Today marks the 5th anniversary since the “Bloody Thursday”, or the rampage in the Parliament of Macedonia (Now: North Macedonia) that occurred on the 27th of April 2017 when a group of people, including members of the security services, stormed the Parliament under the dictate of the then ruling party VMRO-DPMNE wanting to prevent a peaceful transfer of power.
It was an attempt to establish a complete dictatorship in the country where its government was already ruling undemocraticaly, the media were under complete control of the government and there were efforts for a total anihiliation of the civil society through constant threats and intimidation. On the day of the attack, the then president of VMRO-DPMNE, Nikola Gruevski, who is now a fugitive from justice and is sentenced to several years in prison, went to Vienna.
The outline of the violence that erupted on the 27th of April 2017 started after the early parliamentary election took place on the 6th of December 2016. At the time, the coalition led by VMRO-DPMNE and Gruevski won 51 MP seats in the Parliament while the opposition coalition led by Zoran Zaev and SDSM won 49 MP seats.
However, Gruevski failed to form a coalition with its partner DUI during the legally determined deadline and to form a government and the mandate expired. During the early parliamentary election in 2016, DUI won only 10 MP seats, BESA won 5 MP seats, the Alliance for the Albanians won 3 seats and DPA won 2 MP seats.
When Gruevski failed to form a new government, SDSM started the negotiations with the Albanian parties and managed to reach an agreement for a parliamentary majority for the new coalition government, which would be comprised by SDSM, DUI, BESA and the Alliance for the Albanians. Altogether, these parties had 67 MP seats, which was more than the majority of 61 MPs necessary to vote in a new government without VMRO-DPMNE.
Zoran Zaev was able to secure the MPs signatures toward the end of February and on the 27th of February requested the mandate for a new government from the President Gjorgje Ivanov, as the second party with most votes in the parliamentary elections. However, on the 1st of March 2017, Ivanov scandalously rejected Zaev’s request for the mandate, with an excuse that first the new President of the Parliament has to be elected, who will afterwards notify him that a new parliamentary majority was formed.
Ivanov also spoke about the so-called “Tirana platform” thus spreading a conspiracy theory which aim was to instigate hate toward ethnic Albanians and antagonism and agitation among the other ethnic communities, firstly among the Macedonians and then among the other Balkan nations.
Two days before Zoran Zaev requested the mandate to form a new government led by SDSM, on the 27th of February, a protest erupted under the banner of “Za zaednichka Makedonija” (For United Macedonia) organized by the blogger Bogdan Ilievski and the film director Boris Damovski. The first march was organized by “Tvrdokorni” (Hardliners) under the motto “Makedonski marsh – zavet za Makedonija” (Macedonian March – a Pledge for Macedonia) and it grew into “For United Macedonia.”
Even though the start of the protests was synchronized with the period when VMRO-DPMNE realized it cannot form a government, still the protests “For United Macedonia” have started with the request for rejection of the so-called “Tirana platform,” i.e. they were led through the long-used discourse of straining inter-ethnic relations in order to prevent the formation of the new government.
In the next few weeks in the period between the 27th of February and the Bloody Thursday, the Macedonian public had been systematically prepared for the violence that culminated with the Parliament rampage. For two months the dangerous media discourse from VMRO-DPMNE’s pro-government media machinery was set on fire, parallel to the everyday protests across in the streets of the capital Skopje.
Apart from the public broadcaster MRT, the former government led by VMRO-DPMNE has had under its control almost all of the national broadcasting services in the country, including the two with the highest ratings – Sitel and Kanal 5 televisions. Parallel to this, VMRO-DPMNE held under its control most of the daily newspapers, and the newspapers with the highest circulation were those owned by Media Print Macedonia (MPM). The three MPM’s daily newspapers, titled “Dnevnik,” “Utrinski vesnik,” and “Vest” were closed, and hundreds of journalists and media workers were laid off. The third front of the media pressure were the tens of web portals that were publishing identical flaming press releases on a daily basis about the so called “Tirana platform”, calls for “de-Sorosization” of the country, SDSM’s “treasons” and a whole series of subjects that promoted hate speech that accrued day by day.
During the period of two months with everyday protests, the rhetoric had been getting fired up and it was re-directed from preventing the implementation of the so-called Tirana platform toward preventing the election of the new President of the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia. The new parliamentary majority led by SDSM elected Talat Xhaferi od DUI at this position.
The violence culminated on the 27 April 2017 in the afternoon and the evening , when a mob of hundreds of people – supporters of VMRO-DPMNE and the so-called “For United Macedonia” stormed the parliament to prevent the election of Talat Xhaferi for President of the Macedonian Parliament. Despite the storming and the violence, Xhaferi was elected president of the parliament.
The storming happened at 19h, when the doors of the Parliament were opened by VMRO-DPMNE’s MPs, and several masked people together with the mob were let in by the police that was guarding the Parliament entered the Media Hall where the newly elected President Xhaferi held a press conference.
The mob attacked the MPs and the journalists who were in the Parliament building, and the former President of SDSM, Zoran Zaev and the President of the Alliance of the Albanians, Zijadin Sela, were badly injured. The police reacted by clearing the mob three hours after the perpetrators stormed the parliament. They were officially accused of terrorism in a trial.
The prevention of the peaceful transfer of power had a court epilogue. On the 15th of March 2019, the people accused for the storming of the parliament were sentenced in total to 211 years in prison. Out of the 17 accused for terrorist endangering the constitutional order with the storming of the Parliament, 16 were charged as guilty and were sentenced to several years imprisonment while the opera singer Igor Durlovski was acquitted. The former high ranking police official Mitko Chavkov was sentenced to 18 years in prison and this was the highest sentence in the trial.
On the 26th of July 2021, the organizers of the violence that happened on the 27th of April or the so-called “Bloody Thursday,” all part of the VMRO-DPMNE’s leadership were sentenced to prison to a total of 25 years. The former president of the parliament Trajko Veljanoski was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison, the former Ministers Mile Janakieski and Spire Ristovski were sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison, while the former Director of the Security and Counter-intelligence Administration (UBK), Vladimir Atanasovski was sentenced to 6 years for terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order and safety. For the fugitives Nikola Gruevski (fled to Hundary) and Nikola Boshkovski (fled to Greece), the procedures are halted until they are found i.e. arrested.