Todays Date
November 20, 2019

YOU AS WELL, (BRUTUS) SJO?

Writes: Aleksandar Krzhallovski

It is a pity that after a weekend with another successful D-festival in Dojran, another manifestation of our centuries-old Macedonian tradition at the Galichnik Wedding, another spectacular Wimbledon tennis final, we go back to our reality of corruption, crime, blackmailing and once again betrayed expectations, this time from the SJO.

And all this after the week of the case with the Russian pranksters and our prime minister, who after yesterday’s arrests, searched homes and televisions, seized phones of public prosecutors and many other things, looks distant and does not seem to be so important.
I hope that it will be so – soon to be forgotten as an unpleasant episode that will not disturb the relations with our neighbors and the countries that we strive for (EU and NATO) – but I do not think it will remain like that. The need of the prime minister to apologize for what he said to the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo suggests that the issue is not far from being so small and harmless as the government’s press service is trying to portray (that relations with other countries are not disturbed), that state secrets have not been given, or that only publicly expressed attitudes have been confirmed). And those presidents themselves, in addition to indicating that this could have been prevented, i.e. not happen at all (to have a telephone conversation with a president/prime minister, without elementary checking of the identity of the interlocutor), manifested the distorted confidence in their responses.
Thus, this case has at least two harmful consequences. One is precisely what the Government has built for a long time and emphasized as one of its greatest achievements – acquiring friendships with its neighbors and wider and regaining the impaired state’s reputation in the EU/NATO community. Neighbors have already reacted that they will look at such friendship with a reserve, which will be reduced to courtesy greetings, and more serious countries (including Russia) have decided not to react. I do not believe that this will affect the process of our membership in NATO (however it is primarily in the interest of NATO Macedonia to become a member, and there are only eight ratifications left in the national parliaments), but of course several “eyebrows will be raised” of important people in NATO, to our attitude to security, including the communications and treatment of information of a sensitive and confidential character. But I do not believe that this will remain unnoticed in our attempts to get a date for negotiations with the EU, i.e. that of course some countries will point this case as yet another proof of our unwillingness to achieve and adhere to the EU standards, and thus to start membership negotiations.
The second harmful consequence is further disturbing the confidence in the institutions of the citizens of Macedonia. Namely, the pranksters’ case showed the absence of elementary systems and checking procedures in the most important cabinet in the country – the prime ministerial. I assume that all of you, like me, receive an occasional mail (and lately sms) of spam messages for some lottery winnings, or large inheritances of some characters in Africa – which is so accidental, they just left us millions of inheritances, so we do not run out to give our data to unknown “new-found friends”. I am lucky to have good IT colleagues in my organization, so when some such messages more intelligently created (more sophisticated, much more modest than the millions in the legacy ones, such as participation at a United Nations conference in London), but of course for the purpose of communication and giving out personal or other sensitive information, these IT colleagues check and often determine that they are spam, that is, false messages or misrepresentation of certain persons. So when all such attempts are hindered where I work, it is astonishing that such a thing has passed in the prime minister’s office, where in addition to his, they should also take care of the security of all of us, including the protection of our communications. With this case, I believe, confidence is disturbed and probably will quickly be reflected in the following polls (both for trust in the institutions and the ratings of the parties that run them).

Speaking of confidence, let’s go back to yesterday’s dramatic events. I would not comment on the persons who were arrested yesterday, except that the fictitious characters of the journalist Branko Geroski begin to reveal. As I have already pointed out in some circles of organizations and institutions dealing with the fight against corruption, it seems that he with those few articles did more in that struggle than all those organizations (including mine, where I work) and institutions. Of course, if this case (and the other ones that are pointed out in those articles) end with the confirmation of the allegations and judgments.
A bigger problem is that although it is neither pointed directly, nor specific names are given, the investigation obviously goes in the direction of the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office (SJO) and indicates possible involvement in corruptive actions and abuse of the position/function and manipulation with sensitive information (especially illegally wiretapped private phone calls), including at the highest level (at least one or two prosecutors).
If the criminal involvement of some of the prosecutors of the SJO in this case (or in other cases) is confirmed, it will additionally disturb the trust in that institution, to the extent that its existence is likely to become pointless (and therefore the debate the prime minister also scheduled a leadership meeting on Friday for). And that confidence was already disturbed. From the initial over 60% confidence among citizens (high figures that only a few institutions across the years can boast of, such as the army, the police and religious communities), this year it fell to 44% (according to the MCIC survey), and according to other recent surveys up to 36%. The possible involvement in corruption will only continue this trend and will quickly bring the trust in the SJO to the level of the lowest ranked institutions such as the judiciary and political parties (which are traditionally between 20 and 30%).
Unfortunately, even more than that, it will “kill” the belief that it is possible to deal with crime and high corruption. It seems that a wise friend of mine (a former MP and a minister) who was skeptical of the SJO achieving the expected results even during its formation in 2015, assuming that Macedonia has no capacity to deal with high corruption, would be right. His logic was simple. If so much money has really been stolen (speculation went and still go from 500 million Euros, up to 5 billion Euros in the last ten years), those who stole them will do everything (for example, they will pay as much as they need) not to be convicted. With such figures, of 1.5, 5 and 8 million Euros, they look like “a small victim”.
Unfortunately, with such an end, which already seems certain, some of the biggest fighters against corruption already announce “packing suitcases” and leaving the country, with the words from the title of this text – you as well (Brutus) SJO?
In addition to the possible “seal of fate” of the SJO (whether with a political agreement of the parties or with a complete break of trust and delegitimization), this case may also affect the notable “negotiation date” we expect in October. Some might interpret it positively (a demonstration of the state and its judicial system to cope with high corruption), but I am afraid that for most (EU member states) this will be another reason to “wait in the waiting room” for a while.
Let’s see! And all this above might just be an unnecessary fear – as the investigation is still ongoing, isn’t it.

 

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