Since the end of the fighting in 2001 between Macedonian forces and ethnic Albanian rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), the Albanian community has been granted rights such as official use of their own language. The state television launched a new multi-ethnic channel on 20 August 2002, broadcasting programmes in the country’s minority languages (Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, Romany, Aromanian and Bosnian).
As the 15 September parliamentary elections approached, the government stepped up harassment and threats against journalists. Interior minister Ljube Boskovski several times accused journalists, NGOs and foreign diplomats of spreading information to undermine the government of prime minister Ljubco Georgievski.
A paramilitary force called The Lions, which grew out of the fighting and was then absorbed into the national police while remaining close to the government, carried out many of the attacks on journalists. The international community is still calling for The Lions to be disbanded. The ruling right-wing nationalist VMRO-DPMNE coalition was defeated in the elections by the Social Democratic Alliance (SDSM).
Five journalists physically attacked
Thugs attacked journalist Mare Stoilova and a cameraman, both of the privately-owned TV station A1, in the eastern town of Vinica on 16 July, smashing the windows of their car. The day before, the journalists had reported on the killing of a youth by The Lions special police force in a café in the town.
Also on 16 July, Nina Kepeska, of A1, and Simon Ilievski, of the daily Utrinski Vesnik and the TV station Channel 5, were attacked with a broken bottle by a member of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party in a restaurant in the southwestern town of Ohrid. The journalists had written articles criticising the party.
Three people broke into the offices of the radio station Tumba in Kumanovo in the early hours of 24 September, beat up the station’s editor, Zoran Bozinovski, and threatened the guest on the night programme. The journalist was taken to hospital with serious head and hand wounds. The attackers were identified by the victims as members of The Lions. Bozinovski had been investigating corruption involving customs chief and senior VMRO-DPMNE official Dragan Daravelski. One of the attackers was later arrested and charged.
Pressure and obstruction
Journalist Danela Veljanovska was seriously wounded when a grenade exploded on 15 May while she was covering an exercise in Leunovo by The Lions special forces for the daily paper Dnevik. The paper called on interior minister Boskovski to take political and criminal responsibility for the incident, but he refused and said the paper and its editor had sent a journalist who was unprepared for reporting on such an exercise. The paper’s staff, the journalist and her family have since been harassed and threatened by members of The Lions.
In May, the website of the newspaper Vest was broken into after it said the interior minister might resign.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report on 14 August about serious corruption in Macedonia, calling it a threat to the country’s stability. When asked about it, interior minister Boskovski threatened to jail newspaper and magazine editors who had mentioned the report, accusing them of trying to destroy the government.
During the parliamentary election campaign, in August, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party began an advertising boycott of the TV station A1.
The weekly Start published an article on 6 September by journalist Marjan Djurovski, saying the government planned to start a war so it could put off the 15 September elections. The interior minister threatened to prosecute the journalist and said he would take other steps against the media. On 30 August, the interior and foreign ministers began claiming there was a plot by journalists and diplomats to destabilise the government.
Armed men from the Albanian Democratic Party attacked the BRO publishing company premises on 10 September, causing some damage and delaying publication of the daily Global. The owner of Global and Start, Ljupco Pavlevski, said that before the attack, the editor and circulation manager of Global had received telephone threats warning that the building would be destroyed. This may have been linked to Global’s publication on 9 September of two articles criticising the government. Pavlevski’s car was burned in front of his home on the night on 10-11 September.
Saso Ordanoski, editor of the magazine Forum, who is also a journalist at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and a member of the anti-corruption monitoring organisation Transparency International, was threatened with dismissal in September for frequently criticising the government. The foreign ministry had several times accused the IWPR of heading a group of foreign enemies of Macedonia. Ordanoski said he was put under surveillance.