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Faux 'Treason' Warrants Further Poison Political Air In Skopje

Social Democratic lawmaker Pavle Bogoevski shared images on Facebook of two flyers that vilified him.

As Macedonia finds itself mired in political crisis and ethnically charged finger-pointing, the appearance of mock warrants accusing lawmakers critical of the former government of treason has added fuel to the fire.

The posters, which were plastered around the capital, Skopje, on March 15 and shared on social media, erroneously suggest that the politicians in question are "wanted for treason."

All of those targeted by the flyers were elected to parliament in December on the party list of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM).

They are accused by the leaflets' authors of "accepting bilingualism, federalization, changing the banknotes, anthem, flag, coat of arms, police and military uniforms, as well as the name of the country."

The Social Democrats have proposed introducing legislation giving Albanian the status of a second official language in all areas where Albanians make up more than 20 percent of the population in the landlocked Balkan state of around 2 million people.

President Gjorge Ivanov has withheld a mandate to form a new government from Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev despite the latter's successful negotiation of a coalition deal with three ethnic Albanian parties that would give them a parliamentary majority.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets to chant patriotic songs and inflammatory slogans -- including "Clean Macedonia!" -- and wave national flags in the two weeks since ex-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski called on supporters to "mobilize" and "defend the country."

Protesters are calling for new elections despite Zaev's coalition-building efforts following the December 11 vote, claiming that a government comprising Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties threatens the interests of ethnic Macedonians.

The critics suggest the language clause contravenes Macedonia's constitution.

Bilingualism in Macedonia has existed since 2008 -- although most agree it has not been thoroughly implemented.

Social Democratic lawmaker Pavle Bogoevski -- who was a prominent activist in the "Colorful Revolution" protests in early 2015, before he formally entered politics -- shared images on Facebook of two flyers that vilified him. He included his own modest wristwatch in one photo and alluded to corruption allegations that have plagued the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, saying, "Greetings from my 'Rolex.' This is what your 'activism' amounts to."

Another activist-cum-lawmaker and Social Democratic ally who was the object of flyers, Ivana Tufegdžić, wrote: "No need for warrants and lies, your lies have been exposed. Part of what you have written is already in practice, some of it will never take place..."

In a reference to the potential for criminal charges against former ruling officials, Tufegdžić added: "Save your money for the party, don't waste it in vain, you will need it for lawyers, money for bail, court, etc., you will answer for every crime."

Civil Media, a local NGO, condemned the flyers, saying they were "spreading hatred" during a very tense crisis.

Also on March 15, Milenko Nedelkovski, a TV host who is said to be close to the formerly ruling VMRO-DPMNE, posted on his Facebook account a photo showing a statue of Andon Kyoseto. Kyoseto was a controversial 19th-century Macedonian revolutionary who fought for the VMRO (whose name, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, is rooted in a rebel group formed in 1893) and assassinated its opponents. Nedelkovski included the addresses of prominent government critics across the image on Facebook and titled his post: "Spring 2017: Tour de Macedoine." He later appeared to have taken down the post.

Early this month, Borjan Jovanovski, a veteran reporter who has been a vocal critic of the last government, reported being spat at and called a "traitor" at a restaurant in Skopje.

Macedonia has languished in crisis since February 2015, when revelations emerged that the ruling VMRO-DPMNE had wiretapped thousands of people, including civilians, journalists, and political opponents. The revelations implicated Gruevski and other senior governing officials in serious accusations of abuse of office, including vote-rigging, media manipulation, and embezzlement.