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Leaked Wiretaps Appear to Confirm Election Fraud Suspicions in Macedonia

Front page of the Macedonia elections 2014 monitoring report "Democracy Disqulified" by CIVIL - Center for Freedom. (PDF)

Front page of the Macedonia elections 2014 monitoring report “Democracy Disqulified” by CIVIL – Center for Freedom. (PDF)

The Macedonian wiretapping scandal continues to shake the country's already fragile political scene. Since mid-February 2015, opposition leader Zoran Zaev and representatives of his Social-Democratic Party (SDSM) have held weekly press conferences during which they leak new excerpts from what they claim is a vast cache of surveillance tapes allegedly collected at the behest of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

The so-called “Seventh Bomb”, tapes that the opposition leaked during a March 6 press conference, seem to confirm allegations of electoral fraud during the 2014 elections. At the time, non-governmental organization CIVIL – Center for Freedom had observed “numerous irregularities, abuses and manipulations during the election campaign” while monitoring the vote, in which Prime Minister Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party claimed victory.

As with other independent voices who attempt to criticize the Macedonian government, CIVIL was the target of a negative propaganda campaign, which the organization took note of in their reaction to the revelations:

Despite pressures and threats, CIVIL kept on fulfilling its societal role and objective, and publicly presented all findings on the unscrupulous and large-scale abuse of institutions in an enormous electoral manipulation and fraud during the local elections in 2013, and during the presidential and early parliamentary elections in 2014.[…]

CIVIL held numerous press conferences and presented, in details, numerous irregularities, abuses and manipulations during the election campaign, the days of voting in the days after the elections. From these public presentations and final reports of CIVIL, the conclusion is that the elections in 2013 and 2014 are illegitimate, that the institutions are completely politicized, and media are controlled and under terrible pressure.

CIVIL – Center for Freedom expresses its indignation and utter condemnation of those responsible for this longstanding practice and once again directs the public to consider the reports, analyzes and recommendations published in 2013 and 2014.

Although international media outlets, including the Guardian, Radio Free Europe, and Deutsche Welle, have covered the story, the lack of coverage in mainstream media in the country itself is troubling and demonstrates the lack of media and political pluralism in Macedonia. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said that “press apathy over Macedonia wiretaps is symptom of failing democracy”.

Individuals like journalist Vladimir Petreski have pointed out the lack of resources and pressure that the few independent media and news services in the country are working with, adding to the pressure from the government in their work:

There has been evidence of the Macedonian government threatening some media with criminal charges and defamation lawsuits against media that embed the audio files, so it is not surprising that very few online media dare to post even transcripts of the leaked conversations. The very few exceptions include news portals like Libertas and online magazines like Okno.

One such leaked conversation refers to “production” of fake voters in critical districts, “imported” from the region of Pustec, a small portion of Albania inhabited by an ethnic Macedonian minority, or from smaller towns in rural Macedonia:

1. Разговор помеѓу Гордана Јанкуловска и Кирил Божиновски

КБ: Освен во случај ако не, ова им е една фаза од приказната, знаеш. Ама, не верувам, пошто тоа би значело дека ќе имаат докази. Па сега да кажат една вест, утре уште една, па задутре да извадат нешто, знаеш. Ама они шо може да извадат, што викаш, ова е затворено од пред 20 дена.
ГЈ: Абре Избирачкиот список е затворен.
КБ: Не знам дали се печати сега нешто во меѓувреме. Ова картиве сите се испечатени.
ГЈ: Види, знаеш….Да, да, да.
КБ: Колку што знам.
ГЈ: Тие им се испечатени, луѓево си ги имаат. Има една ризична работа, ама таа ја знаевме ние и затоа инсистиравме да дадат повеќе адреси Комитетиве. Како што знаеш, имаме по 50 души у стан од 40 квадрати. Е сега, тоа е.
КБ: Добро, ама тоа е. Они може да го видат сега тоа како адреса?
ГЈ: Може, тоа го пишува во избирачки список.
КБ: Аха.
ГЈ: Зашо, нели пишува адреса Кирил Божиновски, таа и таа адреса, број тој и тој.
КБ: Да, да, да. Е тоа може, да.
ГЈ: Ама, тоа е. Ние го знаевме. Ти знаеш и кога бевме кај премиерот, јас инсистирав да дадат Комитетиве адреси, ама Комитетиве не даваа.
КБ: Да, да, добро. Дадоа и поише, ама нема врска бе, нема врска. Мислам дека…
ГЈ: Тоа е сеа.
КБ: Како да ти објаснам, тоа е тоа. Ок.
ГЈ: Ок, ајде поздрав. Чао.

1. Conversation between [Minister of Interior] Gordana Jankuloska and [Secretary General of the Prime Minister's Cabinet] Kiril Bozhinovski

KB: Unless in case it does not, this is one phase of their story. But I don't believe they'll continue, they cannot find proof. They post one news story today, tomorrow another, the day after another, you know. But they cannot do anything because the case was closed 20 days ago.
GJ: Hey, the Electoral List is closed.
KB: I don't know if something is being printed in the meantime. But these [ID] cards are all printed out.
GJ: You see, you know… Yes, yes, yes.
KB: As far as I know.
GJ: They have been printed and given to the people. There's one risky thing, but we were aware of it and therefore we insisted for local committees to provide more addresses. As you know, we have 50 people ‘residing’ in 40-square-meters apartments. But, that's done.
KB: Okay, that's it. Can they check the addresses?
GJ: Yes, the addresses are in the Electoral List.
KB: Aha…
GJ: Because, the List contains the name, like Kiril Bozhinovski, address, number…
KB: Yes, yes, yes. That's possible then.
GJ: Yes. But we knew that. You know, when we talked to the Prime Minister, I insisted that the committees provide addresses, but they didn't.
KB: Yes, yes, OK. They gave more than that, but, never mind…
GJ: That's it now.
KB: How can I explain, that's done. OK.
GJ: OK, regards! Bye!

In another conversation from the same batch, the minister of interior talks about a “madhouse” at voting boots and refers to these fake voters as “homunculi”, the original term in Macedonian being “човечиња” and translating to “little people”, which she claims are “led by the hand” of their party handlers.

The language used by those speaking on the tapes is often full of derision, profanities and racist slurs. For example:

9. Разговор на Гордана Јанкулоска со Васил Пишев

ГЈ: Види, му кажав на Славе, таму кадешто мислите дека е тенко, не пишувајте записници, остајте простор за приговор, неаме контрола таму, остајте простор па после за уши циган по циган ќе ги вадиме…Сега мора така, оти затворени се избирачките места…Океј Васе…
ВП: добро, добро..

9. Conversation between [Minister of Interior] Gordana Jankulovska and [VMRO-DPMNE politician] Vasil Pishev

GJ: See, I told Slave [a common name in Macedonia], in places where you think [our lead] is slim, do not sign the reports, leave space for objections, we have no control there. Leave space for afterward, we'll drag the Gypsies by the ears one by one… We have to do it this way, the voting booths are closed now… OK Vase…
VP: All right, all right…

Referring to racists slurs, a Roma rights activist wrote an open letter to the minister, asking, “What kind of exam should you pass so we can be certain that there's no place for racists in the public administration of Macedonia?”

Official election monitoring missions of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) addressed only some of the issues with diplomatic language, even though the qualification “fair” was absent from their reports.

The 13 April 2014 presidential election was efficiently administered and the campaign was active.
The candidate registration process was inclusive and candidates were able to campaign freely.
Although fundamental freedoms were respected, bias media coverage and a blurring of state and party activities did not provide a level playing field for candidates to contest the election, contrary to paragraphs 5.4 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document and Council of Europe standards.

Some Macedonian Twitter users have taken to the social network to ask the OSCE whether it would retroactively update its assessments after hearing some of the leaked materials.

Macedonia's opposition continues to hold weekly press conferences, in which some of the alleged wiretap tapes are played. The entire conversations are then published on their YouTube channel.

Follow our in-depth coverage: Macedonians Demand ‘a New Beginning’

  • Gordana

    It is funny how you point to only one side of the story. A professional article should also include the statements from the govt. officials. At the end of the day – these alleged conversations are about only one of the 80 municipalities on the local elections in 2013 – the Municipality of Centar (Center of Skopje), where the opposition has won! It means – if there was a fraud – then the government parties would have won there! After all, the real scandal is WHO did the wiretapping? Who can monitor the talks of the Prime Minister, Minister of Interior, Minister of Finance, Head of the Secret Service? Did they do it themselves? That is ridiculous. Even if all this is true (that has not been proven yet) – the difference in the number of votes was over 200 000. It was admitted by opposition leader Zaev himself that they were not able to win the elections, no matter what. How come you don’t quote him?

    • Extra 280 000 phantom voters
    • The Dude

      Agreed, the govt. response should be a part of the article. That way we would be better able to see how ridiculous their claims are and how guilty they make themselves seem.

      The claim that who did the wiretapping is more important that what the recorded conversations contain is the most preposterous thing I’ve heard in a long time. That would only be true is the recording contained mundane conversations that are of no interest to the public and have no impact on the constitutional order of Macedonia. But as you know all too well, dear Gordana, the exact opposite is the case.

      The recordings are a long list of criminal conspiracies between some of Macedonia’s top elected officials. They are spiced up with the occasional evidence of generally unethical and unprofessional behavior among the highest echelons of the government. Some of these recordings cast doubt on the legitimacy of the elected officials participating in them, which is the very essence of “public interest”. When this is the case, the source of the recordings is absolutely of secondary importance.

      Allow me to continue refuting your propaganda-fueled arguments.

      “these alleged conversations are about only one of the 80 municipalities on the local elections in 2013 – the Municipality of Centar (Center of Skopje), where the opposition has won! It means – if there was a fraud – then the government parties would have won there! ”

      The opposition candidate won DESPITE the election fraud, not because of it. This is apparent to anyone listening to the recordings, particularly the one between Gruevski and Janakievski in which Gruevski says “If we had those people from Prespa, we would have finished the job”. If anything, the recordings show that VMRO-DPMNE was so far from victory in Centar, that not even gross electoral fraud could get them the votes necessary to win.

      “Even if all this is true (that has not been proven yet) – the difference in the number of votes was over 200 000. It was admitted by opposition leader Zaev himself that they were not able to win the elections, no matter what.”

      First, the authenticity of the conversations might not have been 100% confirmed by audio analysis professionals, but conversations as fluent and insightful as these are so difficult to fake, that we can be pretty much certain that they are as authentic as they seem to the ear of a layman.

      Second, if the opposition leader admitted that they would have lost the elections anyway, does that justify the electoral fraud? That’s like scoring one legitimate goal over the opposing team in a football match, then scoring two illegitimate goals and claiming that those two illegitimate goals don’t matter because they would have lost anyway. If the elections were fraudulent (and they were) it doesn’t matter who won because they were illegitimate and therefore not real elections. No one can claim with certainty what the real result would have been had the elections been fair. If VMRO-DPMNE is so certain of their superiority, perhaps they should allow the government to organize real elections for once and prove that they can indeed win fair and square.

      Finally, I’d like to get back to the whole “Who done it!” deal. In a debate, we often use Ocam’s Razor to evaluate the the more probable of two competing claims. This principle suggests that the claim that requires fewer assumptions is more likely to be true. I will now examine all the inconsistencies and convoluted assumptions that the Macedonian government is using to support their fragile claim.

      The official position of the Macedonian government is that the recording were made by “a foreign intelligence service” (CLAIM 1) in cooperation with Macedonian moles in the Macedonian intelligence service (CLAIM 2), who were financed by opposition leader Zaev (CLAIM 3). According to an “independent expert report”, they used “tactical wiretapping equipment” and “mobile cloned base stations” that drove around the center of Skopje for years in order to record these conversations (CLAIM 4). They then handed them over to opposition leader Zaev who somehow compensated them (CLAIM 5). This foreign intelligence service needed these recording so they could, so to speak, get the lay of the land, or as Gruevski said it “so that they could discover who did what inside Macedonia’s public institutions and how these officials related to one another” (CLAIM 6). They also claim that not all the conversations are true and that their authenticity should be proven in court (CLAIM 7). The use of the ambiguous word “created recordings” in official govt. statements is also interesting and worth examining.

      Refutations:

      CLAIM 1: The govt. has consistently avoided answering questions regarding the identity of this “foreign intelligence service”. Did the Germans did it? Was is the Americans? Or perhaps the Russians? Who knows! It is convenient for them to keep this claim as vague as possible so they won’t get bogged down by any specifics. If they actually put the blame on a specific foreign intelligence service, they would have to deal with the response of that intelligence service, which would make this claim seem even shakier than it does right now.

      CLAIM 2: The police got a “confession” from one of these moles and sentenced him to time in prison all in a single day. Talk about an efficient judiciary! That’s the only evidence they have for this claim. If the recordings are any indication of how the police and judiciary in Macedonia operate, I would find such a rushed confession difficult to believe. With the pressure the police must have gotten to get a confession from this poor guy, I’m sure they could have made him confess to just about anything.

      CLAIM 3: There is no evidence that Zaev financed such an operation. None. Also, is this foreign intelligence service so poor that they can’t even pay for their own operations in a small country like Macedonia?

      CLAIM 4: Can we see this “independent expert report”? Of course we can’t. It doesn’t exist. Real experts have already shown that the technical explanation provided by Gruevski is so unlikely to result in so many recordings while remaining unnoticed by local authorities that it might as well be impossible. Here’s one expert testimony in Macedonian that explains why: http://a1on.mk/wordpress/archives/456582 In comparison, the likelihood of wiretapping by the Macedonian intelligence service with the help of the Macedonian telecom operators is much greater because it makes fewer assumptions. The only thing the Macedonian intelligence service had to do was make the demand and assure the telecom operators that they would not be exposed or prosecuted for breaking the law in this manner (an easy task with the current state of the police and the judiciary). I’m sure threats/incentives were also used against anyone who resisted.

      CLAIM 5: Again, no evidence has been presented that Zaev bought information from any foreign intelligence service.

      CLAIM 6: This information is so basic that even the interns at all the embassies in Skopje have it. If a foreign intelligence service wanted to tap phones, it wouldn’t be sofor a “Who’s who of the Macedonian government”.

      CLAIM 7: The only conversation Gruevski gave as an example of being true is a conversation he heard retold in a private meeting with Zaev. This conversation was mundane and contained on evidence of wrongdoing. I’m sure the fair and just courts of Macedonia will conclude that only the boring conversations with no criminal conspiracies are true (so Zaev can still be prosecuted for espionage) and that all the ones that do point to criminal activities are false (so everyone involved can stay out of prison). A little too convenient, don’t you think?

      Additionally, the word “created recordings” is used so that the government can imply that these conversations are false, even though Gruevski admited on multiple occasions that some are true. Both claims contradict the other govt. position that “the courts should rule on their authenticity”. On one hand, they want the courts to make the call, while on the other, they are making the call themselves in the way it suits them best.

      When we pit all these convoluted, contradictory and badly supported claims against the simple claim that the Macedonian intelligence service did the wiretapping with the assistance of the Macedonian telecom companies on the behest of VMRO-DPMNE’s top brass, it quickly falls apart.

      Finally, even if the wiretapping can be blamed on a foreign intelligence service, the Macedonian intelligence service is still to blame for not discovering them before the scandal was made public by the opposition.

      But as I said in the beginning, all this is of little relevance when the content of the recordings points to the gross disregard of the current Macedonian government for the country’s constitutional order. Please stop derailing the conversation from what’s really important and stop making excuses for the inexcusable!

      • Filip Stojanovski

        The persons on the tapes who are still in the Government refuse to comment on the contents of the leaked tapes. That’s about the sum of “their side of the story” in all cases. When directly asked in that regard by journalists, the Prime Minister replies something like “I already answered that question.”

        The people who are not in the Government, but who have been subject to this surveillance or have been mentioned in the conversations, mostly confirmed the authenticity of the tapes. This includes over 20 prominent journalists, who were given their leaked files. Here’s a testimony by one of them.

        http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/blog/my-secret-service-diploma-shows-what-macedonia-has-become

  • mladen

    No,Gordana(Jankulovska?)You are telling us “unisono” story which we hear from the government officials involved in the scandals and which are telling the same story like you. So, at the end of the day….even one fraud is a criminal and braking of law and it is not the matter who won, but who corrupt the law and elections.Secondly, you are trying to say that it is more important who made a book cover instead of the content of the book?And the content is an endless number of abuses of our Constitution and law done by government officials.By the records we can hear how the Prime Minister,The Chef of state security(a cousin of the Prime Minister),Minister of Finance(Godfather of the Prime Minister) the ministries and other officials are suspending the state institutions and transforming it to the headquarters of the ruling party. So, it is not about the numbers, but it is about respecting the law,moral,ethics and social responsibility by all of us in this country.

    • peter7260

      Mladen & Danica Radisic, Don’t you wonder why there is no Zaev wiretapped in any of these conversations?How about to hear Zaev and the conversation he had with the mayor of Karpos?How about the 8,000,000 euro from Global?How about the latest 200,000 euro bribery in Strumica by Zaev?
      Do you think,Zaev is to be trusted to govern the Republic of Macedonia?
      I think Zaev will sell the country as he does today to a foreign interests.
      As for the author of this one sided and misleading piece of trash paid by Soros
      Danica Radisic I have no respect of her comments because she does not follow the conduct of good ,impartial reporting.There is no respect for the truth in this piece as well as the last I have read.Danica,you asked me to support my comment to you,you are a journalist do report impartially so people can respect your news worthiness.

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