Attack on opposition in the Macedonian Parliament should be investigated

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee expresses concern about increased political tension in Macedonia after protesters forced their way into the Parliament in Skopje Thursday 27 April.

Opposition leader Zoran Zaev from the Social Democratic Union as well as lawmakers from ethnic Albanian opposition partners were among several injured in the attack. Zaev and other representatives of the opposition and civil society have been targets of both threats and criminal proceedings initiated by the former governing party VMRO DPMNE throughout a long-lasting political crisis in the former Yugoslav republic.

– Representatives from civil society report that the police did not take sufficient action to prevent the protesters from entering the Parliament, attacking opposition leaders in the Parliamen. This should be promptly investigated, says Mina Skouen, Senior Advisor in NHC. – The people who entered also confiscated cellphones and cameras and obstructed the work of journalists. We have for a long time been worried about the safety and working conditions for opposition, activists and journalists, and this naturally adds to our concerns.

VMRO DPMNE supporters have been protesting in Skopje the last few months to protest against inclusion of ethnic Albanian parties in a new government coalition. The VMRO-DPMNE won elections in December but failed to build a majority coalition, and have blocked the Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev from enacting a coalition deal he reached with ethnic Albanian parties to form a new government.

The longstanding political stalemate in Macedonia dates back more than two years, and has yet to find a solution, but Zaev is in the process of forming a new government. Reinforced protests broke out Thursday after the ethnic Albanian lawmaker Talat Xhaferi from the Democratic Union for Integration was elected as the new Speaker of Parliament, which is one of the steps of the new governing coalition.

– The political crisis in Macedonia should not be reduced to an ethnic one. The rhetorics of supporters of VMRO DPMNE is nothing new, they have tried to discredit the opposition by playing upon anti-Albanian sentiments for a long time, says Skouen. –What we see is a society in crisis after almost a decade with a leader that undermined democratic structures and struck down on opposition, civil society and free media without significant reactions from the international community.

We ask that Macedonian authorities to

  • investigate the attack on the Parliament and take legal action against the responsible parties
  • investigate allegations that the police and security forces allowed protesters to enter the Parliament
  • refrain from playing upon ethnic tension and anti-Albanian sentiments