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Macedonia's Moment Of Truth?

  • Gordana Knezevic

A Macedonian police officer tries to remove red paint from his helmet's visor after protesters threw balloons filled with colored paint during an antigovernment protest in Skopje on June 6.

A Macedonian police officer tries to remove red paint from his helmet's visor after protesters threw balloons filled with colored paint during an antigovernment protest in Skopje on June 6.

This week is set to become a watershed for Macedonia's "Colorful Revolution." The political crisis that has gripped the country since last summer is coming to a head, and President Gjorge Ivanov has been forced into making a major concession to the antigovernment protesters.

In response to growing public pressure, Ivanov rescinded the controversial pardon issued to 56 government and party officials implicated in a corruption scandal -- but the Macedonian parliament rejected the protesters' demand for the president's resignation.

As RFE/RL's Macedonia unit chief, Zoran Kuka reported, the antigovernment protesters delivered an ultimatum on June 6 to the Macedonian authorities -- or the Skopje "regime," as they call the government of President Gjorge Ivanov. They demanded the unconditional repeal of the blanket amnesty issued for all those implicated in a wide-ranging investigation into corruption, electoral fraud, and illegal wiretapping. Most of those accused are government officials or their supporters. The pardon was widely denounced as an assault on the rule of law, and was the motive for the wave of protests.

The activists, or "colorful revolutionaries"-- referred to as such for their habit of spray painting government buildings and public monuments -- also demanded President Ivanov's resignation. They asked for an interim government to be appointed with the task of creating the conditions for a free and fair election.

For more than two months, thousands of citizens have taken to the streets every day in the capital, Skopje, and other major cities. The ultimatum was meant to "draw a red line," according to the message which the protesters delivered to the authorities on June 6. "This is a nonnegotiable deadline for the fulfillment of our demands, which are equally firm," the demonstrators said.

Swift Response

The response from the government has been swift. On the day of the ultimatum, the presidential pardon was revoked, although Ivanov will remain in charge.

The date itself is meaningful. Exactly five years ago, 22-year-old Martin Neskovski died after being beaten by a policeman at a political rally. The government was accused of trying to cover up this act of police brutality -- another example of its alleged disregard for citizens' rights, due process, and the workings of democracy. Five years later, the day has been chosen as the beginning of what government opponents hope will be a new era in Macedonia.

"Long live free and democratic Macedonia!" exclaimed one antigovernment protester, Demijan Hadzi Angelovski. Until now, the protesters have been gathering every day at 6 p.m. in front of the special prosecutor's offices in Skopje -- whose investigation was frustrated by the presidential pardon, leading to the popular outcry. Prior to the latest turn of events, the protesters had vowed to change tactics, calling for so-called guerrilla actions via social networks, the first of which was the blockade of major intersections in Skopje.

WATCH: Skopje Protesters Tangle With Police On June 6

It is unclear whether the revocation of the pardon will be enough to appease the opponents of the government gathered in the streets of Skopje. Moreover, if the investigation into corruption and wiretapping by state and party officials resumes, it will put more pressure on the government. In any case Macedonia is about to enter a period of political uncertainty, at least until a new election can take place. But this would be a welcome development, according to Stevo Pendarovski, a former adviser to the late Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and an opposition candidate during the last election.

"If Macedonia could make it through ten years of soft dictatorship, there is no reason why it cannot hang on for another month or so, so that we can attain our freedom by peaceful means," Pendarovski told RFE/RL.

Whatever happens, the next few days and weeks will likely prove crucial to Macedonia's political future. The country will either begin to reclaim its status as a regional poster boy for political and economic reform, or it will slide further into thinly veiled authoritarianism-- and further popular unrest.

About This Blog

Balkans Without Borders offers personal commentary on contemporary Balkan politics and culture. It is written by Gordana Knezevic, senior journalist and former award-winning editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, as well as the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016. The blog reflects on the myriad ways in which the absurdities of Balkan politics and the ongoing historical shifts and realignments affect the lives of people in the region.