Press freedom issues may keep Macedonia from EU

By Jean-Paul Marthoz/CPJ Senior Adviser on October 17, 2011 4:19 PM ET

The European Union accession process has been hailed as the best tool in the arsenal of democracy promotion. By adhering to the acquis communautaire, the EU's total body of legislation, and to the Copenhagen criteria that define the democratic nature of the EU, candidate countries are supposed to perfect their political transition before joining "the club of European democracies."

However, this process does not seem to be working for the Republic of Macedonia. Last week, the small Balkan country, which aspires to EU membership, was severely criticized in the European Commission's 2011 progress report, especially with regards to the worsening state of press freedom in Skopje, its capital. Prior to that, on September 20, three Macedonian journalists disrupted a panel on press freedom in the European Parliament.

The commission's progress report pointed out that Macedonia has much progress to make before it is able to join the European Union. "The media [in Macedonia] continue to be subject to interference from political and business interests," the report said in language harsher than what is usual in its publications. "Intimidation of journalists and selective enforcement of legislation against media companies are increasing causes for concern."

In recent months, local press freedom activists, as well as international advocacy organizations, have also denounced the degradation of freedom of expression and the rule of law in Macedonia. "Rising ethnic Macedonian nationalism, state capture by the prime minister and his party, decline in media and judicial independence, increased segregation in schools, and slow decentralization risk undermining the multi-ethnic civil state Macedonia can become," wrote the Brussels-based International Crisis Group last August.

In July, the revocation of the license of Macedonia's A-1 television station, "one of the most openly critical media voices," according to The New York Times, and the closure of three newspapers owned by the same media group, were clear signs that something was very wrong. Very few in Skopje and in Brussels believed the alleged motive behind the media group's closure--tax fraud--in a country where, as reported by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009, "external influences and pressures" on the judiciary seem to be the rule.

After the summer recess this year, the growing concern regarding Macedonia's state of press freedom was relayed to the European Parliament, where the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, a centrist political group, convened on September 20 in Brussels to hold a hearing. A-1 TV journalists--Borjan Jovanovski and Biljana Sekulovska--were invited onto a panel along with Margarita Caca Nikolovska, head of the Macedonian Institute for Human Rights, Slobodanka Jovanovska, journalist at the daily Utriski, and Petar Stojkovik, a student activist.

The late-evening hearing was supposed to follow the traditional decorum of Parliament, with its strict rules and tight schedule. However, the arrival of three Macedonian journalists--Mirka Velinovska, columnist for daily Nova Makedonija; Milenko Nedelkovski, talk-show host on Kanal 5 TV; and Boban Nonkovic, journalist at the Daily Dnevnik--who had not been invited threw the panel into turmoil. The three journalists questioned why they had not been invited to the hearing and shouted at their colleagues, calling the Members of Parliament "Euro-Bolsheviks." They were soon told to leave the premises.

In Skopje, some pro-government media portrayed the hecklers as truth-tellers--"real Macedonians" defending the honor of the nation against a band of "traitors." The Macedonian Association of Journalists attempted to sit on the fence, blaming both sides.

But most people who were present at the hearing were stunned and outraged. Some participants openly wondered how this could be allowed to happen just a few days before the European Commission delivered its assessment of Macedonia's preparedness to join the EU. "They are undermining their own country," one participant muttered.

The Republic of Macedonia, which, up until this incident, had been mostly ignored by European media and officials, is now clearly on the EU's radar. The European Commission and many Members of Parliament have pledged to closely monitor the evolution of the country.

International and European press freedom groups, already up in arms about Hungary's new press law, are preparing a joint mission to Skopje in mid-November to assess the state of press freedom and express their concerns to the Macedonian government. The message is clear: Fundamental freedoms must not unravel anymore, either in member states or in candidate countries. Indeed, most activists are convinced that attacks against press freedom in one country could spread to other EU countries and undermine the rights and freedoms enshrined in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The beleaguered independent journalists in Skopje--as well as other sectors that count on the prospect of EU membership to build a prosperous and democratic country--hope the government will listen seriously to their concerns and heed the warnings of the European Commission.


Here you can see what really happenedù

Scandal in Brussels. European Parliament organized a panel discussion on the situation in Macedonian journalism.
But instead of discussion and exchange of various opinions, MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis allowed to speak only journalists of Velija Ramkovski - Borjan Jovanovski and Biljana Sekulovska, but not Velinovska Mirka and Milenko Nedelkovski, journalists with differing opinions and views of Sekulovska and Jovanovski.Whit this, there is a debate, but again only one-sided in favor of presenting the camp of Macedonian Soros clan.This is even more tragically, as reported from Brussels sister Borjan Jovanovski, Svetlana Jovanovska, and his niece Tanja Milevska
Here's what Reuters reports on this event:

Incident at the outset of the debate symbolically called "silenced the press in the European Parliament in Brussels."

Journalists Milenko Nedelkovski Boban Nonkovikj and Mirka Velinovska protested against unilateral approach of the organizers, the European Liberal Democrats represented by George Shakimarkakis and Jelko Kacin. Invited to speak only Borjan Jovanovski, Biljana Sekulovska, Caca Nikolovska and Slobodanka Jovevska. Four of five speakers are inactive former journalists and editors and, therefore, the so-called outsiders consider the foregoing factors are irrelevant in Macedonian journalism.
Currently Macedonian journalists who voluntarily came to Brussels to participate in the debate are roughly silenced and removed from the organizers, specifically Shakimarkakis and currently leads a heated argument in the corridors of the European Parliament.

Meanwhile the rest of their colleagues continued to calmly discuss the topic "Pressure on journalists", while calling behavior Nedelkovski Velinovska Nonkovikj and Balkan syndrome.

The independent Macedonian journalists held a meeting today with senior representatives from the European People's Party who said that today's panel group is not very interested in the reality of the media or a bad purpose grade for this area in the new report on Macedonia and that this lobby is a regular function practice in the European Parliament.

real ancient macedonian October 17, 2011 5:26:32 PM ET

Politics in Macedonia have become very complex, and it is unfortunate that the politicians that lost in the elections along with some of their supporters "A1 news" tax evaders are trying to put a different spin on the truth. First off Macedonia has some of the best economic grow in the area, one of the most sound banking systems in the area and has increased tourism by something like 25% in the last year or so. All this with Greece as a neighbor and trading partner who is economic shambles and Kosovo as another neighbor who is at the brink of war. The Macedonia leadership deserves a medal for keeping things on the up and up amidst whats taking place around them and the world.

The FYROM government deserves a medal in the Art of Propaganda

To that ancient Macedonian that shared the you tube video-
Mr.Jean Paul Marthos was there, and saw what really hapenned. Same as i did, so link your propaganda on the macedonian forums where you may manipulate. You missed the target here and just confirmed the conclusions of the author. Yes , he saw! Did you?


I read this story with great interest. I missed, however, the part about Chatzimarkakis physically removing the revolting journalists and calling them "malakes", I suppose that was not newsworthy? It is the kind of treatment Macedonians are used to from Greeks, regardless of what passport they carry.

I also missed any mention of the EU's severely damaged credibility in Macedonia. Surely, this ought to be considered, when the EU is actively promoting the complaints of pro-opposition reporters and NGOs, to the exclusion of other voices, as part of a general propaganda campaign with many different fronts.

For 20 years, Greece has waged an immoral foreign policy against the Republic of Macedonia to alter its national identity, so it can more easily oppress the ethnic Macedonian minority in northern Greece. Meanwhile, the EU and some reporters have been with them every step of the way.

Threats and warnings are all Macedonia gets from the EU, while promises of a "prosperous and democratic" future are empty words, because the EU obviously doesn't deliver on any of its promises, thus harming the legitimacy of other things it tries to do, which might have had some merit in principle.

The elephant in the room that no one wants to mention here is that the EU has falsely promoted itself as a neutral mediator with regards to Macedonia, but the Union's actions speak much louder than empty words.

Stefan Fule and Jelko Kacin can indeed be compared Red Commissars, considering their highly public insults and thinly-veiled threats towards the Macedonian government, very much like those of the Soviet foreign ministers of yesteryear.

If the EU wants to be a partner with Macedonia, they should be. On the other hand, if the EU insists on being a tool for Greek propaganda, then their "institutions" deserve little respect, in fact.

I understand the criticisms against Velinovska and others, but Chatzimarkakis' behavior at the event was that of a thug, he has no business physically touching anyone, and can't take any moral high ground on what constitutes "appropriate language", considering what he said. Why ignore that important aspect of this story?

Thank you for your attention, here is some light reading:

To Mr Bravov: Aren't you tired yet of blaming everything on the "bad" Greeks? Is it Greece that shut down A1 as well as three newspapers that dared question Gruevski and his government? Is it Greece that handles your governmental media, allowing them to publish only what suits them, leaving you clueless on the rest?

Your country has never been able to get rid of the old communist ways and your PM is the proof of that. Stop blaming Greece for all your mishaps and start looking inside your house.. where all fish has gone rotten and stinks so bad that has now reached the other side of the pond too.

First of all, the title of this article is completely wrong: it is Greece that is, and will, keep Macedonia from joining the EU. Not that Macedonia should join the EU, actually. Now, on to Dorian: the Macedonian's can and do acknowledge their own problems and faults, like all responsible countries do. But do you really know anything about Velija Ramkovski, former owner of A1? Do you? I do. I was there. I knew him and his people.

This is an answer to a question put to former US ambassador Milovanovic some years ago:

Q: Yesterday you made a statement about the Ramkovski case, suggesting that it could damage Macedonian- U.S. relations. My question is, why did this reaction come now and not before?

A: First I need to clarify what we did put in that because I want to make a distinction. That case is not going to damage U.S. –Macedonian relations. Those relations are very good and they will continue to be very good. The Ramkovski- MDLF case is a problem; it is an annoyance, not a danger to our relations. There is an American foundation, which in good faith, seven or eight years ago gave almost one and a half million dollars, with an intention to help Macedonian media reach a higher level of professionalism and capacity. Instead, their money was stolen from them and even Mr. Ramkovski has essentially admitted that that is the case. Yet, that money has never been returned. So, the first problem about this thing is that the money did not go for the purposes it was intended for, which means, in essence he took that money from other media outlets that might have been receiving it and used it properly.

Mr.Dorian,it was not the Republic of Macedonia who brought the EU financially to its knees,it is Greece.Talk about A1 who forget to pay its dues as a corporate citizen.It was A1 and its owner and "journalists" who have been paid 130 million dollare in black garbage bags for the purpose of propaganda againts its people and state.A1 deserves what it got,and furtheremore,they should be tried for treason.But lets see what Greece is doing in Aegean Macedonia;Greeces clergy are paid by the state through taxasion,right?The indigenouse Macedonians are taxed as everybody in Greece,than why is he insighting violance againts those who feed him? Well the high priest of Salonica organized a 50 buses to go and attempt to destroy the newly build radio station in Ovcharani(Melitis).Greece is in the EU that prides itself the upholder of the Human Rights.Does Greece really knows what the Human Rights means?Macedonians are not allowed even to declair themselves their ethnicity,not allowed to learn and speak their native language.When it comes to Christening of babys,Macedonians an forbiden to name their children in Macedonian by these same shamefull priests and state.Talk about freedom,democracy in EU is shameless.My advice to you is,take a look at your fish that have gone rotten and stink so badly and have reached the whole EU Empire and the world.Macedonia has its house in order.Its the best country to open up business with the best taxation system,unlike Greeces(black garbage bags)unacounted for.

Well of course Mr. Branov from the UMD and Mr. Miko - friend of the UMD and a man paid by the ruling party of the VMRO in Skopje to deal with its "public image" abroad come to the forum to defend the honour of "their government".

How is the president of the UMD, Mr. Koloski? Is he doing well? Does he still believe in racialist theories about Greeks being Ethiopians and your people being white and from an "older Eurpean substratum"? Perhaps he can write a letter to the current Illinois governor about it. He sure did in 2003.

Then again, we don't need the UMD to tell us that do we? Mr. Dimovski (paid by Skopje officials to create a national TV spot on MTB in Skopje) did well when he created God telling your people that you were descendants of the "White race (Macedonoids)" while the rest of the World is comprised of "Mongoloids, Negroids, and mullatoes", and that your people have suffered at the hands of your neighbours for thousands of years.

Mr. Miko, how is the money flow from the VMRO coming along? How many TV spots, movies, and propaganda have you created with it? Just curious you know. Prime Minister Gruevski wants maximum return for his investment.

The inmates have taken over the asylum.

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