Attacks on the Press 2002: Macedonia

Lingering political instability, pervasive official corruption, and interethnic tension kept Macedonia on edge in 2002. Sporadic clashes between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian rebels continued despite a peace accord signed in August 2001 to end the country’s short-lived civil war, which began in January 2001. As a result, independent journalism remains a tenuous and risky profession there.

According to local media analysts, authorities influenced editorial policies by selectively placing government advertisements in publications that favor the regime. Meanwhile, biased, inaccurate, and inflammatory reporting by many journalists continued to erode public trust in the media.

In the first half of 2002, hard-line nationalist politicians, such as Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, issued statements and leaked unverifiable terrorist threats–which journalists readily published–to legitimize the deployment of security forces in ethnic Albanian communities that are pushing for increased civil liberties.

Threats and violence against journalists escalated prior to the September 15 parliamentary elections. With the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary OrganizationÐDemocratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) lagging in the polls, VMRO-DPMNE supporters castigated international organizations, local nongovernmental groups, and the media in an effort to boost their party’s popularity, claiming that these organizations are destabilizing and anti-Macedonian.

In September 5, Boskovski threatened to arrest newspaper editors for allegedly Òpreparing a scenario to destroy the reputation of the current government in the pre-election period.” The threat followed the publication of a report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based policy institute, highlighting “endemic” corruption in Macedonia. A week before the poll, rumors circulated in the capital, Skopje, that the police had prepared a list of journalists to arrest.

The ongoing threats and violence galvanized journalists, prompting the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM) to organize numerous protests. Several broadcast media outlets stopped work for five minutes on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, to protest government interference in the media. Journalists wore bulletproof vests and helmets at a May 20 rally to protest a recent incident where Boskovski, while testing a grenade launcher in front of an audience, injured a reporter from the Skopje daily Dnevnik, who was hit with shrapnel.

A week after the Social Democratic Union defeated the VMRO-DPMNE, three unidentified men brutally assaulted Radio Tumba editor-in-chief Zoran Bozinovski in the studio while he was hosting a live program, prompting some 500 journalists to protest outside the Interior Ministry on September 30. A month later, in an effort to improve ethical standards and professionalism in reporting, the ZNM announced that its Professional Standards Board would begin blacklisting journalists and editors who are on politicians’ payrolls.

July 16

Mare Stoilova, A1 Television

Stoilova, a reporter with A1 Television, was attacked by a group of unidentified men who also damaged her car while she was in the southeastern town of Stip covering the funeral of a young man who had been beaten to death in a bar brawl, according to local press reports. The men said they were angered by A1’s coverage of the bar fight, during which members of the Tigers Unit of the Special Forces Police had killed the young man. After Stoilova fled to her car, the men followed her, smashing the windows and the vehicle, according to the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Police questioned three suspects but arrested no one.

July 31

Simon Ilievski, Utrinski Vestnik, Kanal 5

Ilievski, a reporter with the Skopje-based opposition daily Utrinski Vestnik and the Skopje-based Kanal 5 television station, was attacked while having dinner in a restaurant in the southern Macedonian city of Ohrid, according to local sources and the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. An unknown assailant threw a full bottle of beer at Ilievski, striking him in the head, then threatened to cut the journalist’s throat with the broken glass and told him never to mention the prime minister again in any of his reports. Ilievski linked the attack to his recent criticism of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party.

September 6

Marjan Djurovski, Start

The Interior Ministry filed criminal libel charges against Djurovski, a journalist with the weekly magazine Start, which is based in the Macedonian capital, Skopje. The ministry also stated that additional steps would be taken against other local journalists. According to the Interior Ministry, the charges stemmed from an article by Djurovski in the September 6 issue of Startnclaiming that the government was prepared to start a war to delay the September 15 parliamentary elections.

September 10

Ljupco Palevski, Global, Start

The car of Palevski, who owns the bilingual Macedonian- and Albanian- language daily Global and the Macedonian-language weekly Start, was destroyed by a Molotov cocktail late in the evening. Sources at Global suspect that the attack came in reprisal for an article the paper had published earlier that day claiming that the government was planning to use the “Lions,” a unit of the Interior Ministry Special Forces, to disrupt campaigning for the September 15 national elections.

That same night, unknown assailants fired on the BRO printing house, which publishes Global. The bullets damaged the building and delayed the publication of Global‘s next edition, but no one was injured.

September 24

Redzo Balic, Radio Tumba
Zoran Bozinovski, Radio Tumba

Bozinovski, editor-in-chief of Radio Tumba, and Balic, a journalist at the station, were attacked by three men who forced themselves into the station’s offices while the journalists were hosting a live program, the Skopje-based Macedonian Institute for the Media reported. First, the assailants put the barrel of a rifle in Balic’s mouth and threatened him. Then they attacked Bozinovski, hitting him on the head with the rifle butt and a crowbar.

The three men fled the scene in an unlicensed white Volkswagen Golf. Bozinovski said the attack came in retaliation for the station’s reports on alleged corruption and criminal activity committed by local authorities who belong to the right-wing nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party.