Macedonia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Credible allegations of a massive, government-sponsored wiretapping and surveillance program that emerged in 2015 prompted a crisis that has paralyzed normal political activity and given way to regular antigovernment demonstrations. An internationally backed special prosecutor tasked with investigating the wiretapping scandal has made some progress, but faces interference.

Key Developments: 
  • Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski resigned in January as part of an internationally brokered political deal that envisioned snap elections later in the year.
  • Gruevski’s Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) narrowly won snap elections that were held in December after a series of delays. While an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission deemed the polls “competitive,” they were marked by an atmosphere of mistrust, and serious irregularities were reported.
  • Though it faced obstruction by police, domestic prosecutors, and the president, a special prosecutor appointed by local and international authorities to investigate the revelations of the wiretapping program made some progress.
  • In December, the Public Revenue Office said it would increase financial inspections of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), in what was seen as an attempt to place pressure on groups critical of the VMRO-DPMNE.
Executive Summary: 

Following the 2015 revelation of a massive wiretapping and surveillance program—allegedly directed by Gruevski’s administration and operated by the secret service— Macedonia saw months of protests against the VMRO-DPMNE–led government and the wholesale interruption of normal parliamentary activity. The intervention of U.S. and European mediators somewhat stabilized the situation, and eventually led to the resignation of Gruevski in a January 2016 deal that envisioned snap elections being held by mid-April. The elections were twice delayed after the opposition indicated it would not participate, citing excessive government influence on the media and problems with voter rolls. Following a June 2016 deal designed to address opposition concerns, the elections were finally held in December, and resulted in a narrow VMRO-DPMNE victory. However, domestic monitors raised serious issues with the voter rolls. An OSCE monitoring mission voiced similar concerns, noted instances of voter intimidation, and concluded that the polls were marked by “a lack of public trust in institutions and the political establishment.” No new government had been formed at year’s end.

Meanwhile, police and domestic prosecutors obstructed the work of a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the wiretapping scandal. In April 2016, the president pardoned dozens of people being investigated. The move prompted mass protests, and the pardons were later rescinded.

The country’s crisis of governance continued to spur civil society activity in 2016, with a wave of civil disobedience by opposition supporters being dubbed the “Colorful Revolution,” after the protestors’ propensity to pelt government buildings and riot police with paint-filled balloons.

Separately, there has been little headway in illuminating the events of April and May 2015, when clashes between government security forces and purported ethnic Albanian militants at a border crossing and the town of Kumanovo left at least 20 gunmen and police dead. Allegations that the VMRO-DMPNE somehow orchestrated the events in order to draw attention away from the wiretapping scandal continue to hang over the incidents, which served as a worrying reminder of cleavages that exist between the country’s ethnic Albanian minority and ethnic Macedonia majority. However, antigovernment demonstrations have been multiethnic, and notably, in December, two ethnic Albanians were elected to the legislature as members of a party traditionally dominated by ethnic Macedonians.

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