The government’s continued culture of denial when it comes to the wiretapping allegations gives little reason to hope that it will respect the July 15 agreement.
By Erwan Fouéré, originally published by Balkan Insight, republished with permission.
Six months have passed since the leader of the main opposition party in Macedonia revealed evidence of alleged corruption on the part of the government of Nikola Gruevski in terms of a vast wiretapping operation.
The extent of the alleged corruption and abuse of power revealed in these phone conversations, released in successive press briefings since February, has arguably surpassed anything seen in the Balkans since the breakup of former Yugoslavia.
The Macedonian Prime Minister continues to claim that the tapes were “created” and that those responsible for the wiretapping operation are “foreign intelligence services”, which he has, however, refused to identify.
On the other hand, the Special Report drawn up at the request of the European Commission and made public on 19 June makes clear that the wiretapping operation was a homegrown affair.
“The making of these recordings is generally acknowledged to have been illegal, to have taken place over a number of years and not to have been part of any legitimate court-sanctioned operations,” it said.
“The recordings are also of a quality, scale and number to be generally acknowledged to have been made inside the national intelligence service’s facilities,” it added.
The findings of the report, by a group of senior rule of law experts led by a highly respected former Director in the European Commission, Reinhard Priebe, point to several serious violations perpetrated by government ministers as well as senior officials from the ruling party, VMRO-DPMNE.
Yet, despite the force of the accusations, people close to the government continue to reject the report’s findings and even question the integrity of the report’s authors, while the government itself has refrained from comment except to repeat its claim that the tapes were “created”.
The pro-government media barely refer to the wiretapping claims and have deliberately refrained from airing the contents of the conversations. At the same time, these same media outlets have pointed a finger at the leader of the opposition as the true villain of the piece. The government has accused him of fomenting a coup.
The government has, however, at least formally, backed the list of urgent priority reforms prepared by the European Commission, which include those put forward in the Priebe Report. These all form part of the agreement, signed on July 15 in the presence of European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, by the leaders of the four leading political parties, including the Prime Minister.
Many of these reforms, such as those relating to political interference in the judiciary, have already been mentioned in the European Commission’s annual Progress Reports.
But the Prime Minister, although he has has now committed his government to fully implementing the July 15 agreement, including all the reforms, has made similar commitments in the past without any follow-up.
What is the guarantee that this time it will be any different? So long as he and his party continue to deny any involvement in the wiretapping operations, despite all the evidence contained in the Priebe Report, and while they refuse to accept responsibility for any of the alleged violations of the rule of law, there is little hope that the agreement brokered by the EU will be respected.
Judging by experience over the past nine years of this government, the public will be subjected to continued manipulation of the truth, similar to the worst practices of authoritarian regimes such as Belarus and Russia.
The only option will be a rigorous, on-the-spot permanent monitoring by the EU, with the OSCE and the Council of Europe, as well as civil society organizations, with targeted projects supported by the international community and directed at all sectors of society.
This should include monitoring of the media to counter the inevitable manipulation and distortion by both the governing party and by government-supported media of the messages conveyed by the EU. The excellent “media fact checking service,” a project financed by USAID, is one example of what should be done.
The EU should deploy the same resources it has used to counter Russian propaganda in relation to events in Ukraine; these include actions to strengthen the overall media environment, including support for independent media and increasing awareness of disinformation activities.
This week, another journalist, owner of an internet portal critical of government, was set upon outside his home in Skopje and beaten up. So long as the governing party continues to effectively encourage a culture of violence and revenge and discredits the many voices across the country clamoring for change and for respect of their fundamental rights, Macedonia will not escape from its current nightmare.
Without a change of attitude and a change of behaviour from this government in both word and deed, there is no hope of a free and fair electoral process next year, nor any other year.
This column was first published by Balkan Insight on July 24, 2015, and republished with permission within the framework of the USAID Media Strengthening in Macedonia Project - Media Fact-Checking Service Component,, mplemented by Metamorphosis. The column is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, USAID or the United States Government. For more information on the work of USAID in Macedonia please visit its website (http://macedonia.usaid.gov) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/USAIDMacedonia).