Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Report The US-Controlled Judiciary in Macedonia

Report: The US-Controlled Judiciary in Macedonia

This comprehensive report by Macedonian Human Rights Movement International details the complete control by the United States over Macedonia's judiciary, resulting in tremendous suffering by dissidents, in particular political prisoners, and the Macedonian population as a whole. The United States exponentially increased its control in Macedonia with its installation of the SDSM regime in 2016/2017 in order to force through the highly derogatory name change to "North Macedonia", designed to eradicate Macedonians' name, identity, and history, and to deny the existence of the Macedonian nation as a whole, and in particular, the existence of Macedonians in Aegean Macedonia (annexed by Greece in 1913). The U.S. engineered these events in order to appease Greece, so that it lifts its veto of Macedonia’s U.S.-imposed NATO membership bid.

We will discuss the most controversial case that broke the public trust in the Macedonian judiciary in detail below, while citing a number of other cases and violations of the rule of law:

April 27th trials - The biggest and most controversial trials are those covering the storming of the Parliament. The charges were originally aimed at the four nominal organizers of the protests – a group which includes artists, an opera singer and a political commentator, three members of Parliament who opened the doors to the building from the inside allowing the protesters to enter, former Interior Minister Mitko Chavkov and several other high level police officials charged with not preventing the incident, and eight protesters. A separate attempted murder charge covered the attack on Alliance of Albanians party leader Ziadin Sela. As a result, seven people received sentences between 10 and 13 years in prison, while two received shorter sentences after their charges were reduced from attempted murder to violent conduct. These two were subsequently attacked in Skopje, by suspected members of Sela's party, and one of them was beaten to death.

In early 2018, the protest organizers, members of Parliament, Interior Ministry officials and a select group of protesters were arrested and charges were filed. Early on it became clear that the purpose of the charges is to intimidate the three VMRO-DPMNE members of Parliament – Krsto Mukoski, Ljuben Arnaudov and Sasho Vasilevski. While domestically the new SDSM regime said that its main priority is to fight the corruption and the alleged abuse of security services by VMRO-DPMNE, internationally, it was clear that its main purpose would be to accept the Greek demands to rename Macedonia and rewrite Macedonian history and national identity – which would then accomplish the main goal of SDSM's international supporters – lifting the Greek veto and bringing Macedonia into NATO in light of the growing tensions in Ukraine. SDSM leader Zoran Zaev signed a very one-sided treaty with Greek Prime Minister Tsipras in the summer of 2018, which gave Greece all it wanted, but its implementation obviously required changing the Macedonian constitution to impose a new name (the highly derogatory “North Macedonia”). A referendum was called and it was a spectacular failure despite high profile visits from the likes of Angela Merkel, Theresa May and James Mattis, all urging Macedonians to vote in favour of the name change. The voter turnout was under 20%, while the United States and the SDSM regime claimed 35%, and even that number was reached with massive ballot stuffing in ethnic Albanian majority villages. Ethnic Macedonians largely opted to boycott instead of voting “no”, rightly believing that if the 50%+1 threshold in voter turnout was met, that it would end with rigging of the “no” votes. Even after the referendum failed and the citizens refused to give their approval to the name change, SDSM and Zaev decided to go ahead and get to the necessary two thirds majority in Parliament. But given the narrow outcome of the 2016 elections, and the evenly divided Parliament, SDSM turned the pressure on VMRO-DPMNE members of Parliаmеnt. The three VMRO-DPMNE members of Parliament who were charged in the April 27th trial were detained, and pressure was put on them to break with their party and ignore the referendum vote, and vote in favour of the imposed name change. After months of overt pressure, confronted with the prospect of lengthy prison sentences if they refused to abide, the three MPs broke. The courts showed clear coordination with the regime and the US diplomats, who were coordinating the entire process. The detention orders were lifted just as the Parliament was moving closer to the crucial vote.

The three MPs negotiated a broader deal – a law that would amnesty them and the protest organizers, while keeping the rest of the protesters in prison. Not only were Mukoski, Vasilevski and Arnaudov released from any criminal accountability, they were feted as brave pro-Western voices by US diplomats and received various perks – Mukoski’s construction company received lucrative government contracts, while Vasilevski had family members given comfy public sector jobs. This turned the trial into a mockery – protesters who were led by politicians in a two-yearlong propaganda operation that started with the Colour Revolution and sincerely felt that their country and national identity is slipping away from them with the concessions made to Greece and the Albanians nationalists, were given long prison sentences, while the organizers of the protests were allowed to walk free and even profit from the whole operation.

Three of the protest organizers asked and received amnesty under the law that was rushed through Parliament. Opera singer Igor Durlovski refused the offer, counting on his high profile and reputation in the public that the Zaev regime would not dare convict him. In the end, he was the only defendant who was acquitted in the trial. The case was prosecuted and tried by two open loyalists of the SDSM party. Prosecutor Vilma Ruskoska was outspoken in her criticism of VMRO-DPMNE and judge Dobrila Kacarska saw her career skyrocket after the trial, and she is now President of the Constitutional Court.

Following the amnesty for the select defendants, and their vote to rename Macedonia and rewrite Macedonian history along the Greek historical narrative, the trial progressed quickly. In March 2019, judge Kacarska handed sentences of over 200 years in total to the 16 defendants. Former Interior Minister Chavkov was sentenced to 15 years in prison, as were two police officials. A group of protesters, including Jane Chento, great-grandson of Macedonia's first post war President Metodija Andonov – Chento, who was persecuted by the Communist regime, were sentenced to prison terms of between 12 and 15 years – Chento received 15 years for kicking Zaev. Given his political activism during the protests, during which he picked up the mantle of the legacy of his ancestor, is currently considered the leader among the group of imprisoned protesters. In January 2019, Chento was attacked by guards and badly beaten in prison. His singling out from hundreds of protesters is seen as a deliberate move by the SDSM regime, to evoke the political persecution during Communist times and the elimination of political opponents. Chento was allowed to spend a weekend with his family in June 2023, for the first time since his arrest. It was the first time in six years that he saw his son outside of a prison setting.

To prevent President George Ivanov (VMRO-DPMNE) from giving pardons to the protesters, a charge of "terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order and security." was added to the list of charges – a President is not allowed to issue pardons to those charged with terrorism, and even if he attempted, the SDSM-dominated Justice Ministry announced that it would slow-walk his pardons. Eventually President Ivanov allowed his term in office to expire in 2019 without issuing pardons, allegedly threatened by SDSM, which hinted at launching anti-corruption investigations against him. Even current President Stevo Pendarovski, elected on the SDSM ticket as an enthusiastic supporter of the ColourRevolution and opponent of VMRO-DPMNE, is on the record stating that the charge of terrorism was exaggerated, but he also hasn't decided to use his power to grant amnesty. It is widely considered that keeping the remaining eight protesters in prison, while the protest organizers and the members of Parliament received pardons, is meant to intimidate citizens from joining future protests against the continued concessions that the SDSM regime makes, now primarily to Bulgaria. The direct message is – “don't rock the boat, see what happened to Jane Chento, it could also happen to you.”

The three votes that the SDSM regime secured with the April 27th trial were not enough – they were eight or nine votes short in total, depending on what you consider a two-thirds majority required to amend the Constitution. Another six votes were also secured from the VMRO-DPMNE group in Parliament and from their smaller coalition partners. In some instances, this was done with clear abuse of the judicial system and blackmail, and in other cases – with bribery. The most shocking case was that of Vladanka Avirovik, elected through the small Socialist Party of Macedonia, that was allied with VMRO-DPMNE. In one of the numerous high profile criminal cases initiated by the SDSM party after the Colour Revolution, Avirovik's son was targeted. He worked in a mining company owned by SPM party leader Ljubisav Ivanov – Zingo, who also owns Sitel TV, Macedonia's largest television that hosted a popular show that opposed the Colour Revolution. Avirovik was accused of being part of a bid to win a coal mining contract from the state-owned ELEM company – Macedonia's largest electricity producer. The goal of the charges were apparently both to ensure that Sitel TV changes its editorial policy (it's key editors were also charged and were fired early in the SDSM reign) and to ensure that Avirovik votes for the name change. Vasilije Avirovik was sentenced to three years in prison. After his mother agreed to join the “yes” group for the name change, in March 2019 the Skopje Appeals Court reduced his sentence to two years, allowing it to later be turned into a suspended sentence. So, a female member of Parliament was blackmailed with the imprisonment of her son and forced to change her vote, with full cooperation of the courts.

Another yes vote, that angered even the strongest SDSM supporters and shook even their faith in the judiciary, was that of former Culture Minister Elizabeta Kanchevska – Milevska. Her department was tasked to fund a number of construction projects in downtown Skopje – the rebuilding of the old museum destroyed in the 1963 earthquake, construction of new music halls, arches and adorning the city with monuments. The so-called Skopje 2014 project was meant to revise the Communist brutalist style reimagining of the city that began after the earthquake, and to give it a neo-Classical style, that would reflect the broader understanding of Macedonian history, evoking the country's ancient past. This, obviously, angered Greece which, laughably, claims the ancient history of the region, but also the Yugoslav educated SDSM elite, who have invested strongly in the “South-Slavic” theory of the origin of the Macedonians and also prefer that the WW2 partisan struggle, which they claim as their main source of legitimacy, is seen as the principal heroic myth of the country. They accused minister Kanchevska, and Prime Minister Gruevski who was the principal driver of this project, of corruption in the large construction projects that reached several hundreds of millions of euros. Kanchevska was charged with abuse of office, but for a relatively small amount – under a million euros. After her decision to join with the other eight members of Parliament, what was a dynamic trial quickly turned into a slow, protracted process, with her trial dates constantly being postponed by the court.

Kanchevska now faced a new legal drama. As the regime needed votes from VMRO-DPMNE again (more below) a new case was created. This time, Gruevski, Kanchevska, former Finance Minister Zoran Stavrevski and the owner of one of the largest retail chains and former Mayor of the Centar municipality, were charged over the monuments that were put in place as part of the Skopje 2014 project. The prosecutors allege irregularity in the way the money was given by the government to the municipality, that was formally in charge of the project. Stavrevski is one of the few people from Gruevski's inner circle who is still active in the party, and it's likely that the case is raised now, a decade after the monuments were put in place, to see if he can be used to pressure members of Parliament to switch sides again. Kanchevska is put on trial again, in what some call a deserved outcome for a person who sold her vote to stay out of prison – but cynics say that she is included in the case as a defendant who will later turn witness. The case is likely to include a heavy dose of extortion, as the former Mayor, Vladimir Todorovik, is reportedly being pressured to sell his large Tinex retail chain to businessmen close to the regime.

Other “yes” votes were bought with rewards, such as the appointment of Zekir Ramchilovich from a small Bosniak party as ambassador to Montenegro. Nola Ismajlovska – Starova, a Muslim Macedonian VMRO-DPMNE member of Parliament, has also joined the SDSM led coalition, and was named to several vaguely defined government positions, such as coordinator for regional cooperation, European integration. This was all eagerly encouraged not just by the US Embassy but by EU's Commissioner for enlargement Johannes Hahn, who urged Zaev and SDSM to secure the votes in Parliament, using a “combination of Balkan and rational approach”. The “Balkan approach” was widely understood in the Macedonian public to mean blackmail and arrests.

Besides these nine members of Parliament, half a dozen other VMRO-DPMNE members of Parliament faced various charges, of abuse of office and corruption. The single-minded focus of the prosecutors and the judiciary to go after the opposition meant that at one point, Macedonia had more than a tenth of its Parliament facing charges – all from VMRO-DPMNE or its allied parties – a rate not see this side of the Bosphorus and the Volga for a very long time.

The cases of the few high-level officials who were sentenced in the April 27th trial, and who were not given amnesties, are also highly dubious. Former Interior Minister Chavkov comes from Zaev's home town of Strumica and was a key figure in a major corruption investigation against Zaev – a well document case of abuse of office by Zaev, as Mayor, during which a local businessman recorded Zaev asking for a million euros in bribes to allow the sale of state-owned land. Chavkov was therefore seen as a personal enemy of Zaev and was charged not with conspiring with the protesters, but with failing to predict that the Parliament will be stormed on that exact day, after over 90 days of peaceful protests, and not having sufficient riot police at hand. The day of the storming was picked by SDSM, in a sense, with their decision to stage a vote to elect a new Speaker even after the session was adjourned. The party gave no warning to the Interior Ministry that it will try to stage a vote that every political observer in the country understood will be seen as highly provocative by the protesters. SDSM also didn't wait for the crowd to disperse, as they usually did in the late afternoon, but staged the vote while a large crowd was still in front of the building, and they also didn't use the subterranean exits to leave the building but gathered in the press hall, endangering journalists in the process, and waited for the protesters. Another Interior Ministry official, Mitko Peshov, was sentenced to 18 years in prison even though he was not even in Skopje during the incident and was not on duty in the crisis center set up by the Interior Ministry to monitor potential disturbances during the protests.

Sasho Mijalkov – Nikola Gruevski's cousin and head of the DBK secret service for almost 10 years under Gruevski. The story of the collapse of the rule of law can't be told without him. Was widely portrayed in the wiretaps during the Colour Revolution as a business schemer who amassed a serious fortune, as well, less believable, as the mastermind of the wiretapping. As the main security operative of the party, Mijalkov was clearly involved in organizing the protests that ended with the storming of the Parliament, but he quickly broke ranks with VMRO-DPMNE, supported the name change and helped SDSM get to the 81 votes it needed in Parliament – several of those who broke with the party and voted for the name change are his loyalists. For this, he received preferential treatment by the SDSM regime, even though they depicted him as one step below the Devil during the Colour Revolution. He was allowed to flee the country, then ordered to return under international pressure, and currently optionally stays in an open style lakeside “prison” while overseeing the collapse of some of the key cases against him and helping SDSM drive wedges in VMRO-DPMNE with his remaining influence there.

Katica Janeva – Another key rule of law figure. A small-town prosecutor plucked from anonymity during the Colour Revolution when a new post of Special Prosecutor was created with strong international support, giving her unlimited resources and power to go after politicians named in the wiretaps – primarily VMRO-DPMNE officials from Gruevski and Mijalkov down the ranks. Pictures of her likeness and that of her two principal associates were used for banners and t-shirts by SDSM protesters and her daft quips and obvious lack of depth and inability to answer even simple questions were ignored while a cult was built around her. Diplomats crowded her office, BBC did a documentary on her, and, by churning out charges against VMRO-DPMNE officials she was able to weaken the ruling party and bring SDSM to power. But then it was quickly revealed that she grossly abused her office, not just for political persecution but also to extort money from businessmen, using a mobster and others as her henchmen. A detailed report on her rise and spectacular fall is contained here. She was ultimately deposed by another SDSM affiliated prosecutor, Vilma Ruskoska, who took over her position before herself being ousted after she went too close to investigating the SDSM appointed Interior Minister over his role in a deadly bus crash. Janeva is currently serving out a seven years sentence for racketeering. Faith in the judiciary and in the ability of even very high level international diplomats to ensure the rule of law in Macedonia never recovered after this.

Zoran Zaev – Mayor of the city of Strumica, who used his political influence to take over much of the economy in the city, and then, leveraged this flow of cash to take over the SDSM party. Seen as too rural and uncouth by the wider public, and not a real challenge to Gruevski, he was nevertheless able to bring down the government with the help of the wiretaps, the secret service, urban Colour Revolution protesters and a lot of help from abroad. His corruption in Strumica was widely reported – he actually first gained prominence when he was arrested in 2008, under suspicion that he gave city owned land to a businessman close to him, to build a large shopping mall that Zaev now practically owns. Zaev was pardoned by then President Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM) who also helped elevate him to the party helm – hoping that Zaev will step down once his term as President is over (which he temporarily did). At the start of the Colour Revolution, as Zaev was revealing wiretaps aimed at Gruevski and other VMRO-DPMNE officials, VMRO-DPMNE loyalists in the state prosecutor's office leaked a video tape from an on-going investigation clearly showing Zaev asking a local businessman for a million euros to facilitate yet another sale of state owned land, clearly instructing him to give the money to his brother Vice Zaev. After Zaev grabbed power, following the storming of the Parliament, the court concluded this case finding insufficient evidence against him. In office, Zaev, Vice, other family members and cronies, moved quickly to take over numerous businesses – it is widely assumed, and even directly alleged by one of the defendants in the trial of Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva, that Zaev was the ultimate recipient of the millions Janeva extorted from businessmen. Offers by this defendant to testify against Zaev and to reveal their phone communications were refused by the court. Zaev's main business while in power was to invest in marijuana farms – dozens of permits were issued, under the guise of cannabis oil production. Drugs sourced to farms connected to Zaev's family, that were meant to be turned into cannabis oil, are reportedly smuggled to Kosovo, Albania and from there, to Western European countries. Even though he's now out of power, Zaev is still influential in his party, and his “foundation”, and the remaining ministers loyal to him are now promoting a scheme to restore poppy growing in Macedonia. This culture was eradicated because of the rampant smuggling of its extract, to make heroin, during the first half of the past century. Zaev remains untouchable by the courts. One of the key defendants in the racketeering trial against Janeva – the flamboyant singer and TV station owner Bojan Jovanovski – Boki 13 – testified before the court that Zaev and his brother Vice Zaev were the actual leaders of the extortion ring – a claim that sounds not just plausible but obvious even to casual observers of Macedonian politics. And yet, not only have the prosecutors refused to expand the trial against Zaev, but the court has refused to admit Jovanovski's phone as evidence – even though he claims that it is full of messages exchanged with Zaev which will clearly prove that the money extorted from businessmen targetted by Special Prosecutor Janeva ended up in Zaev's hands. Despite these clear indications of corruption, Zaev remained the darling of the Western diplomatic circles in Skopje long after he left power. Only recently did some of them break ranks – the Austrian Ambassador to Macedonia came out with an angry letter alleging that a large Austrian company that trades with agricultural produce is owed millions by a Macedonian producer owned by one of Zaev's in-laws, and the courts continue to protract the liquidation procedures.

The treatment of members of Parliament who choose to side with the SDSM – DUI ruling majority in the imposed name change, is mirrored in the VMRO-DPMNE government officials who were also persecuted by Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva. For example, Nikola Todorov, who held high posts under Gruevski as Healthcare and Education Minister, chose to side with SDSM. In response, cases against him are dropped by prosecutors. He was the target of a particularly emotional allegation, that, for reasons of cost cutting, he deliberately refused to approve funding for the treatment of a young girl born with very serious (likely inoperable) scoliosis. Colour Revolution protesters would bring birthday cakes to the Healthcare Ministry after the girl died in morbid PR displays, and the emotions were so high that Todorov narrowly survived an assassination attempt by the grandfather of the girl who fired from a pistol from close range at him on the day Todorov was vacating his post as Healthcare Minister. All charges in this case, including against the head of the Children's Clinic in Skopje, were dropped when Todorov, and the director of the clinic, sided with SDSM.

On the other hand, members of government who refused to play ball with SDSM were singled out for punishment. Gruevski fled the country in 2018 and received political asylum in Hungary. His Transportation Minister Mile Janakieski faced over a dozen criminal charges, and spent the past years in and out of prison and house arrest, to the point that it is a common trope in the public that, whenever something goes bad for the SDSM regime, “it's time to arrest Mile again” to distract the public. During the first imprisonment, Janakieski and former Education Minister Spiro Ristovski were put in a prison where a group of Albanian terrorists, who carried out a major attack on the city of Kumanovo in the early stages of the Colour Revolution in 2015 were also imprisoned. Janakieski and Ristovski were sent there apparently on purpose, and on the first day in the prison they were attacked by members of this Albanian group, which came to Macedonia with the declared intent to bring down the VMRO-DPMNE government and both suffered and inflicted serious casualties in the clash with the Macedonian special forces. Janakieski spent four years and eight months in house arrest, for numerous charges. In early July 2023 he was eventually ordered to begin serving a sentence of three and a half years after the sentence in one of the cases against him was upheld by the Skopje Appeals Court. The law clearly states that if a person is serving house arrest or detention on various charges, and is sentenced in one of the cases, the entire time served is counted toward the sentence – to do otherwise would mean that he is assumed guilty in the still pending trials. This means that Janakieski should be released from prison and have a year and several months left over for any possible future prison sentence. But the court decided to divide the time Janakieski spent in house arrest proportionately between the different charges the house arrest was ordered for, and only counts a little over a year served for the crime he is now serving a sentence for. This clear violation of the law means that Janakieski's request for immediate release after the sentencing was rejected and he is now in the notorious Idrizovo prison again.

Another member singled out for punishment, in contrast to appeasers like Mijalkov and Todorov, is former Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska. She was charged in one of the most dismissed cases – the alleged corruption over the purchase of an armored Mercedes vehicle used to transport high level visitors to Macedonia. The money were not abused, the vehicle was purchased and was used to transport the likes of Angela Merkel, when they arrived to Macedonia, but both Gruevski and Jankuloska were charged with alleged impropriety in the procurement procedure. Jankuloska gave birth to her first son during the trial, but was still sentenced and spent the last threeyears in a high security prison – very different from the “resort prison” Mijalkov is in. Even bitter political opponents of Jankuloska agree that her rights are being violated, as the doesn't have the right to spousal visits and the right to work outside of the prison – which is allowed to the male prisoners. Because of the treatment she is receiving, Jankuloska became a rallying cry for critics of the political persecution that is going on in Macedonia and her husband is filing case after case in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In contrast, the few Zaev's officials who faced some kind of scrutiny were given a very different treatment. Zaev's childhood friend Den Donchev was called in from Australia to run the huge public healthcare fund, despite a long track of corruption allegations when he was on the other side of the political divide, decades back in Georgievski's government. A large private company that provides dialysis services accused Donchev and another of Zaev's close confidants, Healthcare Minister Venko Filipche (whose personal wealth inexplicably multiplied during his term in office) of trying to orchestrate the sale of their company to a foreign company. Finally a video recording surfaced showing Donchev stuffing an envelope with cash during a meeting with a healthcare contractor. Instead of swift prosecution, Donchev was allowed to flee to Australia.

Zaev's right-hand man,Dragi Rashkovski, was also secretly recorded, on several occasions, rigging major procurement contracts and negotiating a huge real-estate deal in the city of Tetovo (which went ahead even after the recording clearly indicating that Zaev and Rashkovski were expecting a cut from the deal was made public). Unlike Donchev, Rashkovski faced charges, but for several minor crimes. Also, unlike the top VMRO-DPMNE officials, whose charges were always structured in a way to implicate Gruevski himself, in the case or Rashkovski, or the other few cases of lesser SDSM officials who would have legal troubles under the SDSM dominated judiciary, no attempts are made to connect their crimes with Zaev – even when it comes to Zaev's formal chief of staff Rashkovski. (Rashkovski was eventually sentenced for one of the cases against him, and given a seemingly excessive prison term of eight years – for signing off on a government contract to purchase software from a company he was directly linked to, which benefited him to the tune of a million euros– the sentence comes at a time when the US Embassy is angrilly demanding results in the fight against corruption).

Other cases that would take too much time to detail include direct coordination between businessmen and prosecutors to defraud the public budget; issuing hundreds of Macedonian passports to criminals, drug runners and hitmen from the region and across Europe and the Middle East, under assumed identities – a case in which the prosecutors quickly sentenced several low level passport clerks without moving up the ladder to top Interior Ministry officials who must have known what is going on given the profile of the passport recipients; toying with emotionally highly charged cases, including the 2012 Islamist attack on Macedonian youngsters that was abused by Zaev for political purposes – with the result that murderers were allowed to remain free in neighboring Kosovo; appointment of party loyalists to top judicial positions through a revolving door system.

DUI – the Democratic Union for Integration is the largest political party that represents ethnic Albanians in Macedonia. It was created from the core of the Albanian nationalist guerrilla movement that attacked Macedonia in 2001, and continues to be led by the key commander of this movement Ali Ahmeti. The party has positioned itself as kingmaker between the squabbling VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM parties and a loyal and indispensable partner to the Western diplomats in Macedonia. For this, it was rewarded with impunity both for the well documented war crimes charges stemming from 2001, as well as for numerous corruption allegations from their term in office. The key among them is the 2005 investigation by the US Justice Department into corrupt practices by Deutsche Telekom, the owner of the main Macedonian telecommunications company, which bribed both SDSM and the top DUI officials to prevent the opening of the market and adding more competition. Ahmeti was directly named in the emails collected from the Macedonian Telekom as part of the investigation, but instead of prosecuting the case, it is apparently used by Western diplomats to ensure DUI's continued loyalty. As SDSM continues to sink in the polls among ethnic Macedonians (and is unable to make up for the loss among other ethnic groups) DUI took on a role that is far above the power they usually hold, and above the proportion of the Albanian minority which they represent. The party now holds directly, or through proxies, half of the Macedonian government and SDSM has been reduced to exchanging more important for less “valuable” ministries, just to be able to maintain that Albanians are not a majority of the members of government. Albanians make up a reported, and inflated, 25 percent of the population (the true number being much lower for varoius reasons, including the mass exodus of ethnic Albanians to other European countries) and have historically held a quarter of seats in government. DUI was able to negotiate with SDSM that their official will be named Prime Minister in an interim government, and that the Speaker of Parliament, a DUI official and former terrorist commander, will be named pro-tempore President ahead of the 2024 elections. This means that at one point DUI will hold all three main posts in Macedonia – President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, on top of already holding powerful government departments that no Albanian party has ever held before – such as the Finance and the Foreign Ministry. This accumulated power allows DUI to destroy the Albanian opposition – the main opposition party, the Alliance of Albanians, surprisingly decided to join the coalition even though its main purpose was to attack DUI on anti-corruption grounds. Shortly after, it was revealed that Alliance leader Arben Taravari and a party loyalist who is now Healthcare Minister, purchased valuable homes in Skopje from a DUI member of Parliament whose oil business keeps getting lucrative government contracts. This obvious take-over of a key opposition party led to allegations that the Albanian minority in Macedonia has no democratic representation in Parliament. As it holds the key to the survival of the coalition (nominally led by SDSM), DUI leader Ali Ahmeti named his confidant – and First Deputy Prime Minister Artan Grubi – in charge of negotiating a huge highway contract with the notoriously corrupt US construction giant Bechtel. The contract is initially estimated at 1.3 billion eurosand was voted in by a special law adopted by SDSM and DUI in Parliament – a practice which indicates that the regimeknew the existing procurement laws would clearly mean that the deal is criminal, so Grubi is given authority to negotiate the deal with a lex specialis. Grubi immediately began promoting the deal as an infrastructure project meant to connect “Albanian lands”, as the cities chosen to be connected by the highways are majority Albanian, and much of the work will be done in the region of Kichevo, which is Ahmeti's stronghold. The initial price tag does not include the cost of land purchases, which raised concerns that DUI agents are purchasing pastures and fields near Kichevo, knowing where the highway will go through, and will then sell them to the government at hugely inflated prices. Even media outlets close to the US Embassy, which strongly supports the deal, have raised concerns about the entire affair. Meanwhile, just as the first tranches of the contract were paid out, Drin Ahmeti, nephew of Ali Ahmeti, purchased a 39 percent share of the large Soravia business center in downtown Skopje, through a consortium in which he formally has invested no money. The Albanian partner insists that Drin Ahmeti is given such a large share worth millions because of the 24 year olds' business potential and insights, and not because he is the son of the brother of a party that has been in power since 2002 and which is currently running the government and approving huge construction contracts. Grubi's brother and a businessman close to him are also busy buying real-estate in downtown Skopje, and a hotel at the Popova Shapka ski resort, bought for the price of a small ski cottage – all clearly indicating that the party is receiving large inflows of cash surrounding this contract and that its top officials are in a hurry to park that cash somewhere.

A particularly jarring case is that of Toni Menkinoski, a lawyer who often represents persecuted VMRO-DPMNE officials and other political dissidents. Menkinoski is himself now under trial, for disturbing the public order and peace, for raising a large flag representing the Star of Kutlesh – the original Macedonian flag post independence, that was changed under strong pressure and trade embargo from Greece in 1993. Menkinoski raised the flag in Ohrid, and for this he is now facing a trial, even though using the flag is considered allowed under the freedom of expression clause of the Constitution and the country has a very lax attitude toward use of other flags – mainly the ubiquitous Albanian national flag.

As result of the events of the past 6-7 years, public perception of the Macedonian judiciary has gone from “it's a troubled system, but generally works” to catastrophic, with its overt abuse for political persecution reminiscent of the Communist era. Even US diplomats who are openly supportive of the SDSM – DUI coalition and cheered the April 27th trial as a means to an end (the name change) have recently acknowledged that there is a problem. One poll shows that only 8 percent of the public have trust in the judiciary. Another put the trust and 3 and 4 percent, with about 19 percent of citizens also expressing some trust in the judiciary. The Macedonian society has been deeply divided over the persecution of the opposition and the treatment of political dissidents, and the polarization is seen in boycott of processes such as elections and even the census. Emigration is also intensifying as young people lose trust in the system and feel unsafe with the rising crime levels, that include inter-ethnic clashes and mafia attacks. Even those in power now reluctantly agree that something needs to be done, but seem unlikely to give up the reins of power over the judiciary – aware that their abuses of it and the example they set can come back to haunt them. Macedonians largely agree that a good start would be to revise the April 27th sentences, from long prison terms fit for terrorists to, at the very least, punishment that would be appropriate for lower level participants in a provoked violent incident, or more fittingly complete amnesty, especially considering that, among many others, DUI leader Ali Ahmeti (detailed above) and Talat Xhaferi (illegally installed as Parliament Speaker in 2017 and, along with Ahmeti, a commander of the ethnic Albanian insurgent movement KLA/UCK), were granted amnesty for their terrorist activities and involvement in the murder of Macedonian soldiers in 2001.