On Monday, Dec. 24, the Macedonian capital Skopje was shaken by a violent protest – and a counter-protest – related to the Parliament's approval of the 2013 state budget (en, en).
Youth Radio MOF provided this short summary [mk]
1. The direct motive for the outburst of (institutional and physical) violence was the opposition's blocking of the adoption of the budget in the Parliament, which was conducted through the submission of numerous proposed amendments, a method previously perfected by a junior government partner […]. The opposition proposed a plan of saving EUR 240 million planned for unnecessary expenses and luxury. [The total budget is EUR 2.7 billion.] They also announced the withdrawal of the amendments if the government accepted their saving proposal. The ruling party, however, claimed that by blocking the budget, the opposition was ruining the state and denying funds for the pensioners, social welfare cases, farmers, students, artists… Both sides did not budge, and several protests against the opposition took place in the past few days, demanding its leader to leave politics…
The proposed cutting of expenses mainly referred to the new construction within Skopje 2014 project, which earned the city the title of the “Kitsch capital of the Balkans” in the international media, thanks to a widely circulated AP story (en, ro, also it). One of the counter-protests included “the artists,” organized by the government-appointed directors of Skopje's Macedonian-language theaters, ballet, and national folk ensemble. When asked if it was normal for a theater that was supposed to require EUR 4.5 million to actually receive EUR 27 million, with additional EUR 10 million budgeted for 2013, Jelena Zhugic, director of Theater “Comedy” replied [mk]: “Milk and honey also did not flow in the streets of France when they were building their castles.” Social network users quickly drew comparisons with the the infamous pre-French Revolution quote: “Let them eat cake.”
Radio MOF explanation continued:
2. Last weekend, the Assembly President Trajko Veljanovski returned the budget to the PM's Cabinet, which urgently adopted it with slight modifications, and returned it to the Assembly. It bypassed the Finances and Budget Committee, and was placed directly to a plenary session instead. This set a precedent which the opposition deemed “contrary to Constitution, Rules of Procedure and the laws.”
Bloggers TheRealPsmst and Goran Arsov concurred, quoting [mk] the Rules of Procedure and other relevant legislature [mk]. Radio MOF concluded:
3. Supporters of the government and the opposition announced protests in front of the Parliament at the same time. The tense atmosphere with the police buffer in between, both groups exchanged insults and projectiles (stones, eggs, apples, [potatoes]). Around 20 protesters and 11 policemen were injured.
One of the government MPs was videotaped [mk] defiantly marching behind the police cordon, making obscene gestures at the protesters and yelling, “Die! Die!”
Meanwhile, inside the Parliament [sq], the security detail threw out the resident journalists, and most of the opposition MPs who tried to physically block the upcoming session. Three of them ended up in hospital [mk]. Then, the new budget was passed with 65 “yes” votes and 4 “against,” out of 123 MPs. The protest dispersed after the news of the adoption of the budget, except for a lone young man who undressed in front of the police and was arrested, unlike a police-approved government supporter.
The unrest in the Parliament included a serious denial of freedom of expression, which some international media covering the events of the day (en, en) have failed to mention.
NGO Civil–Center for Freedom has strongly condemend the violence against citizens, their parliamentarian representatives and journalists [en, mk, sq]:
Chaos and violence took place in Macedonia today. Officers of the security in the Macedonian Parliament acted in an unspeakable manner and physically attacked people’s representatives of the opposition, beating and dragging them through the corridors.
Before the eyes of the Macedonian public and the world, all rules and principles of democracy, the Constitution and the laws have been suspended.
Government officials and the parliamentary majority, security and police authorities, as well as officers of these structures who acted violently must immediately apologize to the Macedonian citizens and take responsibility for their actions.
The Journalists’ Trade Union protested [mk], and the Association of Journalists of Macedonia issued the following statement [en, mk, sq]:
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia strongly condemns today's incident in the Parliament, where journalists were forcefully expelled from the “gallery room” from which they were following the plenary session. With this act, the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of expression and media freedom, was grossly violated.
The authorities who gave the orders for this shameful act have formalized censorship and decided what must and what must not to be reported by the journalists. The forcibly evicted journalists did nothing to cause the reaction of the security, nor was there a legal basis for their removal.
We were removed in order not to witness the removal of the opposition MPs from the sessions. This is a case that should not go unpunished.
For these reasons, the Board of AJM stops all the negotiations with the government until the return of the constitutional order in Macedonia, and until the perpetrators and the authorities of this shameful behavior are not identified and punished according to the law.
AJM will use all the legal mechanisms to protect the freedom of expression and media freedom. Also, we will alert the domestic and foreign public about these events in the Parliament.
The mood on the social networks was grim during the day and in the evening, with people expressing disappointment and disgust. A representative pessimistic blog post is listing reasons “Why I would immediately leave this country” [mk].