Bombshel #18: Stirring the ethnic pot


The Social Democrats' goal for releasing the political 'bombshells' is not just to disclose what the ruling VMRO has done over the years, but also that they would not do the same thing when / if they are in their place. That was one of the key points of Radmila Sekerinska's speech at the meeting in Universal Hall on 10th March 2015. To quote:

We do not seek support to change one Sasho or Nikola with another of the same type. We seek support to take responsibility and to change things.

In this context the issue of authentic interpretation of the law for amnesty is a strange political move. SDSM is accusing Nikola Gruevski for "false patriotism". Why? Is that a felony? More important, VMRO supporters almost certainly will not hold this against Gruevski, because they are well trained to know that without the interpretation, SDSM would have regained power. The last is discussed in an analysis of clumsy and unprincipled PR activities of both parties in 2011. For whose benefit is the allegation of "false patriotism"? Does SDSM promise a new legal resolution for these cases, as they do for media freedom and law on communications? Have they reached an agreement about this with theirs expected coalition partner DUI?

Furthermore, it is well known that the authentic interpretation is a political move and it is probable to expect that the same thing would have be done by any Macedonian government, including one that would include SDSM. There is a diplomatic cable published on Wikileaks where we can read that SDSM calculated with the cases before the elections in 2006. Quote:

Prime Minister Buckovski told the EU Special Representative on February 10 that the government’s decision to ask for the cases “by the end of this year” was deliberately ambiguous. Ethnic Macedonians would understand that the cases finally were coming back for possible prosecution, answering past criticism that only ethnic Macedonians — such as former Interior Minister Boskovski, currently facing a war crimes trial in The Hague — had been called to account for their participation in the 2001 conflict. DUI would receive some satisfaction from the private knowledge that the first of the cases would probably not be returned until late 2006, and that the primary defendant in that case likely would be former NLA commander Daut Rexhepi (also known as Commander Leka), who is currently associated with rival ethnic Albanian party DPA.

To refresh everybody's memory, the cases were send to ICTY by the broad coalition government just ten days before the elections in 2002, and with that any work on the cases was delayed for at least four years. There is another cable on Wikileaks where we can read that Gruevski was not ambivalent towards the fact that he inherited this issue. Quote:

Gruevski replied that he understood the point, but he is in a delicate position politically. He would have no problem if the Chief Prosecutor or the courts ruled that the amnesty law indeed applies and the cases are dropped, but he believes he cannot take a stand on the issue other than to let the cases proceed. He is concerned that the main ethnic-Albanian parties, DPA and DUI, may soon introduce a measure asking parliament to take a stand on the issue. While he understood that his coalition deal with DUI could be on the line, he told us that he cannot go along with criticizing the prosecutions and then face the ethnic-Macedonian community, especially because the ICTY recently convicted ethnic-Macedonian former MoI official Johan Tarculovski of war crimes.

At the end, the 'bombshel' completely favors DUI's leader Ali Ahmeti. If he is powerful enough to negotiate something like this (and he obviously was), then the Albanians will love him even more. This goes against the promises that the 'bombshells' will not spare anyone's crime, including the Albanian parties. Therefore there is not any logical explanation why SDSM is releasing these recordings...? What is the goal? Strengthening DUI? Inter-ethnic turbulence?

In short, SDSM does not have a different principled or legal standing regarding the 'war crimes' cases, the release of the recordings will not trouble VMRO supporters since they already know that the amnesty is the lesser evil, and finally, it will not help the reconciliation of both communities.

Then there are the media. Prizma writes:

The four cases were processed in ICTY, but in 2008 were returned to Macedonian courts.

What does „processed“ mean? The US cable is more precise:

ICTY agreed to review the cases in 2002, but the tribunal declined to prosecute — or even investigate — and returned the files to Macedonia.

The journalists write that the conversation published by SDSM are 'alleged conversations between government ministers', but they do not write that the issue is 'alleged war crimes'. Unfortunately, those events are 'alleged' in the legal sense until a court decides otherwise. And since ICTY did not even undertake an investigation about these cases, who from the Macedonian political elite is going to be responsible for the delay? What if during the years when these cases were sitting in a bottom drawer in the Hague, in Macedonia someone was destroying related evidence?

But let's go back to the laws. The authentic interpretation most probably is irrelevant. If it is against international law (UN Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and other conventions ratified by Macedonia), and ratified conventions when ratified have priority over domestic law, then a future chief prosecutor may say that the authentic interpretation is void and reopen the cases. This kind of epilogue is possible. A new parliament can even vote on a different legal obligations. Do we have a promise that this will happen?

Moreover, the Macedonian justice system had an opportunity to work on one of these cases. What if they saw that there is nowhere to go? Public commentary, recommendations and request from organizations such as Amnesty International, are that there should be a court closure, but that does not mean that it will be with a *positive outcome for the victims*:

Macedonia’s international obligations are to thoroughly and impartially investigate all cases returned from the ICTY and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, to ensure that all those allegedly responsible for violations of international humanitarian law are brought to justice.

So, when we already have (from the Wikileaks cable above) OSCE's expert opinion that from what they saw Macedonia does not have enough evidence, nor good enough prosecutors and judges (despite plenty of training) to work on the cases:

Additionally, OSCE has official observer status and has had the opportunity to review the files. Their experts here characterize the evidence they have seen as relatively scanty and the prosecutors and judges as apparently unprepared, despite being trained.

and that Macedonian representatives from the government, specifically the chief prosecutor, said that there is not enough evidence:

Protoger added that the Chief Prosecutor told him that it appears that there is solid evidence against only four of the 19 defendants in the Mavrovo case, and Xhemaili is not one of them. (Which begs the question why the other 15 are being tried at all.)

then, is it not better for the whole society to forget about the cases and try heal the wounds, then to go to court, where the victims might lose, and their alleged torturers to claim judicial victory?

Think about this for a moment. What if there is a complete court process after which there will be a verdict that the indicted persons are not guilty? What effect will it have on the society? The easiest thing is to talk about not following the law and that Macedonia is ignoring international legal norms, but is there something else that in this particular case matters and should be taken into account? Is it even possible in an ethnically divided state where the minority continuously does not have trust in the judicial system, and the majority thinks that there should not be any protests regarding court decisions (like in the "Monstrum" case), to have a trial like the ones being pushed under the rug?

Furthermore, any such trial would have to happen in conditions, as heard in other leaked recordings presented by SDSM, where the "judiciary is corrupted and incompetent". How come that we expect courts to deal with complicated war cases, when they cannot deal with relatively easier corruption cases? Or, now that we know that the courts "belong to Mijalkov and the family", would we request that VMRO process the cases and ask for a "politically pleasant" verdicts?

What if the decision to have authentic interpretation, beside the political pragmatism to keep the coalition together, VMRO and Gruevski saved time, money, nerves and everything else that could have been costly for the victims' families? Did they offered reconciliation and showed forgiveness on behalf of ethnic Macedonians instead of opening old wounds? Did they created from the ethnic Macedonians political winners willing to forgive instead of legal losers who will have new grievance? These are unpleasant questions to which the published content in the 'bombshell' offers no answer, and to which we will probably avoid to answer in the future as well.

Maybe this 'bombshell' is just to encourage DUI, with the help of the US. Let's hope it will not create new inter-ethnic tensions.