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:
— Vladimir Petreski (@VPetreski) March 9, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Andreja Bogdanovski (@BogdanovskiA) March 6, 2015
— tania (@tanjatania) March 7, 2015
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.