Macedonian NGO Upholds Truth Amid Political Crisis
Macedonia was rocked by a scandal that put its democracy at risk in early 2015. Opposition leader Zoran Zaev began publishing wire-taps that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s cabinet’s had gathered illegally. More than 20,000 citizens, including journalists and politicians, had been recorded by the government. Tensions flared between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians, and the EU and United States had to intervene to prepare the country for snap elections to be held at the beginning of 2016.
This was a defining moment for TruthMeter, a multilingual platform run by Metamorphosis that acts as a watchdog of political actors in Macedonia, supported by a grant from the Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD).
TruthMeter decrypted and analyzed the content of the recordings and published articles explaining the criminal activities that had taken place in each recording.
“It was very important for us to educate people,” said Metamorphosis Executive Director Bardhyl Jashari. “It was not enough to say it was bad. We also had to show why and make references to the law to make it very clear. It proved to be very important.”
Launched in 2011, TruthMeter becomes “even more necessary every year,” according to Metamorphosis Program Director Filip Stojanovski. BTD Program Coordinator Tijana Kljajević echoed the sentiment. The platform has proved to be one of the most influential and trustworthy sources in Macedonia, and journalists and citizens regularly use it as a resource.
“The importance of Truthmeter’s political fact-checking is immeasurable, as it provides individual citizens, independent media, and decision-makers with verified information that has been used as basis for public debate,” said Kljajević. This credible information can then be used to bring actors from across the political spectrum together to find solutions to some of the problems facing Macedonian society.
Maintaining this credibility is important, Jashari and Stojanovski explained, because the former government used information laws to silence the media. TruthMeter always had to ensure that it had the complete truth when criticizing politicians’ work in order to survive. TruthMeter’s battle for the truth, however, did not end with the old regime.
Even after 2016’s peaceful democratic elections, the country’s factions remained at odds. Riots claimed multiple lives, and supporters of the old government attacked parliament. The country barely avoided civil war.
TruthMeter stepped up again. Its team of journalists, experts, researchers, analysts, and on-the-ground correspondents worked together to discover the truth and to spread that information to the public.
“In this type of authoritarian environment, there is a spiral of silence. The only way to break it from within — without external invasion — is to continue to speak the truth and to ask for accountability from a citizen’s perspective, even if there are only a few such voices,” said Stojanovski.
The number of voices is growing, now, thanks to social media. TruthMeter has more than 18,900 likes on Facebook and more than 600 followers on Twitter. Fans from different ethnic groups share the content and engage with TruthMeter on social media. Stojanovski said that it is showing people that things can be done together.
More than that, though, Macedonians are taking to social media to start questioning politicians’ work themselves. Under the new government, citizens are engaging more and beginning to hold the government accountable.
“This is very important because there is a lack of citizen engagement outside the election period,” explained Jashari. “Citizens most often see democracy as the right to vote in the election, but in the meantime do nothing. We want to keep the engagement alive.”
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