For an independent civil society in Macedonia

A plea following the smear campaign of the government towards JEF Macedonia

, by Christopher Glück

For an independent civil society in Macedonia

In the last weeks the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE scaled up attacks on civil society in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. JEF Macedonia and JEF Europe have been directly targeted by these attacks through the so-called Stop Operation Soros (SOS) movement.

Brussels, 16 February 2017

A few days after the December elections, former Prime Minister Gruevski gave a speech in front of the State Election Commission, threatening CSOs receiving funds from abroad, saying his party would fight for the desorosoisation. His party, VMRO-DPMNE, has also issued a press release statement with which it announced that “the desorosoisation process begins”. A few days after these statements, the SOS movement was founded by one of the editors of the state-run news agency MIA, Cvetin Chilimanov, one of the editors of the pro-government Republika news portal, Nenad Mircevski, and Nikola Srbov, a columnist for another pro-government news portal, Kurir. The movement, as the founders say, was created to “fight against one-mindedness in the civil sector, which is devised and led by George Soros”.

On Saturday, February 4, 2017, during its conference, the SOS founder Cveti Chilimanov called JEF Macedonia the “most controversial organisation” pursuing “deadly and dangerous policies of George Soros”. Furthermore, not all of the data presented was correct, hence indicating a potential manipulation of facts.

The European Youth Forum and JEF Europe consider a strong and independent civil society absolutely essential to a well-functioning democracy. We are close partner organisations committed to strengthening independent and active civil society organisations, and monitoring the governmental actions and thereby supporting an effective opposition to hold the government to account. The public attacks witnessed these last days on various NGOs in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and in particular on youth organisations including JEF Macedonia are a worrying trend we strongly condemn.

Political situation in Macedonia

Following the parliamentary elections on 11 December 2016 in which it could only secure a tight majority, the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE, led by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, encountered difficulties to form a new government. In a climate of instability and eyeing the possibility for his social-democrat rivals and their leader Zoran Zaev to take the lead, Gruevski started blaming civil society actors. He denounced the foreign interferences in national internal affairs, notably by directly threatening NGOs that receive funds from abroad, claiming they were corrupted and served foreign interests detrimental to Macedonia’s interests.1

Indeed, the movement “Stop Operation Soros”, created in January 2017 by pro-governmental actors can illustrate that attempt to undermine civil sector’s capacities to carry out their missions by banning the George Soros’ Open Society Foundation grants.2

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been undergoing serious political crisis for years as Gruevski is mired in a series of corruption scandals, protests, and charges of fraud in the electoral system and has been resisting the pressure from the streets during the massive public protests in May 2015 and during the colour revolution of April 2016.3,4

JEF Europe and JEF Macedonia are fighting for a free and united Europe, governed according to the principles of democracy and the rule of law, striving to ensure peace, prosperity, security and justice in Europe and in the world. Through their principles and actions, JEF Europe and JEF Macedonia are working towards a deeper European integration of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that would hopefully lead to its eventual accession as a full Member State.

We call on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia authorities to immediately stop this denigration campaign. The government must acknowledge the importance of civil society organisations for the democratic process and democratic quality of a society. We call on the European Commission to engage with the national government on this issue to secure the situation of NGOs in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Signatories:

Christopher Glück, President of JEF Europe Luis Alvarado Martinez, President of the European Youth Forum

References

1 Read more from: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonia-s-gruevski-gives-threatening-speech-12-17-2016

2 Read more from: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonia-forms-anti-soros-movement-01-18-2017

3 Read more from: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/southeastern-europe/2017-01-12/authoritarianism-macedonia

4 Read more from: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/world/europe/macedonias-political-parties-reach-deal-to-end-crisis.html?_r=0

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