The serious mistake of high officials (among other Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski) is their decision to treat religious issues as state matters and to use their office for lobbying in favor of the Macedonian Orthodox Church during official visits and talks with foreign statesmen.
One of the important elements of discrimination based on religious beliefs and convictions has to do with the insertion of the MPC in the Constitution of The Republic of Macedonia. Based on this concession, there are claims (as for example recently and clearly stated by Nikola Gruevski, president of the VMRO-DPMNE) that the status of the MPC is guaranteed by the constitution, which should guide all other legislation in this field. This way, the part of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia regulating human rights and freedoms, instead of securing freedom of choice actually provides freedom to establish privileged position of a certain religion, and certain belief, respectively. With constitutional changes based on the Ohrid Agreement, article 19 of the Constitution now mentions five religious groups, while others are guaranteed equal status. This new compromise clearly demonstrates lack of basic understanding of the meaning of the freedom of belief and creates confusion that has far reaching consequences for many legal and other solutions.
In practice people in Macedonia have very little freedom regarding the choice of their beliefs. Pressures range from most basic (question of identity), to daily, but no less important pressures (such as employment, political affiliation, education). An individual is prevented from acting individually. Instead, he or she is forced into their respective "herd", the only framework within which they can be appropriately evaluated and recognized.
(the author is the president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights)
by Nikola GRUEVSKI
I am fully aware that in the past year the authorities had very little reason for satisfaction. Moreover, the year was so bad that the country has backtracked in connection with many important problems. Unemployment has increased, so that currently it is highest in Europe; the rate of poverty has also drastically increased, reaching 34 percent, which means that every third resident of Macedonia survives on less than 150 denars a day; state debts have also drastically increased; reforms have remained merely pretty wishes and stories used to buy more time; democratic development, human rights and selective application of law have gotten worse; briefly - and I can continue for a while - the list is long. Consequently, reports from Brussels were unfavorable and the authorities kept postponing the date of application for the EU membership. At the same time, even though they claimed otherwise, the authorities did nothing to improve the situation.
In any case, I expect that the submission of the membership application will have to wake up the authorities from their deep slumber, which they are trying to "sell" to their citizens for reality. The authorities must wake up, or go. They will get increased monitoring and expectations, as well as pressure from the public to finally start working. It is not enough to want to join the EU; we need concrete deeds, work and results. All other countries have passed or will soon pass us on this path.
At the moment the situation is bad. We are witnessing a speedy construction of an off-shore zone in the western part of Macedonia. A lawyer told me recently that he had been getting numerous requests from ethnic Macedonians to set up fictitious companies with headquarters in the villages of Dzepiste, Vejce, Sipkovica, or any other mountain village with ethnic Albanian majority (and with a lot of "commanders" and extremists, if possible), where mixed police patrols take a peek from time to time through binoculars from secure distance; it does not even occur to state inspections to set their foot in these villages and check up on all those registered "companies". In these zones business is conducted as if the company is registered in Virgin or Cayman islands.
Outside these zones everyone has the obligation to respect law and is afraid of (normal) legal sanctions. Moreover, if you have contacts within local authorities or with a "commander" from the BDI (which can easily be done after brief negotiations, provided an appropriate offer is at hand), you can smile watching the Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs (Police) acting out "the rule of law" in the territory where those who do not respect laws are subject to theatrical arrest or inspection raids, demolition of illegally constructed buildings, showdowns and public interrogations of former defenders [war veterans], public lynching of political opponents in the media, confiscation of a few bottles of smuggled hard liquor from "inexperienced and badly informed smugglers" etc.
In the meantime the revenues for 2003 are below the plan (even after two adjustments of the targets for this year) by at least 6 percent, while the shortfall for November is even greater, including VAT, personal taxes, customs duties etc.
At the same time it has become the rule in the country that if one of the abovementioned villages (and those like them) decide to do something, they do not need a permit from the authorities, nor do they need to respect law, nor do they require a meaningful explanation or justification for their actions. Two such examples are the para-university in the village of Mala Recica near Tetovo, and now the construction of an open heart surgery clinic in Tetovo. Both of these projects are filed in government papers under "private entertainment".
The former started in 1994, when Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski sent special force police to Mala Recica and tried to convince the whole nation that he would never recognize that illegal project. Of course, he never found an appropriate solution for the higher education of ethnic Albanians. That was resolved only with the opening of the so-called Stoel's university in Tetovo in 2000, funded by the EU countries. At the time the self-declared rector of the illegal university and other expensive "shows" were on offer. Today, without any attempt to offer appropriate explanations, saying that that is a political decision, the university in Mala Recica will become legal and, even worse, will become a state university, funded by taxpayers and those to whom it hasn't occurred to set up a company in Dzepiste.
Of course, it is great that more ethnic Albanians will graduate from college and will become productive members of the society, but this way they will not learn the meaning of the rule of law; instead the lesson they will learn is that anything can be done with a bit of force and these key ingredients: start with violence, stick to ethnic arguments, apply political pressure and threaten destabilization. Such a formula always works.
The new "pet project" will end up similarly. The open heart surgery clinic that is being built hastily will one day, sooner or later, be accepted as a state institution. If such a building were being built in Karpos 2, it would be demolished after 10 days, investors would be arrested and shamed in front of the whole country. In this case also, I do not have a problem with anyone building a private clinic provided they respect all standards and legal procedures, but in this way they are only confirming that Macedonia is a disorganized state with incompetent and powerless authorities that control only part of the state territory and selectively apply laws.
Let me mention another "pet project" - the occupation of the "Tetovo tobacco" office building by the paramilitary forces and its conversion to "a student hall of residence". And there are many others.
Even with the submitted membership application this government will for a long time make no progress unless it puts a stop to selective application of law and lenient treatment of a segment of the population that is compensated for by the brutal treatment of the other segment of the population; unless it stops being inefficient and stop putting off the showdown with terrorist groups in the country and creates the same order and rule of law in all former crisis regions. A difficult beginning is most often much more useful than an easy start.
By consistently making concessions the authorities will form expectations and habits among the local population. As time goes by it will become increasingly difficult to modify these expectations and habits, which will in turn create more (instead of less) tension between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians. On the other hand, the same situation will create a feeling of injustice among ethnic Macedonians, it will irritate and frustrate them. On top of poverty, unemployment and lack of perspective, these steps, situation and "political decisions" are adding to an even bigger humiliation. And the people have had enough of lies and incompetence of the government and its "pet projects".