The latest decision of the Government to unilaterally terminate the agreement with the concessionaire for Kazandol and the announcement of a contract review with Eurmaks for the Ilovica mine is a small but significant step in improving the situation of civil participation in decision-making, primarily at the local level, but also at the national level.
Combating the mines across the country has proven to be a battle that is above all politics, and the organization of local referendums, whose outcome is non-binding for making a final decision, has also proven to be a strong argument and pressure on those who have the last word.
Referendums in Macedonia, until recently a rare phenomenon for this state of affairs, primarily because citizens are accustomed to being dominant at local and national level, which stems from the view that it is more important than direct democracy.
Last year, after the referendum, this photo slowly but surely began to change in the direction that corresponds to the most vulnerable citizens of this country.
The exclusive right of the Government to be privileged, untouchable, impunity, to make decisions solely in the personal interest, to appropriate and grab everything that is common, and thus the basic human rights in the air, water and free space are no longer available.
When it comes to the termination of the concession contract, it is more than obvious the “searching for a hair in the egg” by the new government, which is trying to fulfill its pre-election promises, using all available means to stop the construction of the mine.
While for the Government, the concessionaire Sardić did not fulfill the obligation under Article 13, paragraph 1 of the Contract on convoy, i.e. within two years from the award of the concession, he built a facility for the exploitation of cathode copper with a processing capacity of at least 50 percent of the exploited ore, the investor is categorical that no condition has been fulfilled for the termination of the concession contract for Kazandol.
How much and whether this decision will cost us, we have yet to find out. The only thing that is certain is that the Kazandol mine will not continue its work, but the fight for other concessions will continue.
Hot – Cold
The final decision of the Government to terminate the contract was preceded by a letter from the Minister of Economy, who was perceived by most of the activists as some kind of pressure ahead of holding one of the most important referendums for the Kazandol mine, the referendum in Valandovo.
At the same time, this correspondence was also a type of examination of citizens’ influence on possible non-termination of the contract. The letter was sent to the Center for Development of the South-East Planning Region, ie the municipalities where the referendums were held (Gevgelija, Bogdanci, Dojran), as well as the Municipality of Valandovo, where the referendum was to be held on August 20, 2017.
The letter states that the procedures for awarding the concession for the opening of the mines were guided in accordance with the legal provisions, which means that prior to the concession approval the opinion of all relevant institutions, including the municipalities on whose territory the concession is awarded, is sought. Positive opinions for approval were obtained from municipalities’ concession for geological exploration and exploitation of mineral resources.
“In the Law on Mineral Raw Materials as well as in the Law on Concessions and Public- private partnership, there is no basis for unilateral termination of the concession contract by the concession grantor or the Government, due to the conducted referendum or civil initiative against the beginning of exploitation at the already granted concession for exploitation of mineral raw materials. In order to finally solve this problem, the Government as the concession provider, together with the Ministry of Economy, in cooperation with all interested parties, will have to first provide expert opinions and analyzes, and then find a solution within the law”, said Minister Bekteši in a letter.
The Ministry of Economy has conducted an analysis of the legal provisions regulating this issue, and emphasizes that this is not the attitude of the Ministry.
“Bearing in mind that the Government of the Republic of Macedonia, in accordance with the legal provision is the grantor of the concession, and the Ministry of Economy is the state body in charge of mineral resources, the final answer and attitude about this problem must be given by the Government, a more precise solution must be found between the Government, the Ministry of Economy and others stakeholders”, the letter said.
How it all started?
The government of VMRO-DPMNE has allocated an incredible 375 concessions for the exploitation of mineral ores for 43 domestic and foreign companies, dozens of which are for the exploitation of metallic mineral resources, which poses a great threat to land, plant life and the environment. After this procedure of the previous Government, citizens, mainly from the southeastern region of the country, decided to take matters into their own hands, to abandon submissiveness to political parties and their leaders, and directly through a referendum come out on the political scene, and publicly show their attitude, determination and power.
There were six referendums in this region, three of which were successful, and three have failed due to poor exit.
The first referendum was held in Gevgelija on April 23, with a turnout of 70%, of which 99% of citizens voted against the opening of the mines in their own or neighboring municipality. The next was a referendum in Bogdanci, on July 11, 2017, when 71% of voters came out, of which 98% voted against.
The third, and also the last in a series of successful referendums, was in Dojran, where 51% of voters were registered, while 98% opposed the construction and opening of mines in the territory of their own or neighboring municipality. Unlike the previous two referendums, probably due to the determination of citizens and civil society organizations to pursue their intentions, the pressure on the citizens of Dojran were obvious.
Pressures and obstructions
The Center for Freedom was the only organization that was accredited by the State Election Commission, and overseeing referendums in the country, next to observers – representatives of the initiators of the referendum.
During the preparation and monitoring of the referendum, CIVIL recorded a number of pressures and obstructions on the ground. Of the obvious, as was the failure to comply with the decision of the Referendum Voting Council by the then Mayor of the Municipality of Dojran, Borče Stamatov, to the allegations of appeals to citizens not to go to the referendum.
“Local referendums are extremely important for democratic processes in society. They directly influence the quality of institutions and testify about the participation of citizens in decision-making processes. Preventing such initiatives is unacceptable and anti-democratic. We fully support initiatives for local referendums and invite institutions to meet their demands as soon as possible. We, as an organization that monitors the electoral and political processes in the country, will remain in the field and monitor the situation”, said Jabir Derala from CIVIL.
Although CIVIL registered minor irregularities in the technical part of the referendum in Gevgelija and Bogdanci, pressures and obstructions in the referendum in Dojran announced the growing struggle of authorities and investors for the upcoming referendums.
Jovan Džalev, one of the initiators of the referendum in Dojran and a participant in the Spas for Dojran initiative, who unfortunately did not live to see the success of the citizens, in front of the Civil Media cameras, talked about the referendum in Dojran, an uncertain result to the very end, pressures that were made during the day of the referendum – in order to avoid the censorship, as well as the upcoming referendum in Valandovo.
“The referendum was really tough. I would rate it as a political game referendum. First, one political party exercised maximum pressure on citizens and did not provide them with the opportunity to decide whether to vote or not. There was enormous pressure that there would be insufficient turnout and that the referendum would be declared unsuccessful. Because of it, this census was really thin”, Džalev said.
For the upcoming referendum in Valandovo, he said that it would be a “crescendo for everyone”.
“Gevgelija was not so much, Bogdanci – no, today we saw that Dojran went through pressure, and in Valandovo it would be terrible. So I think the problem of the Kazandol mine should be raised to a higher level. When I say higher, I mean the republican level. To involve many ecological bridges, non-governmental organizations, not just CIVIL who was present, but much more, even the Helsinki Committee to join. This waz, I do not think there will be any problems. Although I expect the politicians to do their own thing, and that there will be pressure not to be censored”, said Džalev. And his predictions came true with a failed referendum in Valandovo.
Observers who do not know who they are observing for
Unlike the referendum in Gevgelija, Bogdanci and Dojran, where CIVIL was the only organization that oversaw these processes, a non-governmental organization Center for European Youth from Radoviš appeared in the Bosiljevo referendum.
There is little public information about this NGO. The organization does not have a website, and the last content on the Facebook group with the name of this organization is seen with a prefix xxx. After searching the Internet, the only information that has been discovered is that it is a member of the “Go to Voting” coalition, which oversaw the elections in 2014, and is led by the controversial organization Sinergija from Štip.
In all 19 polling stations in the municipality of Bosilevo, visited by mobile monitoring teams of CIVIL, two observers of this organization were noticed.
“Look, 1,000 denars per day, who gives you that?” Said one of the observers, but he could not tell us what he was interested in in the organization that hired him as an observer.
At the second polling station, when we asked the two of them which organization are they from, they had to take their authorization to read. CIVIL Media contacted the president of the organization, Alexander Kulušik, who said that this is the first time that the organization monitors the election process.
“The organization is 6-7 years old, I am president for six years, and so far we have organized several humanitarian events around Christmas holidays for socially vulnerable families”, Kulušik said. According to him, CEM on the ground has about 40 observers.
It remains unclear why this organization from Radovis appeared as an observer in a referendum in the municipality of Bosilevo.
The first step is made, are there going to be new ones?
The closure of Kazandol is indeed a success for which the citizens are primarily responsible, but if this will be an isolated case or the termination of the contract will continue, we have yet to see. The revision of the legal aspects of the concession contract for the Ilovica mine is for now only a prediction.
What is obvious is that even the organizations that actively participated in the previous struggle were surprised by their success, and the citizens even more. In the end, they understood their role, as well as the right to participate in decision-making at the local and national level. The Southeast has demonstrated and proved that civil activism is still alive.