Human rights activists have held three demonstrations this month in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, protesting the authorities’ failure to respond to several hate crimes in recent years. Macedonia has witnessed six violent attacks on human rights defenders and members of the LGBTI community in the last two years. Police have prosecuted no one for these crimes.
Despite some international support for the victims of these assaults, Macedonian officials and the local mainstream media have yet to take the matter seriously.
While these attacks cause consternation at home, the wave of violence also complicates Macedonia's road to integration in the European Union, where member states are expected to combat hate speech.
The European Commission's 2014 Progress Report for Macedonia, published on October 8, criticized the impunity with which people commit hate crimes in Macedonia, particularly against the LGBTI community. The report also cited a lack of public information about the laws Macedonian state institutions are supposed to enforce.
As regards the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, the violent incidents against the LGBTI Support Centre have not been repeated. Nevertheless, the perpetrators of these incidents are yet to be prosecuted. Considerable efforts are needed to increase awareness of and respect for diversity within society, and to counteract the intolerance perpetuated through the media and social networks. Data on the reporting, investigation and prosecution of hate speech and hate crime is not collected systematically and training of law enforcement, prosecutors and judges needs to be stepped up. The Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination still needs to be aligned with the EU acquis as it does not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
On October 23, two weeks after the publication of the EC Report, a group of masked hooligans assaulted a celebration organized by the LGBTI Support Center in Skopje's Old Town, wrecking a cafe and beating up the people gathered to celebrate. The LGBTI Support Center later demanded that the government publicly condemn the violence and punish those responsible, and representatives from the United States and several European nations are calling on Macedonian officials to pursue the case. The human rights groups Frontline Defenders and Amnesty International have also expressed support for the LGBTI Support Center.
On October 26, after Macedonia's biggest opposition party condemned the assault, the country's ruling party also publicly called on the state (which it currently controls) to bring the attackers to justice. The EU Delegation to Macedonia condemned the violence and even visited LGBTI Support Center's office in Skopje as a show of support.
It's been almost two months since the last violent attack on LGBTI community, but the authorities keep numb about the results of the investigation. On November 6, human rights activists held a protest in front of the public prosecutor's offices, demanding greater accountability. Several dozen protesters blocked the entrance to the office building, with banners in Macedonian and Albanian, asking “The investigation is pending… until when?!”
The authorities inside the building did not respond to protesters. After the demonstration, Nova TV journalists tracked down Marko Zvrlevski, Macedonia's chief public prosecutor. Zvrlevski told reporters that he was “not informed about how many attacks there were against LGBTI and when did they take place.”
The interview with Zvrlevski stands out as one of the few times that public officials went on the record about the LGBTI Support Center case. Most media outlets have ignored the story almost entirely.
To compensate for a lack of coverage in the traditional media, activists have tried to raise awareness about the case by demonstrating every week, each time escalating their acts of civil disobedience. On November 13, some demonstrators began lying down in front of prosecutors’ offices, wrapped in black sacks made to look like body bags. Attempts by unidentified persons to push the body-bag protesters out of the way have been unsuccessful.
On November 16, roughly 100 people marched through downtown Skopje seeking “tolerance, justice, liberty, and equality” as part of the annual March for Tolerance, also showing support to the LGBTI Support Center case.
On November 20, protesters gathered against in front of the prosecutors’ office. In an effort to shame officials into making some progress on the case, organizers played an audio recording from one of the attacks on the LGBTI activists. Another such protest took place on November 27.
On December 12, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee and the LGBTI Support Centre filed criminal charges for hate speech against two talk show hosts, whose shows often feature top Macedonian political figures as guests. Several media personalities and members of the government have responded with a homophobic smear campaign against their accusers, publishing articles like, “How the LGBT Minority Terrorizes the Majority.”