Author: Goran Lefkov
Center for Investigative Journalism SCOOP Macedonia is going to publish the heroism of the most famous whistleblowers in the Balkan region and beyond in the future period of time. Its purpose is to encourage the brave and honest citizens in the institutions to bring to the surface the irregularities made by those in power in all countries in the region and the world.
At the beginning of my journalistic career in 2009, during a visit to Strumica, in a casual conversation with Zoran Zaev, then mayor of Strumica, later, president of SDSM and Prime Minister, we commented on the behavior of Nikola Gruevski, Prime Minister with the longest tenure in this position in the independent Macedonian history. A sentence that Zaev said then left an impression on me, that the government was tired, and no matter how principled a person was, very often a person or a character was one person before gaining power, and a completely different person if he was not careful, when seated in a comfortable state chair.
That’s exactly what happened. Shortly after that conversation, a year or two, Gruevski and his team began to flagrantly violate both democratic values and human rights. We all witnessed those behaviors, but some citizens still had a greater burden on themselves. Because they knew something more than what the official party propaganda machinery of VMRO-DPMNE presented to the public through the media and the institutions it managed.
Unlike us, ordinary citizens, who listened to the crimes of the authorities, our heroes Gjorgji Lazarevski and Zvonko Kostovski, directly at their workplaces, listened to those atrocities every day.
The decision to act, i.e. bring to the surface those crimes by the top of VMRO-DPMNE was difficult and painful. Yet they wondered whether to save human destinies and extinguish the volcano that burnt in them, or to leave the flames of that volcano to burn them.
However, heroically, they decided to organize themselves, to analyze the possible scenarios, and finally act according to the safest scenario.
The decision was not easy, because they had to withdraw from the company and friends first. Not that they did not like them, but they had to distance from them so that they did not become suspicious to the authorities and put them in danger. Any meeting with friends might have meant threats, pressure, dismissal, danger to the physical safety of their loved ones and a number of other problems that the regime might have brought them.
They also had to isolate and secure the family. They needed to make sure that there was no material or other evidence in the home that the regime could have used to imprison their close people.
Since there was no whistleblower law in Macedonia then, they knew that they could not count on institutional support. Therefore, they had to take all the next steps carefully, because they were two and too small in relation to the frantic party machinery of Nikola Gruevski, Sasho Mijalkov, Mitko Chavkov and the other outcasts and shadow players who held the regime.
The best option for them then was to hand them over to their colleague Zoran Verushevski.
In the end things went public and the rest is history, in which these two heroic names Gjorgji Lazarevski and Zvonko Kostovski are living witnesses and heroes.
In a decade of their heroic endeavor, we have a case that is considered one of the most significant in the world in the ranks of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.
Republic of North Macedonia, for their protection, accelerated the adoption of the Law on Protection of Whistleblowers and it was one of the first European countries to adopt that law in 2015. It was not until 4 years later that the European Union adopted the Whistleblower Protection Directive, which provided for all countries to implement it by December 2021, but unfortunately, only 4 countries have fully implemented it, all the others have either not started its implementation or are in procedure.
Today Gjorgji Lazarevski and Zvonko Kostovski are safe and can sleep peacefully with the thought that the public is familiar with the weight of what they have heard and what they have known and another very important thing is that thanks to them, thousands of employed citizens have legal protection if they decide to share the injustices they see and witness.