AIM: start



CORRUPTION AND ORGANIZED CRIME

Macedonia:

SCARECROW

By: Zeljko BAJIC

Struggle against corruption and organized crime - every election in independent Macedonia was so far won with this war cry. Unfortunately, "spider's web" was woven so tightly that many former oppositionists, having become part of the regime, got entangled in it and perished.

Without much beating around the bush, on October 31, in his parliamentary speech on the future tasks of his cabinet, the candidate prime minister after parliamentary elections last autumn, Branko Crvenkovski assessed that Macedonia was no less than a criminal and corrupt state. In order to overcome this situation , the future prime minister repeated the pre-election promise that the rule of law had to be established and that everybody who acted contrary to law would have to answer for it.

After exactly six months in power Crvenkovski obviously does not intend to render accounts to the public about what has been done in the sphere he has set as a priority in the beginning. If one summed it all up, the result would not be exactly admirable: because of illegal deals, just a few high officials of the previously ruling coalition - VMRO-DPMNE and Democratic Party of the Albanians were put behind bars, and some - wanted by the police - withdrew into the underground. The current opposition whose members are under investigation is trying to prove that this is just the result of the wrath of the winners and that it has nothing to do with crime. Indeed, if the current authorities do not prove very soon that there are some "bad guys" in their own ranks, a sufficient number could be found of those who will take the assertions of the opposition more than seriously.

Crvenkovski's cabinet has recently prepared a proposal of anti-corruption measures. A similar document with a pretentious title "National Program" is in preparation by the state Commission for the Struggle against Corruption. It is expected to be presented to the public in the end of May. The offered Government strategy the Assembly should soon make official, in fact, points out to the spots that have for years been the "rotten tissue" in the operation of the state organism. The Government is too ambitiously demanding Constitution amendments that would enable the abolishment of the immunity for state officials, ministers inclusive, in case it is proved that they have "sticky fingers". As the supreme authority, the so-called "Supreme Justice Council" should be introduced; it would consist of nine "sinless" persons whose job would be to nominate judges on all levels, evaluate their work and propose punishments.

By monitoring the work of the judges and, more importantly, by monitoring their property, the Government is hoping to cure the judiciary. One of the proposed measures is the establishment of an anti-corruption network which would involve the police, the prosecutors and investigative judges. According to the Government's proposal, the prosecutors' jurisdiction would be broadened by taking over some of the current prerogatives of courts. The Government strategy includes the increase of responsibility of the deputies in the assembly for the implementation of parliamentary decisions.

For the first time a state institution has dealt with something that is one of the roots of the numerous evils the state is faced with as far as corruption and organized crime are concerned. It was planned to introduce a system of public information on the manner in which political parties are financed.

President of the state Commission for the Struggle against Corruption, Sladjana Taseva, believes that the Government strategy is an expression of political will, but that it is slightly rash. This document, indeed, does not free the Government of the responsibility that will result from the future "national program".

Indeed, the latest Government strategy is the latest but certainly not the only attempt to put an end to corruption (as the visible) and organized crime (as the more impenetrable form of illegal activities).

In spring 1997, the very same Branko Crvenkovski in the capacity of the prime minister, after the collapse of TAT financial pyramid, one of the most unpleasant scandals in this country, thundered from the parliamentary platform that he would destroy the "octopus" of organized crime and all the forms it appears in; he did not forget corruption either. And except for making the struggle with the "octopus" a laughing stock, in the year and a half that followed, he did nothing. That is exactly the reason why he lost power in the parliamentary elections with a big bang.

Enthusiastic Ljubco Georgievski who headed the coalition that won power, vowed that he would dismantle the state apparatus created not only in the past several years of the rule of the Social Democratic Alliance, but also everything else that had accumulated in the previous five decades of communism. He vowed and then literally disgraced himself.

When they were leaving the government buildings in autumn last year, his party comrades and he, it is the general impression of the public, were much wealthier than when they were moving in four years ago. To expect to make an enviable wealth of several million euros in an honest way in a country where a state official can legally earn hardly 1000 euros a month means to be either extremely na´ve or extremely hypocritical.

Local and foreign experts for the struggle against corruption and organized crime are increasingly inclined to believe that this phenomenon of transition from communism to democracy should be cut from the very roots. In the case of Macedonia, the country has paid the bill of all international problems that affected the region that appeared when the wars began in the beginning of the nineties. It was faced with a double blockade of its borders: towards the north it was obliged to implement the international sanctions imposed on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in the south it had to deal with the unilateral blockade introduced by Greece due to the dispute over the name of the state.

In his answer to a journalist's question on the violation of the sanctions as the source of organized crime on Skopje TV A1 on April 19, Minister of Internal Affairs, Hari Kostov, reminded that at the time of the sanctions, Macedonian firms made deals with partners from FRY with the knowledge of the international community. According to his opinion, there was nothing criminal about it; crime began only when a firm engaged in smuggling, failed to pay taxes, or customs duties. However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs had no evidence about it.

It is generally known, though, that Macedonian nouveaux riches have acquired their initial capital at that very time. Police operation called "Sabre" in neighbouring Serbia has on several occasions pointed out to certain "interesting" contacts between the criminals from the two sides of the border. To the allegations of the media that many respectable citizens from the world of politics, business, and entertainment were connected with the "Zemun Clan", the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Skopje persistently claims that there is no evidence about it, without eliminating the possibility that the connections actually exist.

Armed conflicts between Macedonian security forces and National Liberation Army in spring and summer 2001, and the Kosovo crisis two years prior to that have proved that criminal structures belong to the same "invisible brotherhood". Not just once have the media in Skopje reported that, despite cannon fire, criminal underground, regardless of ethnic affiliation, operate excellently. In every such story, an important trail leads towards state officials who provide the necessary high patronage.

Unfortunately, all verdicts reached in Macedonia for organized crime can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And when one knows the length of the pronounced sentences, one can do nothing but laugh. The situation is not any better when the pronounced sentences for corruption are concerned. "Small fish" occasionally ends up in the "state aquarium" , but only as an experimental example to show to the world that something is being done. And the society is corrupt from top to bottom - it is testified by polls, investigations, statements of ordinary mortals forced to deal with the "hundred-headed dragon" every day among insatiable clerks.

It is not true that there has been no legislature at all for the struggle against organized crime and corruption. The problem is in humans, and even the best law, if there is no political and human willingness to implement it, is just an ordinary "scarecrow".