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Macedonia: Police Raid & Roma Riot

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Macedonia, Digital Activism, Economics & Business, Ethnicity & Race, Law, Politics, Protest

On April 15, market inspectors and special police forces in full riot gear raided a textile market in the Skopje municipality of Šuto Orizari [1], aka Šutka, inhabited predominantly by ethnic Roma. The subsequent protest escalated into a full-scale riot that included an exchange of stones and shock bombs.

According to the official announcement [2] [MKD] by the Ministry of Interior, the purpose of the law enforcement action was to assist the Coordination Body of the Government of Republic of Macedonia for Protection of Intellectual Property in seizing counterfeit branded clothes. The announcement published with the title “No excuse for yesterday's hooliganism” and subtitled “All involved will be identified and brought before the face of justice,” starts with the following:

The Ministry of Interior Affairs condemns all attempts to find any kind of excuse for yesterday's violent and rowdy behavior by a group of citizens in Šuto Orizari, which involved an attack on the police officers using stones and other objects.

Instead of defense and apology, primarily to prevent generalization of the bad image to the whole Roma population, the Ministry expects all the responsible persons and concerned citizens to aid in the identification of the perpetrators of the disruption of the public order and peace, through the attack against the police which resulted in 16 injured officers and damage to four vehicles and other ministry equipment.

The police also informed that immediately after the incident their Internal Control Sector conducted an investigation about the level of force applied and concluded that:

…police officers engaged in the implementation of the action acted within the limits of their competences.

So far the Sector has received no complaints or depositions against the police officers, and no injuries were reported by the citizens.

According to Shpic daily, shopkeepers complained that non-branded merchandise (such as white underwear) was seized also, and that “more than 40 residents of the settlement were injured, but were afraid to go to hospital.”

Considering the police announcement, it is not surprising that very few citizen videos from the scene were published online. YouTube users who wanted to draw the attention to the incident republished clips [3] from TV news, which compared the incident to confrontations in Gaza or Beirut.

Immediately after the incident Kimi, a right-wing blogger, started a discussion portraying [4] [MKD] the police as victims of one-sided beating:

…how should the police react to avoid being beaten, in order to solve the situation with the Roma [sic] in this state (the NGOs protecting them have not made announcements yet)?

Tell me in which state it is legal to sell smuggled branded goods?

PS Someone might object and attack the police when they arrest drug dealers, because those people are also pitiable, and earn their daily bread.

Dozens of bloggers commented on this post, including Barabbas [5], who wrote:

Kimi, are you kidding? Did you watch the news, the clips?
Special forces against the paupers? How come the special forces do not go to Kondovo or Arachinovo when the electricity is cut [to those who do not pay the bills], for instance?

This is a classic show of force – to rule with an iron fist!

…and, filipko [6], who responded to the actual question:

…Smuggled branded goods are not sold in the states where
– the state apparatus is small and efficient
– the state apparatus does not hang like a stone around the neck of the industry
– the state apparatus helps the economy, creating the conditions for conduct of legal business
– the state apparatus is not stuck up to their necks in bribes and corruption
– the state apparatus is not a place to provide employment for political party apparatchiks

In such states it is legitimate to show force to implement laws.

Referring to a recent scandal [7] [MKD], Oggiedoggie added:

Imagine a country where a high-ranking police official can wear a branded fake watch! Without a care in the world.

Let me know if there's a state where such a thing is legal?

A group of Roma activists used Facebook to invite people for a protest march [8] [MKD] against the discrimination of the Roma, starting from Šuto Orizari to the seat of the Government [9] and then to the seat of the Delegation of the European Union [10]. The event page also served as a place for discussion between people who oppose the protest and support the actions of the police, and protest supporters from all ethnic communities. Enisa Eminovska explained the reason for the protest:

Unemployment within the Roma ethnic community is 73%, as opposed to 31% among the Macedonians and 27% among the Albanians! 63% of Roma live bellow the official poverty line.

This should have been solved before closing the Šutka market! All the governments in the last 10 years tolerated the market because it enabled Roma people to maintain a bare existence. How come they decided to “fix it” with 1 hour of beating, without tackling the issues I mention above.

The protest took place on April 20, gathering [11] [MKD] “several hundreds” students and other citizens.