Macedonia: Press Demand End to Beatings
More than 500 Macedonian journalists - blowing whistles and wearing T-shirts proclaiming "Here we are, beat us!" - paraded outside the interior ministry in Skopje last week to protest over political intimidation of the media.
The September 30 demo came in response to some 40 cases of violence against journalists - by police and criminals working for politicians - over the past three years. What finally sparked their rage was the savage beating of Zoran Bozinovski, editor-in-chief of Radio Tumba in Kumanovo, a town 30 km north of Skopje, the previous week.
Three heavily disguised men armed with guns, metal bars and baseball bats forced their way into the station on September 25 while Bozinovski and another journalist were hosting a live programme. They started hitting the former over the head with a gun butt and dragged the latter out of the studio with a pistol pointed at his face.
Bozinovski was rushed to hospital with concussion, three broken fingers, serious facial injuries and a cracked bone in one arm.
"Their leader wore a hat jammed low over his faced but I recognised him, "Bozinovski later told IWPR. "It was Goran Trajkovski - Tajto, a member of the Lions police unit. I dragged one of the men down to the floor and tried to protect myself from the blows."
The Lions are a paramilitary police unit set up by the former ruling VMRO-DPMNE, and appears to be continuing to act on behalf of the party despite its defeat in the September 15 election. "They attacked us because we carried stories about (alleged) corruption and criminal activity by VMRO-DPMNE local authorities," Bozinovski said.
A storm of protest from the public, journalists' associations and international orgnisations, including the OSCE and NATO, led to the arrest of Tajto on September 27. An investigating judge in Kumanovo charged the suspect - who claimed he was on guard duty at a police barracks close to Skopje at the time of the attack - with criminal wounding and remanded him in custody for 30 days.
Saso Colakovski, secretary general of the Journalists Association of Macedonia, said the Bozinovski incident prompted last week's demonstration, "The attack against our colleague finally snapped our patience and we call on the authorities to stop this ugly, dangerous practice."
Robert Popovski, a member of the association's executive board, said, "We will keep protesting until we receive adequate protection. The authorities must leave the journalists to do their job. This protest proves that there are now journalists here who are prepared to stand up to protect their colleagues."
The list of attacks against the press is long. Journalists beaten by police include Branko Gerovski, Marjan Gurovski, Nikolce Mladenov, Atanas Sokolovski, Fatos Musliu, Spase Suplinovski, Sonja Kaziovska, Mare Stoilova, Simon Ilievski, and Nina Kepevska. Snezana Lupevska was kidnapped by Albanian rebels.
Thugs, many of them thought to be working for politicians, have broken into the offices of A1 TV in Skopje, TV Vis in Strumica, Radio Kanal 77 in Stip, TV 21 in Veles, TV Era in Skopje and TV Kiss in Tetovo, destroying equipment and issuing threats.
Crimes against ethnic Albanian journalists usually go unreported. Lirim Dulovi, deputy editor of the Albanian language daily Fakti, told IWPR that Macedonian language media usually ignore them.
"The worst attack was when a police armoured car fired a machine gun at the Fakti office in Tetovo in April 2001. Journalists were in the room, but fortunately nobody was hurt," he said. "Fakti reporters have also been arrested for no reason and brought in for questioning."
In addition to violence, both Macedonian and ethnic Albanian journalists face pressure from politicians representing their communities. The latter say the sort of coercion they experienced from Albanians who served in the ruling coalition with VMRO-DPMNE is worse than anything their Macedonian colleagues have endured.
Iso Rusi, editor-in-chief of the Albanian language weekly magazine Lobi in Skopje, cited the case in which Fakti's editor-in-chief refused to print a statement by the politically powerful Menduh Thaci - a senior official in the former government party the Democatic Party of Albanians - because of his harsh criticism of Muslim clergy. Rusi said Thaci "lost his mind" and ordered the information ministry to drastically cut state funds for Fakti.
Zoran Bojarovski is deputy editor of the Skopje magazine Forum.