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02.06.2017

Chaos, danger and attacks on journalism in the Macedonian parliament

protocoll by Dimitar Tanurov, as told to Ilcho Cvetanoski (guest contributor)

Thursday, 27 April. Just another regular working day. While I am sipping coffee and thinking about the daily workload, there is one place that I know I will have to pass by: the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia* in Skopje.

Tanurov Macedonian Parliament violence2 "I was numb, paralysed. I could not walk away." - Dimitar Tanurov. (Photo courtesy of Dimitar Tanurov)

With newsworthy events, both inside and outside of the parliament building, it is on the daily schedule for every journalist in Skopje, without question.

Inside, the former ruling party VMRO-DPMNE is using every legal instrument, including extremely long debates, to obstruct the work and the transfer of power from the former ruling coalition to the new one. Meanwhile, sympathisers of VMRO-DPMNE, organized into a "civic" movement "for a common Macedonia", are protesting outside.

Like any other day, thousands of people will gather at 6 pm in front of the parliament. Therefore, I will pass by. Also it was on my way to the Dutch Embassy in Skopje. I had been invited to attend their reception that night.

Trouble breaks out in parliament

I wasn't at the scene when it all started. I arrived in front of the building some 30 minutes later, after the first wave of angry protesters had broken into the parliament.

When I arrived, I could sense some kind of tension floating in the air. Even as a journalist with 17 years of experience, I couldn't even imagine what kind of bloody incident was going to happen at that moment.

I remember I entered the building after the second wave of protesters stormed in. My journalistic instinct told me to go inside, as something big obviously was happening. In a second, I forgot about the fear, the danger, my personal security, and crossed the threshold.

I put my journalistic ID on my chest so it could be easily visible. Walking in, I noticed that the police hadn't put up a long fight trying to hold the crowd back.

Protesters were running around inside the parliament. Some of them went into the plenary hall where the VMRO-DPMNE's MPs were. Another police cordon in there separated the angry protesters from the oppositional MPs who were upstairs, in the press centre.

After a few attempts at stopping the protesters, the police gave up and let them go their way.  

Tanurov Macedonian Parliament violence "Whilst he was pulling me out of there, the protesters continued hitting me. Then another guy approached us, hiding my bloody face with a towel, and helped me to get out of the parliament." - Dimitar Tanurov. (Photo courtesy of Dimitar Tanurov)

Walking into the madness

In this whole period, I was following the crowd around. Filming them while they were storming the cabinets of the MPs.

I am going to kill them," I heard some protester shouting. But I thought, "just another empty threat."

At one point, I decided to see what was happening in the press room, since there was a big crowd. Once I entered there, I witnessed real chaos.

Protesters were throwing chairs and camera tripods at the MPs.

As I was recording them, an elderly person approached me and shouted, "Stop recording!" whilst trying to grab my phone. Before I even managed to walk away, another four people approached. One of them saw my press card, on which was printed Meta News Agency, and punched me whilst shouting, "Traitor!"

Before I even became aware, all five of them started hitting me with fists, whilst trying to take the phone out of my hands. I was numb, paralysed. I could not walk away.

Those seconds felt like minutes. And the next thing I remember was me lying on the ground. Me, down on the floor, and above me those guys constantly kicking me.

I don’t know how long that lasted, but in that chaos, which seemed like an eternity to me, I heard a voice. A guy came by and started yelling: "Let him go, he is my colleague and he is an OK guy!"

Whilst he was pulling me out of there, the protesters continued hitting me. Then another guy approached us, hiding my bloody face with a towel, and helped me to get out of the parliament.

I would like to thank those two brave men who helped me. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I would have gotten out alive. "Luckily" I ended up just with a concussion, but no broken nose or bones. I did not notice that they managed to steal my phone.

Even from today's perspective, more than a month later, I can't believe what has happened. I mean, it's not something that you see every day. So much anger and hate and desire to kill someone just because they have different political views from you – it's not normal. It should not be normal.

It was a scary experience that probably will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Reflections on the Macedonian media landscape

Working as a journalist in Macedonia (*) has never been easy. The situation is very bad. There is enormous pressure on media workers. Also, the polarisation in the journalistic circles is huge.

Just to paint a picture for you: I heard that some colleges who are working for pro-governmental media said I deserve what has happened to me. Can you imagine how immense the polarization is in Macedonian society, and among media workers, when someone can say something like that?

In-depth coverage of Macedonia

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For information on the ECPMF's fact-finding mission to Macedonia and more on the political and media-related situation in the country, read this article and the delegation's statement. Also, watch this space for the full mission report in June!

Political and business pressures are the biggest threat, as well as the corrupt judicial system. In a country where the judges are political peons, you can easily be wrongly prosecuted, punished and even sentenced to jail, just because you discover some scandal.

Also the low salaries lead some of the journalists into becoming easy targets for selling out. We have journalists working for minimum wage – even below the average salary in the country. For this situation, we cannot blame just political parties and the owners of the media; the editors are guilty as well.

Some of the editors have been misusing young journalists for ages, making them work for free or for an "allowance", with the excuse that it's how they will learn. With this practice, they set very low standards. Because of them and the way they treat journalists, we have a situation where journalists with a bachelor's degree are earning less than shop assistants. As a result, some of them, in trying to survive, betray our professional standards and sell themselves out to politicians, businesspeople, etc.

Thinking, talking about possible ways out, I must say that we can only change the situation if we have real and deep reforms in every segment of the country. We must engage in a real fight against corruption, initiate reforms in the judicial system, start practicing the rule of law, guide our country by the principles of modern democracy; only then can we expect changes in society and in journalism.

Elites are aware that if you control the media, you can set the narrative and control public opinion. Therefore, it is easier for them to corrupt the media than to implement all the necessary reforms.


(*) Note: Instead of using the UN’s provisional appellation "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", in coordination with our partners and in line with most European NGOs, in this article the country is addressed by its constitutional name – Republic of Macedonia, or simply Macedonia.



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