Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Macedonia: PM Questions "Some Kind of Rights" for Women; LGBT People Under Durres

"Hate Speech breeds Violence"
Photo: The Palm Beach Post
On October 12, 2012, the Macedonian Minister for Labor and Social Policy Spiro Ristovski abruptly announced his refusal of same-sex marriage, marking the start of campaign for distraction of public attention from other issues through inciting hate against LGBT people in some pro-government media. The campaign to rouse homophobia is powered by publishing gay porn images on a newspaper's front page, and promoting bogus research stating that gay parents molest their children. (Exposing minors to pornography is a criminal offense in Macedonia, but there's no record that the authorities pressed charges.)  On October 22, a gay rights activist was beaten up in Skopje, an event condemned by MEPs.

At the Commemorative Event of the public holiday Day of Macedonian Revolutionary Struggle (October 23, 2012), attended by the state leadership, including the President Ivanov (father of one child), the Prime Minister Gruevski (once divorced, fathered two children with his current second wife) held a speech [mk] which caused much turmoil among the citizens, especially those concerned with equal rights for men and women.
Incidentally, the official English translation of this speech seems to be cut short before the PM went into elaborating its main topic - the need to procreate more to boost the economy. The most representative paragraph which was quoted by local media states:
"Today, when we are in incomparably better condition than 60, 100 or more years ago, we, to tell the truth, alongside most of other European countries, face a crisis of family values, with serious long term and so far unstoppable trend of decline of fertility. We live at a time when it is increasingly rare to have a second child in the families, to speak of third or fourth. Contrary to that we lead debates about skewed values, about single-sex marriages, and even about adopting children in those single-sex marriages, about some kind of rights for women, and of men, about which one of them is more represented in politics or in business, and while we spend ourselves on those topics, as a state we are missing a people," Gruevski said. 
The speech and especially the term "some kind of rights" caused uproar on social networks. Many shared [mk] the link to a speech on German womanhood by Joseph Goebbels from 1933 alongside the news [mk] to incite people to compare and contrast. The fact that the same-sex marriage "debate" designated as pointless the PM is initiated and "lead" by his own subordinates, members of his party which imposes iron discipline and top-down coordination on all PR matters was also not considered an example of irony.

During the same day, Macedonian Helsinki Committee opened a LGBT center in Skopje. During the night, the premises were attacked with much material damage.

On October 24, some women CSOs reacted [mk] to the PM's putting the blame on women for not giving birth to enough babies, thus creating problems of competitiveness, investments, expenditure, and roads... by stating that women are "not  a group nor some kind of machines." Some female MPs asked the PM to explain the meaning of his speech at the session of the Parliamentary Committee for Equal Opportunities for Men and Women. Speaking in his defense, Ms Liljana Popovska, MP, whose party DOM is a member of ruling coalition said that:
"...if the Government and the PM did not have good will to advance the rights of women they would not have allowed gender quotas in the Electoral Code and a number of other things... I would not interpret [the speech], it's a matter of style, the way one expresses himself, but I see nothing problematic and I am absolutely certain that women's rights are protected after the speech in the same measure as before it."
In other news, the Minister for Labor and Social Policy (whose official CV omits his marital status, but dependable social media users claim he is and has two kids) again opined [mk] on the issue of low birthrate, providing a nice example of Freudian slip (italic):
"Our kids, and that one child we bear, will have to live under risk, with unsustainable economic system. Where with this population policy... er... this population picture, we'll bring ourselves to a point of having unsustainable economic system and unsustainable pension system," Ristovski said.
According to various estimates, up to one quarter of the population  has left the country in the last two decades since the independence (450.000 out of 2 million, and according to Kapital [mk] 230.000 since 1998), and around 50.000 Macedonians have acquired Bulgarian passports as means to ease emigration or doing business with/in the EU.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Macedonia: The Internet must Fall - an Order from the Committe HQ | #член16

This article is also available in Macedonian 
- на македонски на Блогерај: Интернет мора да падне - наредба од Штабот на Комитетот | #член16
- на македонски на Блогспот: Интернет мора да падне - наредба од Штабот на Комитетот | #член16     

Bribe, buy-off, take over, appropriate, intimidate and if that does not work, destroy the existing media. Meanwhile, open portals "which often publish insulting information and direct attacks on individuals, firms, companies." Conduct media lynches against those who have different opinions - faux lustrations, discrediting, purges. Avoid implementation of Criminal Code [mk] when your propagandists use hate speech with impunity to incite discord and inter-ethnic intolerance. 

Bring the situation with freedom of expression to a pitiful level.

Then, declare a "solution": The Internet "must be regulated"! [mk]

In short: Hungarian scenario in a banana republic.


Because the new legislative "solutions" in Macedonia directly incite censorship through the defamation law, changes in the Criminal Code that reduce the penalties for hate speech and the limitations of the work of foreign correspondents with another bill... Find out more about the efforts of Macedonian activists who demand putting the legislative process on democratic foundations. And join in!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Opening of the Seventh Assembly of World Movement for Demoracy in Lima

This is the second post about my participation at the Lima Assembly of the WMD. Check out the first post in the series.

The first day of the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy provided much food for thought. It was quite busy, which proved a bit taxing when confronted with my overly optimistic attitude towards effects of jet lag. The highlight of the day was the opening session featuring several renowned speakers from various world regions relating their own experiences and positions on state of democracy, in a way opening the issues to be discussed in the next three days. This post will provide brief introductions with links, in expectation that the text/videos of the speeches will be made available, as they all were well worth the time to (re-) read or watch/listen. Find out more real-time coverage via Twitter at #LimaAssembly.

The session was chaired by former Canadian PM Kim Campbell, Chair of World Movement Steering Committee, who thanked Peruvian co-hosts from the Legal Defense Institute and Transparencia. Her speech was focused on the simple argument of goodness of democracy, and inclusion as its essential, non negotiable element. In retrospect, after listening of the experiences by other speakers, getting to basics seems justifiable world over, even though it should be obvious in the 21th century, many decades after Churchill famously remarked that "...democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

Kim Campbell opening the Seventh Assembly of World Movement for Democracy.

The first participant to speak was Yemeni journalist activist Tawakkol Karman (@TawakkolKarman) who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." She emphasized the importance non-violent, "peaceful" resistance to dictators everywhere. It needs to be active, through protest and demonstration towards any form of injustice. In that vein, she expressed support for the people fighting the dictatorial regimes of Syria and Bahrain.

Kazakhstan human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis, who was imprisoned by his country's regime and later released thanks to international pressure, first used the opportunity to issue a public call for support of jailed dissident Vladimir Kozlov.  He also spoke about the danger of mock democracies which declare lip-service allegiance to the international framework of democracy and human rights, while enacting regressive legislation and implementing authoritarian and totalitarian practices within the countries they rule. Authoritarian regimes need to be held accountable or we should recognize that international treaties are simply optional. He reminded that democracy is a process, not a destination. At its core is devotion to the truth, the capacity to say black is black and white is white.

Glanis Changachirere spoke about her experience as a grassroots fighter for gender rights in Zimbabwe. She had personal courage to stand up to oppressive traditions, exclusion within the education system and intimidation through imprisonment as a "rebellious girl-child," growing into a founder of youth-based human rights movement. This was quite refreshing, as it reminded by example that the future of democracy might be envisioned by experienced activists and statesmen/women, but would be unattainable without young people who are brave enough to break the chains of conformism and peer pressure.  

In his elaborate speech, Peruvian Foreign Minister Rafael Roncagliolo, also in a way addressed the gerontocratic "argument" that the level of democratization of a country is somehow related to the "age" of its democratic tradition. He pointed that South American countries were among the first in the world to establish democratic systems with their independence, and with their 200-years tradition have longer "track record" than many others, including bulk of European states which achieved that during the XX century. These democracies proved fragile and imperfect, but that is the nature of this historical, evolutionary process. On the other hand, backsliding into non-democratic practices is a danger that looms everywhere.  He also emphasized the essential strength of inclusive democracies as the single civilized form for ensuring social cohesion.
The event ended with a concert by a children orchestra from the Sinfonia por el Perú, part of a movement of musicians and youth workers who utilize music education and performance to instill valuable life skills among poor and "at risk" youth. Their efforts received a standing ovation by the hundreds of participants. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Trip to Peru to the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy

During the last few days I undertook a trip to Lima, to the of the World Movement for Democracy

In-flight Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list column "News from Lilliput" claims some
politicians in Poland and Croatia blame communist system abolished in 1990
for the economic misfortunes suffered by the economies they govern.

Moving sidewalks on Schiphol add to the futuristic feeling.

I was spared the long airport waits, which is fortunate as I do not
posses the yogin-like flexibility of this napper.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Two Minutes Hate

This article is also available in Macedonian | Овој текст е исто така достапен и...
- на македонски на Блогспот: Две минути омраза
- на македонски на Блогерај: Две минути омраза   

Short explanation about Two Minutes Hate from Wikipedia:

Two Minutes Hate, from George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, is a daily period in which Party members of the society of Oceania must watch a film depicting the Party's enemies (notably Emmanuel Goldstein and his followers) and express their hatred for them.

The film and its accompanying auditory and visual cues (which include a grinding noise that Orwell describes as "of some monstrous machine running without oil") are a form of brainwashing to Party members, attempting to whip them into a frenzy of hatred and loathing for Emmanuel Goldstein and the current enemy superstate. Apparently, it is not uncommon for those caught up in the hate to physically assault the telescreen, as Julia does during the scene.

The film becomes more surreal as it progresses, with Goldstein's face morphing into a sheep as enemy soldiers advance on the viewers, before one such soldier charges at the screen, submachine gun blazing. He morphs, finally, into the face of Big Brother at the end of the two minutes. At the end, the mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted viewers chant "B-B!...B-B!" over and over again, ritualistically.

Within the book, the purpose of the Hate is said to satisfy the citizens' subdued feelings of angst and hatred from leading such a wretched, controlled existence. By re-directing these subconscious feelings away from the Oceanian government and toward external enemies (which likely do not even exist), the Party minimizes subversive thought and behavior.

In the first Two Minutes Hate of the book, the audience is introduced to Inner Party member and key character O'Brien. Within the novel, hate week is an extrapolation of the two-minute period into an annual week-long festival.

Macedonia: Danger of Censorship with the New Law on Insult and Defamation

I relay the reaction by Metamorphosis Foundation and recommend that all bloggers, users of forums, Twitter, Facebook and of internet in general to do the same to create public debate. If the Parliament adopts the Draft-Law on Civil Liability for Insult and Defamation in its present form, it will surely affect all their lives. The Government reacts to negative PR, especially if reactions come from many sides and those who react do not succumb to the unavoidable initial pressures. Such positive example was the dismissal of the process of adoption of Law on Youth in 2011.

The sections of the Draft-Law on Civil Liability for Insult and Defamation related to communication over the internet can lead to a complete termination of the possibilities for public debate through websites registered in Macedonia, and by encouraging censorship these sections violate Article 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia.

The draft-law which is currently in its first reading in Parliament also includes sections related to the work of the "online services providers" explicitly mentioning the portals as such, but the term provider itself is not precisely defined so it can also refer to any other online service: providing access in general, an instant messaging application, forums, content aggregation and forwarding, blogging platforms - especially the ones that allow third-party commenting on posts, etc.

Given the recent experiences of applying vaguely defined concepts in practice, the judge himself will have to decide whether he would consider a blogger to be an “online service provider” or an accomplice who “allowed” a stranger to leave a comment under his post which is offensive for a third party, or to have a link to another blog or website that could possibly contain insults or libels for a third party.

The basic article which refers to the internet is Article 11, which says:

Responsibility of the online service provider
Article 11
(1) The online service provider assumes responsibility, along with the author, to compensate for the damage arising from enabling access to offensive or defamatory information.
(2) The online service provider shall not be liable for an insult or slander as a result of enabling access to offensive or defamatory information provided that:
1) the provider proves that the author of the information posted on the website was not acting under direct or indirect control or influence by the online service provider, and
2) the provider proves that he was neither aware, nor that he should have been aware of the offensive or libelous material posted on the web portal, or that within 24 hours after becoming aware of the offensive and defamatory nature of the published text or information, the provider has taken all the technical and other measures for the removal of such information. A request for removal of information can also be filed by the complainant.

Given that every online service provider or website administrator has the technical capabilities to control all content (the form of control can ultimately be deletion or removal of the website from the internet) contrary to the principle of presumption of innocence, with this article the owners are put in a situation to have to prove that they were innocent, instead of the plaintiff to offer evidence for their guilt or malicious intent.

This law will oblige the portals to censor content posted by their users upon the request of the plaintiff, instead of a court order based on a proven offense. For example, a government official may be offended if someone presents evidence of his corruption. If the provider cannot prove that he has taken all the measures necessary to save his reputation, then he is faced with the same responsibility for the contents as the citizen who had published them.

Having in mind the risk of having to pay fines of up to 27,000 euros, it is very likely that the online service providers, in order to avoid lawsuits will prevent the publication of any content generated by the users or at best they would delete everything that they receive a request for. If not, they will also incur costs because they will be forced to employ moderators (lawyers and fact-checkers) who will be able to assess in advance if any comment is offensive or libelous, and at least three administrators who working in three shifts i.e. 24 hours 7 days a week (including weekends and public holidays) to promptly respond to all requests for deletion within the legally stipulated 24 hours.

The opportunities for arbitrary abuse that would be created with the adoption of such a law, by encouraging the online service providers from all societal sectors, and especially from the private and civil society sector, to introduce procedures for censorship of content generated by their users, make this law contrary to the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and censorship prohibition contained in Article 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia.

Article 16

The freedom of belief, conscience, thought and public expression of thought is guaranteed.
The freedom of speech, public address, public information and the free establishment of institutions for public information is guaranteed.
Free access to information and the freedom to receive and impart information is guaranteed.
The right to a response in the news media is guaranteed. The right to a correction in the news media is guaranteed. The right to protect the source of the information in the news media is guaranteed.
Censorship is prohibited.

Metamorphosis is urging the members of the Assembly of RM to reject the adoption of the law in this form. Passing laws that could literally affect the economic survival of any of the users of online services, which account for more than 60% of the population in Macedonia, due to an opinion they have expressed on the internet and laws that are literally obliging e-publishers to develop censorship mechanisms if they don’t want to be exposed to the threat of huge fines, is in complete contradiction with the basic human right to freedom of expression and the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia.

Due to the complexity and comprehensiveness of the consequences from the adoption of this law, Metamorphosis believes that the process of enactment must be conducted inclusively and in accordance with the Guidelines stipulating the manner of acting in the work of the ministries for the involvement of stakeholders in the process of preparation of laws, enacted with an ordinance of the Government (Official Gazette of RM no. 150 from 27.10.2011) and available on the website of the Deputy Prime Minister for Economy, in accordance with the legal framework for Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA), as well as the Code for consultation with the public during the preparation of the regulation and the Guide for Regulatory Impact Assessment, available on the website of the Ministry of Information Society and Administration. This process must include all stakeholders, starting from online service providers to citizens-users of internet services, bloggers, active users of social networks and readers of media portals who are expressing their views through comments, representatives of the private, civil society and education sector, particularly human rights experts. In order to have a constructive assessment of the effects of the law via comparative analyses with other countries, the process must include relevant international institutions, primarily the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and international organizations dealing with the protection of freedom of speech.

There is no such process in the case with the draft-law on civil liability for insult and defamation, which by the time of publication of this reaction has not been published yet on the official government websites: ENER - the single national electronic register of regulations of RM and the portal for modern public debates If the Government and the Parliament want this law to have a positive impact on the development of democracy and on the improvement of the quality of life in Macedonia, the draft-law must be withdrawn from parliamentary procedure and the process should be implemented from the beginning.

Metamorphosis invites all societal stakeholders, individual citizens, non-governmental organizations, educational and scientific institutions, private companies, especially online service providers, media and e-publishers, as well as the government entities - especially the ones responsible for protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens, to actively engage in the process for preventing the enactment of this and any other legal "solution" that opens even the slightest opportunity for violation of the freedom of expression in the Republic of Macedonia.

Metamorphosis sends this reaction to the competent institutions of the Republic of Macedonia and the general public, to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Council of Europe and to the international organizations working on human rights protection: EDRi - European Digital Rights, Amnesty International, Index on Censorship, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders.