Hate speech – explosive for 170 crimes and incidents in Macedonia
It is hard for Macedonian citizens to make decisions to report crimes or incidents committed by hate, due to fear of retaliation and distrust in the police and courts. The NGO sector has registered more than 170 crimes and hundreds of them have been caused by ethnic intolerance
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Hate speech like poison to people’s lives causes concern in Macedonia. A witness is the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights latest report, according to which in the period of January to December 2013 there were 116 crimes and incidents of hate recorded, and from February to May 2014 a total of 170. Even 97 were caused by ethnic intolerance. More worrying is that most of the perpetrators are juveniles, and victims and perpetrators are both Macedonians and Albanians.
Skopje, Kumanovo, Tetovo, Gostivar and Struga are critical spots where most of the incidents caused by hate speech have happened.
What is hate speech?
Whenever someone, because of prejudice of any nature (religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, moral or political views, social status, race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality), wants to belittle, upset, or cause violence, we warn that it is hate speech.
Prosecution: only one complaint in 2013
How many citizens, victims of hate speech, decide to seek justice in court is the question that arises after the Helsinki Committee published data on the committed crimes?
According to the Primary Court Skopje 1, the biggest in the country, in 2013 and 2014 there were no court procedures for crimes causing national, racial and religious hatred, discord and intolerance and violation of citizens’ equality.
“In this period, in October 2013 the prosecution filed only one subsidiary indictment for crime – violation of citizens’ equality. The judge who dealt with this case disagreed with the prosecution and gave a proposal the charge to be rejected. The Criminal Council accepted the proposal and dismissed the prosecution’s subsidiary indictment. Thus the victim in this case has undertaken the prosecution by himself”, they say from the Primary Court Skopje 1.
In the legal analysis of the professor, academician Vlado Kambovski, judge and the judge in the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska, it is written that in the Macedonian practice of detection and prosecution of hate crimes there is a lack of basic approach to their distinction as a special form of crime.
“There is not a particular observation and reporting, as well as statistics for hate crimes as there is in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia. The police do not keep separate records and in the criminal charges the existence of the motive of hatred is not noted and, if there are clear indications that the perpetrator acted with such impulses. Noticeable is the tendency to avoid or lenient qualification is given to obvious cases of inciting national, racial and religious hatred, discord and intolerance”, it is written in the analysis.
According to the conclusions that came from Kambovski and Lazarova Trajkovska the reasons for this include “the reserved attitude of court practice regarding the acceptance of the concept of hate crime through the independence of the judiciary, to the current constellation of political and international relations”.
European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECHR) pays great attention to the court cases pertaining to hate speech, but Macedonian citizens, as experts of the situations stress, do not seek justice in this court:
“The judgments of the ECHR are important for Macedonia as by the time one case reaches the court in Strasbourg years pass in proceedings before national courts. By then hate speech turns into resentment, tension, intolerance and violence. Otherwise, currently before the court against the Republic of Macedonia there are no such cases”, says Lazarova-Trajkovska for Inbox 7.
In the Helsinki Committee the situation with crimes and incidents caused by hate speech is assessed as extremely worrying. In their opinion, the most responsible for this are the state and political parties – they either do not take actions at all or do it incidentally and late – only when the action is taken to calm the passions after the crime has already happened.
“We have neither received nor seen representatives of the main political parties to stand shoulder to shoulder and call for passions to be calmed, especially between Macedonians and Albanians”, says Voislav Stojanovski, legal adviser in the Helsinki Committee.
Who is pouring oil to the fire?
Politicians are major “arsonists” in interethnic relations. This is Semi Mehmeti’s conclusion, a journalist who lives in Gjorce Petrov where the graduate Angel Petkovski was killed last week.
For Inbox 7 Mehmeti says that the statements of the PM Nikola Gruevski that he requires 62 MPs not to be conditioned by the Albanian DUI contributed a lot to ethnic and religious intolerance, not only in this municipality, but generally in the state. According to him, whenever interethnic relations go on the downside, then as a rule Albanians’ private property is destroyed, and they are minority in this municipality.
“Radical structures are motivated, encouraged by government policies and by some journalists who act and manifest anti-Albanian attitudes. That is why politicians and the media should have moderate vocabulary, to avoid major conflicts”, says Mehmeti.
He claims that with his own eyes he saw as part of citizens protesting the murder of Angel demanded the police to let them in Saraj to attack the Albanian population.
Dejan Nikolovski, journalist and owner of the web portal “Netpress”, who also lives in Gjorce Petrov, believes the incident has ethnic background.
“The main point is not the theft of the bicycle, but the way it was done. People used to steal at night, while others were sleeping. Then it is normal to expect that no one will see you. Today, it is done in broad daylight. Thieves steal scooters, bikes, cars…Then they blackmail citizens for a certain amount of money to give back the stolen stuff”, says Nikolovski.
He disagrees with Mehmeti that the protests in Gjorce Petrov were directed towards Albanians. As a witness to the events, he claims that after Angel’s murder, the residents of Gjorce Petrov protested peacefully until the moment when a larger group of people from different parts of Skopje joined the protests. Then, most of the residents of Gjorce Petrov retreated. According to him, the problem occurred when a larger group of young people wanted to go home and clashed with the police.
No trust when there is no resolution to the Smiljkovci Lake massacre
Smiljkovskoto Lake massacre, when at Easter in April 2012 five were killed, is one of the key moments due to which in Macedonia there is a growing number of accidents caused by hatred, they conclude in the Helsinki Committee.
The defendants are being tried for the crime of terrorism. The prosecution believes that this act is ethnically motivated – that the perpetrators of the crime deliberately chose Macedonians to send fear and insecurity among citizens and cause destabilization of the state.
Helsinki Committee believes that the long duration of court proceedings in the case of the five killed in Smiljkovci, and not punishing the perpetrators, would only aggravate the fragile interethnic relations.
“If there was a resolution of this case, citizens would gain confidence and know that if in the future such an event happened, Macedonian judiciary and other institutions are prepared to respond and tell us the truth about the events”, says Stojanovski.
Debar – town of coexistence
In the municipality Debar neither crime nor any incident based on hate speech was registered not just in 2013 but in previous years, too.
Mainly in Skopje, Kumanovo, Tetovo, Gostivar and Struga all incidents occurred caused by hatred, according to the Helsinki Committee report.
Mayor of Debar Ruzdi Ljata says that good ethnic coexistence in this municipality has its own history and residents jealously preserve this tradition.
“There is only one basis for that – religious tolerance. When there is religious tolerance, there is ethnic one, too. Therefore we, the people of Debar, preserve the tradition – we celebrate religious holidays together. The people of Debar have always been best friends with Gary or Lazaropole residents. Galicnik has always been a stepping stone for the merchants from Debar to Thessaloniki. In the past in Debar business partners were always two, one Macedonian and the other one Albanian. So it is today”, says Ljata.
Last year hate speech was especially worrisome when it comes to intolerance towards political opponents, people with a different sexual orientation. Human rights analysts warn about hate speech in the Nazi salute “Heil” and the use of Nazi symbols in the form of graffiti, drawn across Macedonia.