Protests in Macedonia: one more colour for press freedom, please

By Vesselin Dimitrov
It is a colourful, peaceful fight going on day after day in the Macedonian capital Skopje. Since 13 April tens of thousands of people go out on the street and protest against a corrupt and authoritarian political regime.

Some more background: In February 2015 then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was accused of wiretapping 20,000 people, including politicians, judges and journalists. The European Union mediated some solutions: Gruevski had to resign, general elections were scheduled, and investigations were led on crimes highlighted by the wiretapping scandal. On 13 April though, the Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov decided to pardon politicians charged with crimes or under investigation in the aftermath of a wiretapping scandal.

This led to the “colourful revolution”: for almost two weeks now protesters pelt monuments with paintballs and fill fountains with laundry detergent.

Journalists are also among the protesters, in a “double function”: as citizens and as victims of the regime, explains Katerina Blazevska on the phone from Skopje. And she is one of them.

Most media in Macedonia are kept on a short leash by the Government, those who try to be critical and objective are stamped as “sorosoids” (i.e. mercenaries of foreign interests, referring to George Soros, US magnate and donor to many South East European foundations). Macedonia is among the lowest ranked European countries in press freedom rankings.

Blazevska who now has the rare privilege to work for a foreign media (namely Deutsche Welle) used to be the Editor-In-Chief of the Dnevnik newspaper but quit after “Government’s servants” were installed in her newsroom. “Then I realized journalism here is over; the paper was supposed to be made under the state’s dictation,” she says.

This story is a few years old, but little has changed since in the Macedonian media. Self-censorship is common, ownership – intransparent. And Katerina Blazevska is afraid the state would not let go from influencing the media.

The “democratic front”, as she calls the protesters, could push for system change, but Blazevska says it could not solve the country’s problems. And are there signs on the streets for more independent media? “I do not see any, the country’s problems lay way deeper.”

Still, fighting these “deeper” problems requires better, autonomous media. They could be leading Macedonian politicians on a short leash, asking inconvenient questions, investigating and pushing the public to require actions, without having to protest on the streets.

This might seem like a naive idea, but shouting out for independent press would add more colour to the protests in Skopje. And it certainly would not harm the striving for less authoritarian political system.

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