Campaigners slam Skopje for gay marriage ban

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (L). Brussels, December 2014. [European People's Party/Flickr]

Macedonia’s decision to ban same-sex marriage is a further blow to its marginalized civil society and will entrench discrimination against LGBT people in the European Union accession state, campaigners said on Wednesday (21 January).

The Macedonian parliament approved a constitutional amendment which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman in a majority vote on Tuesday. The change has to be confirmed in a final vote later in the week.

“A number of minority groups have it increasingly very difficult in Macedonia,” said Björn van Roozendaal, programmes director at ILGA-Europe, the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

“These developments come as part of a broader climate in which the space is shrinking not only for defenders of LGBT rights, but also human right defenders in general.”

Gauri van Gulik, deputy director for Europe at Amnesty International, said Macedonia was swimming against human rights norms in Europe, where 12 countries have already legalized same-sex marriage.

“Today’s vote is another addition to discrimination, violence and intolerance on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in Macedonia,” he said.

In addition to rebukes over its ban on same-sex marriage, Macedonia has faced a storm of criticism over media freedom.

Last week, hundreds of journalists and activists gathered in front of the top court to protest against the jailing of journalist Tomislav Kezarovski for revealing the identity of a protected witness in a murder case.

Kezarovski’s two-year sentence was suspended for one month on Tuesday on health grounds, but international rights groups condemned the case as a fresh blow to media freedom during the eight-year rule of conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Macedonia became a formal candidate for EU membership in 2005, but accession talks have been stalled by a row with Greece over the country’s name, which it shares with a northern Greek province (see background).

The Macedonian parliament did not respond to a request for comment. 

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.

Although Macedonia is recognised as the country's constitutional name by many EU countries, the name dispute has led to an impasse in the country's membership of both the EU and NATO. Greece insists that Macedonia be called “Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia” or FYROM.

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.

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