Macedonia: No Jail Time for Participants in Inter-Ethnic Violence

Participants in the violent inter-ethnic incident in February 2011, on Skopje Fortress (Kale), who were identified and subject to an investigation, have received a suspended sentence in a secret trial.

Hundreds of young and not-so-young men took part in the massive brawl, preceded by a night demolition raid led by ethnic Albanian government officials against a church-shaped construction built by the government body under the management of their ethnic Macedonian coalition partners.

Skopje Fortress Kale, photo by Yemc, via Wikipedia

Skopje Fortress Kale, photo by Yemc, via Wikipedia (Public Domain)

On August 22, the authorities announced that a trial would start soon, as the Public Prosecutor's Office submitted to the Court the accusations against 51 persons for participation in rioting and obstruction of the work of the police, after a four-month investigation. This was done through a statement relayed by a number of media outlets, including PlusInfo [mk]. According to Utrinski Vesnik [mk], this information was confirmed the day after by the Basic Court Skopje 1 Spokesman, Judge Vladimir Tufegdzic.

Even though a number of high-ranking government officials of the ruling DUI and VMRO-DPMNE directly and indirectly took part in the incident and the related events, including ministers, deputy ministers, mayors and other executives, the only political figure among the suspects noted by the media was Artan Grubi (more info at the end of this Global Voices post), who in the meantime participated in the June parliamentary elections as a candidate on the ticket of DUI.

On August 24, the court used the media [mk] to announce that it had already passed a sentence on August 17, the day the Prosecutor submitted the evidence and announced that the trial would start soon. The court decided not to hold a public trial and passed a suspended sentence of three months in jail for all adult suspects. A separate trial will be held for the six suspected minors. The practical meaning of the sentence is that no one will have to go to jail, unless they are convicted of another felony in the next two years.

The law allows the possibility of appealing the decision not to hold a public hearing through a complaint filed within a deadline of six days by some of the involved parties. The decision was made public after seven days, alsongside the information that no complaint had been filled by that time.

Even though this kind of a solution is allegedly allowed by the law, the fact is that the lack of a public hearing has robbed the Macedonian public of a proper closure and the official assessment did not cause an outcry. The ‘perfect timing’ during the holiday season and the complacency of most commercial media ensured that critiques of this obvious example of consensual political party influence on the judiciary, such as the one [mk] by Utrinski Vesnik journalist Gordana Duvnjak, remained lonely and obscure. She noted that the incident also resulted in bodily harm to four innocent passersby and two policemen, who did not have opportunity to partake in the decision-making process.

Blogger Neutralec (The Neutral Guy) was a rare voice who addressed [mk] this development, reminding of the aspect of hate speech spreading via social networks, which was a big deal in the media spin at the time, instigated by actors who had to prove their ‘patriotism’ to their prospective voters in the upcoming elections:

I personally find this decision scandalous, because there was no attempt to find the organizer [of the Facebook event] signed as Goce Solunski or the chief propagandist for the march on Kale, Sasha Petkovski – Karlos. (He was the organizer of the protests against the Greek army nationalist slogans [against Macedonians and Albanians], which took place in Skopje 15 days after that incident, after he “waited” to receive all necessary permits by the police. Citizens of Albania who protested the day after that news became public did not wait for permits of their police or a grand leader like that to organize them. Maybe that's why Albania is ahead of us.)

I still think that the Kale incident was perpetrated by the two ruling parties in order “to measure who has a bigger” rating, since their love at that time was “on glass feet”…

The fortress remains closed [mk] to the public. A recent announcement by the authorities, coinciding with outing of the news about the non-trial, speaks of re-building more new buildings [mk] within its premises alongside the controversial church-like museum [mk]: an Ottoman-style tower and a prehistoric house, which will reflect the multicultural heritage.


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