Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Macedonia passes lustration law

Macedonia's parliament passed a bill on January 22nd requiring all candidates for official positions be investigated to determine whether they co-operated with -- or were members of -- the secret services during the communist era.

This kind of vetting process is referred to as lustration, a term that historically referred to purification rituals practiced by ancient Greeks and Romans. After the fall of communism, the term came to mean limiting former communists -- and especially spies of the communist secret police -- from participation in governments and all other public functions.

Macedonia's bill finally passed after the government agreed that it should apply from 1944 to the present. In May 2007, the government suggested that the vetting process apply only until July 2000. Proponents of the bill criticised that idea, saying it was evidence that the government sought to exempt agents and informers who are currently in power.

Those who want to work in the civil service, judiciary, academia, media and NGOs and religious organisations are now required to sign affidavits saying they did not collaborate with the secret services. Their record will then be verified by a nine-member parliamentary commission. The law will be in effect for five years.

Macedonia was among the last countries in the former Yugoslavia and Eastern bloc to implement a lustration law. Advocates argue that the benefits are twofold: the law will allow victims of the regime to receive justice, while also removing the hold former communists have on Macedonia's economy and institutions.

Some are concerned, however, that the lustration process could be manipulated and that much of the evidence to prove collaboration has already been destroyed.

Igor Ivanovski, an MP from the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), said his party supports the law. "But that does not mean that we accept the law unconditionally," he added, warning that in its present form it could be used to discredit the opposition and for political manipulation.

Stojan Androv, an MP and former president of parliament, proposed the legislation. "With this law, public administration work won't be possible for those who were motivated ideologically or politically and were secret political informers who worked for the elimination of every other political option besides communism," he explained.

The law, according to Androv, is very important for the country because it will allow key people in positions in the political establishment, media, education and science to be independent from secret centres of power left by the communist regime. Therefore, he says, "the decisions that vetted officials will take are more likely to favour the country and the citizens and will follow the laws of Macedonia."

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