Apr 2, 2009

Statement by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

The Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights has issued a statement on its website, touching upon various dimensions of the recent incident, its aftermath, and the direction Macedonia is going. According to the Committee, the law on public assembly referred to by the authorities (“in its attempts to accuse the victims and protect the attackers”) is unconstitutional, as Article 21 of the country’s constitution stipulates that “Citizens have the right to assemble peacefully and to express public protest without prior announcement or a special license”. By consequence, giving notice to the Ministry of Interior were optional, and a belated notice, as has been argued in the case of the “First Archi Brigade”, could not serve as an accusation of the organizers as being responsible for the incidents in front of a court of law. The Committee also lamented that the police seemingly acted as mere observers and did not intervene and considers the Prime Minister’s pointing to “one distinguished university professor as organizer of the protests” as a statement “which definitely contains elements of defamation”. It is also deplored that throughout the event there were “ample examples” of hate speech (“Shiptars” and “communists”).

The Committee also notes the problematic arising from the fact that a church on this location was not foreseen in the urban development plan for Skopje. An ongoing municipal decentralization process, in which the “Center District” has been given new authorities, has made it possible to override the stance of the oppositional Skopje mayor Trifun Kostovski and amend the existing urban development plan for the district. At the time, no official explanation was given why the state rather than the faith community was building this religious facility. While in the cases of other projects by the VMRO-DPMNE governments “cultural or civilization explanations” were cited - the huge cross overlooking Skopje was erected to celebrate the 2000th year since the crucifixion of Christ, the Plaoshnik church in Ohrid was “rebuilt” to commemorate St. Clement – in the recent case there has been put forward by the government no justification other than “that there are churches on the main squares in all European cities”. The Committee sees this as a step forward in promoting “state religion”, or rather “state faith communities”, deriding the cooperation of the Orthodox Church and the Islamic Community on matters such as religious education in school, disputed in front of the Constitutional Court, as a “holy matrimony”.

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