Macedonia charges protesters in ‘Colourful Revolution’

Macedonians have protested against the government in up to 20 cities for more than two months.

Patrick Macedonia Colourful Revolution
Macedonians have carried out anti-government protests in 20 cities across the country [File: Patrick Strickland/Al Jazeera]

Skopje, Macedonia – When dozens of angry demonstrators ransacked the presidential office in the Macedonian capital in early April, the windows were shattered and furniture set ablaze. 

Zdravko Saveski, a 39-year-old member of the leftist Levica party’s presidential committee, insisted that he did not participate in damaging the building or the furniture.

People & Power – Macedonia: Behind the Facade

Yet he was charged with participation in a mob and destroying state property and placed under house arrest for more than 50 days during the police investigation. 

Speaking to Al Jazeera while still under house arrest earlier this month, he sipped from a mug of coffee and chain-smoked in the living room of his one-bedroom flat on the outskirts of the Macedonian capital.  

“What I did was throw an egg inside the office and burned a photo of the president,” he recalled. 

A former political science professor and trade unionist-turned-organiser, Saveski is among at least 34 demonstrators who have been dealt charges since mass anti-corruption protests broke out in early April, according to local activists. 

Because protesters have used paint-filled balloons to target government buildings and nationalistic monuments, the movement has been dubbed the “Colourful Revolution”. Marches have been held in 20 cities across the country. 

The movement draws supporters from the ethnic Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority. They have called on the government to drop charges against all demonstrators accused of vandalising public property or destroying cultural heritage sites. 


The latest unrest was triggered by President Gjorge Ivanov’s decision to issue pardons to 56 people – politicians and their confidantes – under criminal investigation. 

Many of them are connected to the conservative ruling party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation – Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). 

Home to an estimated 2.1 million people, Macedonia has pending applications in both the European Union and NATO. 

Dozens of activists have been dealt criminal charges since the Colourful Revolution protests started in April [Patrick Strickland/Al Jazeera]
Dozens of activists have been dealt criminal charges since the Colourful Revolution protests started in April [Patrick Strickland/Al Jazeera]

Under three-pronged pressure from the EU, NATO and internal unrest, Ivanov rescinded the pardons on June 6. 

Opposition leader Zoran Zaev of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) accuses the government of wiretapping more than 20,000 people, including politicians, judges, journalists, NGO workers and others.

Among those initially pardoned was former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who entered office in 2006 and stepped down in January as part of an EU-sponsored agreement to pave the way for elections. 

Previously scheduled once in April and later in June, elections were postponed both times by the government. 

Gruevski blamed foreign intelligence services for the wiretapping, saying that it was “fabricated”. 

With Macedonia’s political crisis deepening, Colourful Revolution supporters have issued a list of demands to the government.

‘Our strength and their failure’

In addition to demanding pardons for protesters facing criminal charges, they have called for a transitional government, the resignation of the president and transparent measures toward democratic elections, among other demands. 

The government failed to meet the movement’s deadline, which was scheduled for Saturday. 

Saveski argued that the Macedonian government targeted him in order to prevent him from participating in the ongoing anti-corruption protests.

Some of the demonstrators who participated in the ransacking of the presidential office were masked. Yet, Saveski insists that others, who were clearly identifiable, were not arrested or placed under house arrest.

“The [government] wanted me in custody because they perceive me as a prominent organiser of protests,” he said. “They think hierarchical, but we organise horizontally. This is our strength and their failure.” 

For more than two months, thousands have protested in Macedonia against the government [Patrick Strickland/Al Jazeera]
For more than two months, thousands have protested in Macedonia against the government [Patrick Strickland/Al Jazeera]

For now, however, he argued protesters have “shaken” the government. 

“Quite a lot of people are convinced that if the regime stabilises itself, there could be an open dictatorship; and quite a lot of people will go to prison, including myself.” 

Jasmina Golubovska, a 30-year-old activist, said police arrived at her home on Tuesday morning, but she was not there. The charges against her were still unclear, she told Al Jazeera by telephone. 

“We are going to continue,” she said. “We don’t care about the charges.”

‘We are not giving up’ 

Many of the activists who have been targeted by police were given charges related to throwing paint on the parliament, the government offices or monuments built as part of the Skopje 2014 project. 

Initiated under former Prime Minister Gruevski, the Skopje 2014 programme has seen dozens of statues and other monuments built across the capital as part of a drive to strengthen national identity and draw more tourism revenue.

Sold to the public at a cost of 80 million euros ($91m), Skopje 2014’s tab had topped 560 million euros ($636) by 2015, according to an investigation by the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network. 

Protesters have targeted government buildings and other symbols of corruption [Patrick Strickland/Al Jazeera] 
Protesters have targeted government buildings and other symbols of corruption [Patrick Strickland/Al Jazeera] 

“Transparency and accountability have shrunk under this government,” Fani Karanfilova-Panovska, executive director of the Open Society Foundation – Macedonia, told Al Jazeera. “I think no one in this country knows how much [Skopje 2014] has cost our public budget.”

Ivo Kotevski, a VMRO-DPMNE spokesman, blamed the protests on the SDSM opposition party and foreign-funded NGOs. 

“The [protesters] don’t have any support,” he told Al Jazeera by telephone on Tuesday. “They have seen that the majority of Macedonians are against them.”

Kotevski expects more people to be arrested following the protests in Skopje on Monday, when thousands marched through the streets. 

Speaking to Al Jazeera at a protest earlier this month, Pavle Bogoevski, a 30-year-old civil society campaigner, recalled learning he had been charged with damaging cultural heritage while watching the news. 

“Ever since we started this, we knew what we were getting into,” he said. “I’m going to keep coming [to protests]. It’s a personal obligation.” 

As demonstrators waved Macedonian flags and blew whistles behind him, Bogoevski said he doesn’t mind going to jail as long as politicians also face justice. “Until then, we are not giving up.” 

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_ 

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Source: Al Jazeera