Opposition head Zoran Zaev announcing the wiretapping at a press conference on 27 February 2015.

Government accused of industrial-scale eavesdropping

Published on 17 March 2015 at 11:13
Opposition head Zoran Zaev announcing the wiretapping at a press conference on 27 February 2015.

Journalist Danica Radisc reports how "leaked tapes revealed by Macedonia’s opposition seem to suggest that the country’s intelligence services have been illegally wiretapping more than 20,000 citizens on the order of conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and members of his family." Radisc notes that "government employees, opposition members, journalists, editors, and foreign diplomatic representatives […] from the six most influential embassies" were among those bugged over at least four years.

The Social Democratic Party, whose leader Zoran Zaev was also bugged, has made a number of complaints against officials in the intelligence service, including its head, Sasho Mijalkov. Several days earlier, Prime Minister Gruevski "had charged Zaev and others with conspiring with a foreign intelligence service to topple the government. Zaev has since had his passport confiscated by authorities and cannot leave the country." The Social Democrats have been boycotting parliament since the elections of April 2014 in protest at what they see as electoral rigging.

Zaev confirms that he received the recordings – "made over at least the four to eight years that Gruevski has been in power" – from "patriots working for Macedonia's secret service who are now allegedly seeking amnesty under a whistleblower protection act." At a recent press conference, he presented recordings which "seem to confirm the accusations of electoral fraud during last year's elections*", apparently directly overseen by the Interior Minister on behalf of Ms. Gruevski.

Sasho Mijalkov, the man presumed to be responsible for the wire-tapping, "has for years been a controversial figure at the heart of Macedonian politics". Last year he forced the opposition weekly newspaper Fokus into bankruptcy by demanding massive payments for damages following a defamation trial. More recently, the OCCRP, an anti-corruption body, and television channel Nova TV published a joint report with the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism on the fortune Mijalkov has amassed. Mijalkov is incidentally a first cousin of the Prime Minister Gruevski.

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Radisc notes that —

The Mijalkov-Gruevski political dynasty has held power during much of Macedonia's transition to democracy. Jordan Mijalkov was the first interior minister after the country gained independence, until his death in a car crash. His nephew Nikola Gruevski was finance minister from 1999 to 2002 and prime minister from 2006 till today. The son of late Minister of Interior Jordan Mijalkov, Sasho Mijalkov, who is seen as the grey eminence behind the family “throne”, served in Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito's Honor Guard alongside his brother as a military policeman, and has held high positions in defense and interior ministries of Macedonia since 1998.

The government has launched a counter-attack in the wake of the scandal. It has accused the whistle-blowers of being "spies in the pockets of foreign powers" and has announced revisions to the new education bill and taxes for part-time workers. These follow a series of "urgent measures" in other areas, including employing 3,000 new civil servants – a measure that has not gone unnoticed in a country where unemployment has reached 30%.

But the opposition is also mobilising —

Following the revelations, Macedonian students began organizing sit-in protests and occupying universities in late 2014, and part-time workers went on to stage a third big protest on February 13.

The situation could worsen as the wire-tapping scandal widens:

Several international organizations and media have voiced their concern of Macedonia's already fragile democracy taking a turn for the worse as the wiretapping scandal continues to escalate.

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