Macedonia’s opposition leader – accused by police of plotting to seize power illegally – published audio tapes on Sunday (15 February) that he said demonstrated the government’s total control over the judiciary.
It was the second file of alleged evidence released by Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev since he was accused by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and police on 31 January of colluding with a foreign spy service to bring down the government.
Last week, Zaev published excerpts of what he said were illegally recorded conversations, some including himself talking with journalists and members of his family. He accused Gruevski’s government of wiretapping 20,000 people, including reporters, religious leaders and political figures.
The government has dismissed the accusations, but the West is watching closely to see how it handles the unfolding scandal, given the former Yugoslav republic’s quest to join the European Union and NATO.
On Sunday, Zaev published what he said were audio excerpts from five phone conversations involving a deputy prime minister, ministers of interior and finance, the secret police chief and others talking about arranging court cases and placing judges in senior positions.
“The wire-tapped conversations confirm what all citizens and the public know and have felt on their skin,” Zaev told a news conference. “You will be convinced of the direct linkage between the government and the judiciary,” he said.
“You will hear what kind of control these people, headed by Gruevski, have taken over the courts and the judicial system in Macedonia.”
Gruevski, who has led the landlocked Balkan country of two million people since 2006, last month accused Zaev of trying to blackmail him into calling a snap election during face-to-face talks last September and November.
He said Zaev had threatened to use anti-government intelligence gathered with the help of a foreign spy service.
Zaev denied the charges saying authorities were trying to prevent him from publishing incriminating evidence about the government.
Macedonia’s state prosecutor has cautioned media not to publish information about the case that may be used in any subsequent trial, in what reporters and diplomats speculated may be an attempt to smother any material released by Zaev.
Macedonia declared independence from the dissolving Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991.
The country is an ethnic mosaic. Slavic Macedonians represent the largest group (64% of the population). Ethnic Albanians are the biggest minority (25%), with Turks (3%) and Roma (1.9%) also present.
Integrating the ethnic Albanians has proved a cumbersome process, and the country has come close to civil war. The August 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement, brokered by Western powers, halted the brinkmanship between the ethnic-Albanian communities (organised militarily in the National Liberation Army) and Macedonian forces.
Of all the hurdles standing in the way of Macedonia's EU accession, the so-called 'name dispute' with Greece appears to be the biggest. Seen from Athens, the official name used by Skopje – Republic of Macedonia – is an open challenge to the Greek region of Macedonia. In reprisal, Greece pledged to veto Macedonia's participation in international organisations, including the EU, until the issue is resolved.
Greece also considers that Skopje is misappropriating large chunks of its ancient history. Similarly, Bulgaria considers that Macedonia is cherry-picking heroes and glorious episodes from its mediaeval history and the 19th- and early-20th century struggle against Ottoman rule.
Recently, Skopje angered Athens by erecting a giant statue of a ‘warrior on horseback’ resembling Alexander the Great in the centre of Skopje. Both nations claim Alexander as a native son.
- Independent, Macedonia : Opposition SDSM publishes new wiretapped phone conversations
- Independent, Macedonia: VMRO-DPMNE: Zaev continues to work for foreign services