Protesters of the ‘Colorful Revolution’ in Macedonia claim they won’t be intimidated by the police announcement that they would press criminal charges against the bravest among them. According to experts, the charges are illegal from several aspects.
The protests against impunity and corruption are non violent, but not passive, and include marches, performances, and throwing paint at objects that symbolize the impunity and corruption of the regime. Under the Macedonian law, such ‘painting’ is considered a misdemeanor, with a fine of 50 Euros (58 Dollars) in case a uniformed policemen or sanitary inspector catches the perpetrator in the act. Contrary to the law, the police had been calling people suspected of painting for questioning. Protest supporters consider this a form of intimidation, which in fact fueled their anger and increased their numbers.
On Friday, June 3, the police increased the pressure by announcing pressing criminal charges for 7 protesters in Skopje, and 26 in Bitola. This gives the situation much higher level of gravity – if the public prosecutors approve investigations under such charges, they may involve arrests, detention and possible prison sentences.
The pretext for these charges is “participation in a mob about to perform a criminal act” with the acts being “damaging cultural heritage objects.” The objects in question are the Ministry of Culture building and the Triumphal Arc in Skopje, and “property damage” in Bitola.
Единицата за насилен криминал при СВР Скопје до Основното јавно обвинителство Скопје поднесе кривични пријави против седум лица поради основан сомнеж дека учествувале во толпа што ќе изврши кривично дело. Кривични пријави се поднесени против лицата П.Б., М.З., И.М., С.С.К., А.Г. и Н.П. од Скопје и А.К. од Охрид.
The Violent Crimes Unit of Skopje of the Internal Affairs Sector in Skopje submitted criminal charges to the Basic Public Prosecutor against seven persons suspected of participation in a crowd about to commit a criminal act. Criminal charges are pressed against the persons P.B., M.Z. I.M., S.S.K, A.G., and N.P from Skopje, as well as A.K. from Ohrid.
In response to the announcements, the protesters in Skopje continued with the everyday activities of gathering at 6 pm in front of the office of Special Public Prosecutor, marching and painting, using a human-powered slingshot to reach distant objects such as the seat of the government. The banner of the day read “The Guilty Party is Pressing Charges,” referring to the impunity of the Macedonia’s rulers suspected of grave crimes.
As the police announcement listed the seven “chosen ones” by initials, before starting the march, they painted their own initials to their t-shirts as a sign of defiance.
The protesters then proceeded with the usual march visiting the seat of the government, using the slingshots to throw more paint on its recently refurbished facade.
— META.mk (@meta_agency) June 3, 2016
After that, the protest went to the main square in Skopje, and proceeded to paint one of the biggest symbols of Nikola Gruevski’s regime – the statue of Alexander the Great, officially named “Equestrian Warrior.” For the first time, the protesters actually entered the fountain to provide up close dose of painting with toy water guns.
— META.mk (@meta_agency) June 3, 2016
The protest ended in euphoria, as the most active users who had engaged in painting also lit flares. The last stop was the Parliament, which also got a dose of color.
Legal and other experts have questioned the conduct of the police on two grounds. According to the Article 97 of Macedonia’s Constitution, “The bodies of state administration in the fields of defence and the police are to be headed by civilians who have been civilians for at least three years before their election to these offices.” The current minister Mitko Čavkov has until recently served as high police official. According to human rights expert prof. Mirjana Najčevska, PhD, this makes his entire appointment and any of his commands illegal and unconstitutional.
Moreover, according to cultural policy expert, prof. Donka Bardžieva, PhD, the citizens could not know that the painted objects have been declared cultural heritage, because they had not been properly marked. According to Article 45 of the Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Ministry of Culture was obliged by Law to properly mark them within 60 days of giving them such status. In addition, according to Article 174 of that law, the minister and her underlings are obliged to pay a fine of 810 to 240 euros (920 to 2761 dollars) for non compliance.
The protests continue across Macedonia. On social networks, the information from the ground is shared via the hashtags #ColorfulRevolution and #Macedonia in English, #ШаренаРеволуција and #протестирам in Macedonian, and #RevolucioniLaraman and #protestoj in Albanian.