Last Friday, three protesters were arrested on the sidelines of a public demonstration of firearms held in Skopje, as part of the promotion of the country’s accession to NATO. They were taken to a police station and released quickly after.
“Marginal event” would be your first thought. And a marginal event that is associated with another marginal event, a demonstration of firearms that did not attract public attention at all. And that’s already double insignificance. It probably deserves some incidental mention in the news, but that’s it. Certainly one does not need to write columns and make a big fuss about it. They were arrested, but immediately released. No big deal.
If we were a democracy in which human rights really are respected, this arrest of protesters would not have been a marginal event at all. Because it violates an important human right, the right to peaceful protest. And it means overstepping the powers of the police, which took the right to deprive these people of their freedom, vaguely saying that they acted in that manner because the arrested persons violated the public order and peace, they did not obey the police officers’ orders, and obstructed the police in carrying out official orders.
If this happened while Gruevski was in power, some media that supposedly are independent, would have informed that three protesters were detained even at the beginning of the news broadcast. And they would have prepared extensive news stories in which “experts”, “analysts” and “activists” will attack police brutality and point their finger at the regime, noting that this cannot be tolerated and treated as an isolated incident. Then they would have demanded the resignation of the Minister of Interior, because he allowed the police to act in such a way. But since SDSM is in power, and not VMRO-DPMNE, the worried human rights activists and the alleged independent media – cannot be seen nor heard anywhere. Some media just incidentally noted the event, as an insignificant event without political implications.
Should this be the treatment of human rights? When human rights of “our people” are violated, we throw sticks and stones at the regime. But when human rights are violated by political opponents, then it does not concern us? If we do so, what does this say about our attitude towards human rights? Doesn’t that reveal the hypocrisy and the treatment of human rights as a tool we use in the political struggle, and not as a democratic and civilizing benefit? Where is the citing of Voltaire now, that he does not agree with what his interlocutor says, but that he will ultimately defend his right to express his opinion? Yes, I also disagree with the political views of the arrested, just like the liberal supporters of the current government who chose to keep silent about the incident. But, unlike them, I do not think that political disagreement with someone is a sufficient reason to step over their basic human rights and pardon the use of excessive police force.
How many detainees had violated public order and peace and interfered with the police in carrying out official duties? They lay in front of the trucks carrying military equipment on the square, so the police had to arrest them and take them to a police station? Could the police have taken other actions to ensure the smooth conduct of the event without violating the right to peaceful protest? They could have. But the police were allowed to act the way they did. So the police arrested the demonstrators. To make the situation even worse, such a disproportionate use of force was already applied earlier, two years ago, in a similar way, when members of Levica and other leftists were arrested for displaying an anti-military content banner. They were deprived of the right to peaceful protest, the police used excessive force – and? No one was held accountable, so after two years it was repeated. It happens in all situations when it is ignored, when it is relativized.
Just how intolerant are the police units, can also be seen in the second incident that happened at the same event with the group of anti-militarists who pointed out anti-war banners. What they did was the following: they held out an antiwar banner, at an appropriate distance from the location where the event took place. The protesters neither chanted, nor did in any way jeopardize the event and public order and peace. Five minutes have passed since the banner was displayed, when a whole group of police officers approached them, and their superintendent demanded the removal of the banner. When asked why he demanded this, when it was obvious that the people were protesting peacefully. The chief said that a security assessment had been made that this group constituted a “security risk” (!?) And that the failure to act upon the order would be considered an interference with the police in doing their official duties. With what ease, this superintendent deprived them of the right to peaceful protest, with which he easily increased his authority! And it was obvious that the police would start arresting if those citizens continued to use their constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful expression of dissent.
Why is the police for the second time demonstrating excessive use of force at an event of the same character, a demonstration of firearms in cooperation with NATO? It will have to do with the desire to create an image before the NATO patrons that here everyone is simply admiring NATO, and that no one is against it. And that desire obviously has more weight than the constitutionally guaranteed human ights. And such setting of priorities by the government should seriously worry us. Because this is no longer an isolated incident. It has already happened twice. Two years ago, shortly after SDSM came to power, its supporters justified the incident in the sense that it was a non-reformed police from the time of Gruevski’s regime. And now, what is their excuse? It’s been two years. Why do the police continue their unreformed practices?
As for the event, the very demonstration of firearms drew very low interest among the public. Very few really wanted to “get to meet the soldiers” and see the firearms. In fact, most of the visitors were minors and children, accompanied by their parents. That image was terrible! People in military uniforms explain to children how a weapon works. Do children have to deal with this, should they be interested? It seems disappointing how small a segment of the public saw the problem of spreading the militaristic values among the youngest. The Children’s Embassy “Megjashi” reacted, others reacted, but the reaction is far from satisfactory. What we saw on the ground when demonstrating weapons in the cities is that it was so interesting that if the presence of children on these events was forbidden, the attendance would have been very low and unsuccessful. So they fell to that level of relying on the children’s attendance so that the event is not a total fiasco. Shameful and sad!
In the end, a couple of words about the “peace activists” in the country. There’s quite a number of civil activists who organize trainings to improve interethnic trust in our country and are paid for them. And all of that is fine. But the fight for peace should not be confined to improving interethnic trust. Macedonia is on its way to becoming a member of a military alliance. The real response of peace activists to that should be – silence? The militaristic values are being spread in the society, they parade with weapons in the cities. Silence again? Just so you don’t accidentally anger your donors? What remains of the principles if your ultimate motive is to avoid getting your donors angry?
Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik