political crisis (…) The parties’ interests have been placed before the national interest, therefore we demand and expect the government and the opposition in the country to be responsible, to enable the political debate within the parliament and to contribute towards the creation of terms to function”.

According to the opinion of the EU’s ambassador to Macedonia, Aivo Orav, “although Macedonia’s recommendation on EU accession remains, the country needs to undertake serious reforms (…) for what the state failed to accomplish this past year. (…) The report was not only criticism but a clear guideline on further actions and there were many concerns in the report, such as the increasing polarization of the state institutions, the government’s control over the media, the political crisis and the party’s interest. Despite all of this, the recommendation has been given with regrets for the failed issues.

The last Progress Report was like an announcement for the upcoming events and the political crisis. A few months later, after the opposition’s leader uncovered a political scandal, he held weekly press conferences presenting audio recordings (called “bombs”) among (as he claims) high representative bodies of the state regarding various issues related to the abuse of their power as government officers.

Domestic Protests

That gave a rise to a lot of different protests. To begin with, the one where students protested about the bad reforms in the higher education – they had to occupy the universities in order to be heard; the next one was where a group of citizens protested about a girl who was not sent on time to surgery because of a decision that had been made by the public health system officials; the workers also protested, namely about the high personal tax on their income; another group of people protested because of partially and biased news reporting on the national television; large groups of high school students are also protesting, staying in tents in front of the building of the Ministry of Education.; and the most massive one  – the protest about the  “bomb” of the audio recordings where some new facts about the murder of a 22 years old boy through a police officer back in 2011 can be heard.

At the end of this protest season, two groups of tents were installed: one a front of the government building – against the government policy, and one a front of the parliament building – in support of the government policy.

The role of the EU officials and the ambassadors in the country has a significant contribution in order to find an acceptable solution for the both sides. After long negotiations between the government and the opposition under the umbrella of the EU in Brussels, this month, on 15th of July, the deal  finally came in. But the most important document that preceded the deal was the Recommendations of the Senior Experts’ Group on systemic Rule of Law issues relating to the communications interception revealed in Spring 2015, that identified five areas of concern: the interception of communications, judiciary and prosecution services, external oversight by independent bodies, elections and the media. I would exclude some of the recommendations in the conclusion of the document:

Press Freedom

All media have to be free from any political pressure without any interference or intimidation; Media should distance themselves from party politics and should not be at the service of politicians and political parties; The Public Service Broadcaster should strive to be completely impartial and independent from political, commercial and other influences and ideologies and contribute to an informed citizenship; Therefore, public bodies should refrain from discouraging media to carry out their mandate; Defamation actions should not be used as a means to stifle debate or prevent public figures from being held to account; Courts should develop clear and forseeable practice on the protection of freedom of expression in view of defamation claims; “Buying” political support from the media through financially supporting media outlets is unacceptable. Stringent rules on government advertising should be enforced; Media ownership and media financing should be transparent; Journalists’ labour conditions should be improved in order to reduce self-censorship.

A Look Into The Future

It will be a lot of work to do there – Macedonia needs deep reforms in the political system and the perception of the civil society on how democracy and democratic governance should actually look like. The society is constructed by various individuals and groups and each of them with different goals, needs and ideas. Hence we must work to build a political system where people will be free to pursue their goals (as far as their behavior does not interfere in the same freedom to the others) no matter what party is in charge, and to be treated equally under the law.

People must understand that limited government means more freedom and less corruption, free market brings more wealth, less subsidy – more incentive entrepreneurs, less government regulation and control – more individual freedom and responsibility. To achieve all of that and to build that kind of political system we have to go back to the beginning and to establish strong pillars of rule of law, free media and independent judiciary. To cite the great Huxley: After all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance…