The Case of Spaska MitrovaTHE CASE OF SPASKA MITROVA – THE SAGA OF A YOUNG WOMAN AND HER BABY DAUGHTER: VICTIMS OF GENDER BIAS OR POLIТICAL REPRESSIONS?
Spaska Mitrova is a 25-year-old mother of an ill baby girl, a native of the town of Gevgelija located in South-Eastern Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). This is her story and how she found herself in jail, her ill and still suckling baby daughter snatched to an unknown location without her medications and proper medical care, the two falling victim to gender bias, political repressions on an ethnic basis, and personal connections between judges at the Court in Gevgelija and Spaska’s former spouse.
In 2006, Spaska married her former husband. Less than two months later she filed an application for divorce at the Court in Gevgelija due to her husband’s abusive character, his drug addiction, and his dealing drugs from their home. Due to the husband’s personal connections with staff at the Court and the local branch of the Social Services Agency (SSA), the two institutions sided with him. The divorce proceedings were delayed by the Court for 5 months. In the meantime, Spaska gave birth the couple’s daughter, Susana. To make matters worse, Spaska was openly Bulgarian by ethnicity and her ethnic background was yet another detriment to her – she was called a “Bulgarian bitch” and was told that her daughter would be taken away to be raised as a Macedonian by staff at the Court and the SSA. After the formal dissolution of the marriage, the Court ordered Spaska to provide access to her home for her former spouse, including making a bed available for him, so that he could visit their daughter, despite Spaska’s request that the visits take place at another location – she lived with her parents in her parents’ house and they did not want a drug dealer and addict staying in their home. In addition, he did not appear for the regularly scheduled visits, but frequently came to the home drunk at night. No representative of the SSA ever came to the home to determine whether the father came during visitation hours – his word that he did and that he was not allowed in to see his daughter was taken as fact by the SSA and the Courts.
In July and December of 2007, the Court in Gevgelija sentenced Spaska to 6 months in prison (1 year conditionally) and 8 months in prison (2 years conditionally), respectively, for not providing access to and a bed in her parents’ home for her former spouse. Spaska’s formal requests to set an alternative location for the visits were ignored up to that point, but after the second trial, the Court changed the location for the visits at the local SSA centre. The visits took place as scheduled for 5 months until Spaska was told by SSA staff to start bringing her daughter on different days of the week, which changed from week to week, supposedly in accordance with a new decision by the Court, of which Spaska was unaware. Spaska’s formal requests to receive a copy of the decision from the Court and the SSA were ignored – it was a full year later, in March 2009, that the Administrative Court in Skopje ordered the SSA to provide Spaska with a copy of the decision.
In the meantime, in December 2008, the Court in Gevgelija for the third time sentenced Spaska to 3 months in prison (unconditionally) for failing to comply with the decision she had not yet seen. Her appeals were rejected by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the Republic of Macedonia, none of the three courts even bothering to determine whether she had been given the decision for whose violation she was being sentenced. She was to report on June 16, 2009 to the Idrizovo prison to serve her 3-month sentence, although this meant that the medical treatment of her daughter, which included a recommendation of continued breastfeeding and was to be completed in September, would be discontinued. Her formal request to delay serving the sentence until September was ignored by the Court and her application for reprieve to the President of FYROM was “forgotten” by an unspecified clerk at the Court and forwarded to the President’s office only at the end of July.
On July 31, 2009, police barged into Spaska’s residence, throwing her mother to the floor, arrested Spaska and took her and her daughter to the police station in Gevgelija where they were kept for hours and ten male police officers watched Spaska breastfeed her baby as she was not allowed any privacy to do so. She was then transferred to the Idrizovo prison, her daughter was taken to a location of which Spaska was not informed, without her medications. At this point, the location of the baby is unclear but according to media reports she has been handed over to her father, although by law she should be cared for by the SSA while Spaska is in prison.
Finally, there is a political side to the story, as Spaska is a founding member of the Radko Association (an organization of citizens of Bulgarian ethnicity), which was banned in FYROM and whose banning was judged to be a violation of human rights by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg earlier this year. Leaders of the organization allege that the court cases and heavy sentences against Spaska have been politically motivated and that her rough treatment by the authorities is typical of the type of repressions citizens of openly Bulgarian ethnicity suffer on a regular basis in FYROM. Spaska had applied for Bulgarian citizenship on an ethnic basis in 2005 and had studied at a Bulgarian university. In 2007 the Macedonian authorities did not allow her to leave the country to present her thesis defense at the university, hence she was not able to graduate. In addition, on several occasions during the trials, Spaska was not informed that proceedings were taking place and consequently, she was not present. She was kept in the dark as to the stage of the proceedings, including not being informed in May 2008 that yet another Court decision was made and not being given the decision in question, even during the trial at which she was sentenced for violating it. These are but a few of the numerous procedural violations in Spaska’s case.
Spaska’s saga reveals the ugly truth about a rotten court system in which personal connections, bribes and political pressure frequently take precedence over the law, in which women are denied maternal rights in favour of better connected ex-husbands and in which the well-being of children is neglected. How can such blatant abuse of the rights of mothers and children be allowed in a European state and candidate for integration into the European Union? Among the numerous questions Spaska’s saga raises are:
Is it legal and reasonable for a Court to order a mother to provide access and a bed for her ex-husband to a home in which she is herself a guest?
Is it reasonable for a court to ignore her requests that paternal visits take place at a different location and sentence her twice for not satisfying the ridiculous obligation above, in addition to not determining whether the father ever presented himself for visits during the regularly scheduled visitation hours?
Is it reasonable to sentence her for a third time in just one year to prison for violating a decision she was not given and which she struggled for a full year to obtain through other Courts when all her efforts to obtain it from the Court which issued the decision failed?
Is it reasonable to deprive an ill and suckling child of its mother’s care and doctor-prescribed medical treatment by putting the mother in jail?
Is it reasonable to hand over a child requiring good care to a drug addicted father who lives with his sister and parents in a one-bedroom house?
Finally, what inhumane and twisted mind would throw a mother in jail and put her baby’s health in jeopardy over visitation rights?
This blatant abuse and mistreatment of a mother and her baby deserves the attention not only of human rights and women’s rights organizations in FYROM, but of organizations across the continent and the wider international community as well. A clear message must be sent to the authorities in FYROM that such monstrous, gender-biased, ethnicity-biased and possibly politically motivated violations of human rights are not allowed in the developed world and in a United Europe!A short description of the events in the Spaska Mitrova case:
Spaska was married on October 15th, 2006 in the town of Gevgelija, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Just two months later, on December 4th, 2006, she filed for divorce due to her husband’s abusive character, his drug addiction and the fact that he dealt drugs out of their home.
The couple’s daughter, Susana, was born on February 19th, 2007. The divorce proceedings were delayed by more than five months and the marriage was finally formally dissolved on May 10th, 2007. A court decision of May 31st, 2007 stipulated that Spaska must provide access to her home for her ex-husband to visit their daughter, including making a bed available for him in the home, despite her request that an alternative location be chosen for paternal visits because the home she resided in was her parents’ property and they did not want her former husband to stay in their home. In addition, he did not appear for the regularly scheduled visits of 2 hours per week, but frequently appeared drunk at night to hassle and pester the family. No representative of the SSA ever came to the home to determine whether the father came during visitation hours – his word that he did and that he was not allowed in to see his daughter were taken as fact by the SSA and the Courts.
On July 2nd, 2007 the Court in Gevgelija sentenced Spaska to 6 months in prison (1 year conditionally) for noncompliance with the court’s decision on paternal visitation. Spaska appealed the decision and again formally requested that the location for paternal visits be changed. Her appeal was rejected and the request was denied.
On December 17th, 2007, the Court in Gevgelija handed down another sentence of 8 months in prison (2 years conditionally) again for noncompliance with the court’s decision on visitation rights of May 31st, 2007. Spaska appealed this decision and again formally requested that the location for paternal visits be changed. Her appeal was rejected but the request was granted and her ex-husband was to visit their daughter on Fridays at the local Social Services Agency centre. However, the two conditional sentences stood.
At the beginning of May 2008, the Social Services Agency administration told Spaska that she had to bring in the child on Wednesdays as well, in accordance with the latest court decision of which Spaska was not aware. Spaska requested a copy of the decision but she was told to request it from the Court, which she did in writing, but there she was told to request it from the Social Services Agency. Finally, almost a year later, on March 21st, 2009, the Administrative Court in Skopje ordered the Social Services Agency to provide Spaska with the decision in question.
In the meantime, Spaska was on trial again for not complying with the decision she was never given and on July 10th, 2008 she was sentenced by the Court in Gevgelija to 3 months in prison (this time unconditionally). Her appeal was rejected by the Court of Appeal in Skopje and by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Macedonia. None of the three courts bothered to determine whether the decision she had failed to comply with was ever given to her.
In addition, on December 16th, 2008 Spaska was sentenced again by the Court in Gevgelija to 10 months in prison and fined 33 000 ? for “defaming” a judge in the application with which she appealed the second conditional sentence she was given December 17th, 2007. This decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeals in Skopje.
Due to the child’s poor health condition, a long-term mandatory treatment stretching into September 2009 was prescribed, including a recommendation that Spaska continue to breastfeed the child. For this reason, Spaska was granted a delay in serving her sentence but only until June and she was ordered to present herself on June 16th, 2009 at the Idrizovo prison to serve the 3-month sentence of July 10th, 2008. She filed another request that the delay be extended to September 1st, 2009 when the child’s treatment was to be completed but the Court rejected the request against the medical doctor’s recommendations. Spaska had also filed a request for reprieve through the Court in Gevgelija to the President of FYROM, George Ivanov, but apparently her request was “forgotten” by a clerk at the Court and was forwarded to the President’s office only at the end of July.
On July 30th, 2009, a number of police vehicles blocked the entire neighbourhood where Spaska lived, the police officers barged into the home throwing Spaska’s mother to the floor, Spaska was arrested and told that she was to be taken to the Court. Instead, she was taken with her daughter to the police station in Gevgelija, where they were kept for hours. They were not given any privacy and ten male police officers watched Spaska breastfeed her daughter. Afterwards, the child was taken away and Spaska was driven to the Idrizovo prison. She was not given any information about the child’s whereabouts and the child’s medications were not taken with her. According to Macedonian legal experts, the child should have been taken to and cared for by the Social Services Agency during Spaska’s stay in prison. However, local media report that the child was given to her father, who still suffered from drug addiction and lived in a one-bedroom house with his sister and his parents. In addition, he had already filed a request to gain custody of the child. In any event, the child’s whereabouts and health were and still are in question and Spaska is not kept informed of her condition.
To make matters worse, Spaska is openly Bulgarian and is in fact one of the founding members of the Radko Association (an organization of Macedonian citizens of Bulgarian ethnicity whose banning in FYROM was ruled to be a human rights violation by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg earlier this year). Due to the stigma associated with being Bulgarian in FYROM, no person or organization within the country itself will speak against the appalling and inhumane treatment Spaska has suffered out of fear of being labeled a “Bulgarian” by association. Hence the need to look beyond the borders of FYROM for help. Furthermore, Spaska’s ethnic background may have had a role to play in her saga as she was called a “Bulgarian bitch” and was told that her daughter will be taken away from her to be raised as a Macedonian by staff at the court in Gevgelija. Finally, the leadership of the Radko Association has alleged that her persecution was politically motivated due to her participation in the Association and is typical of the repressions that citizens of Bulgarian ethnicity are subjected to by the authorities in FYROM.
Spaska further alleged that her former husband had personal connections to staff at the Court in Gevgelija and the Social Services Agency and that staff at both institutions had sided with him from the moment she filed for divorce – hence the 5-month unusual delay in dissolving the marriage and the unusually speedy trials in which she was sentenced three times within a period of just one year.
According to Macedonian media, the Court in Gevgelija is the most corrupt court in the country. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Macedonia has criticized the Court in Gevgelija for irregularities including reports of judges heckling over bribes with plaintiffs and defendants, including representatives of the governing party in FYROM, VMRO-DPMNE, prior to handing down decisions in numerous cases, the frequent “disappearance” of physical evidence items from the Court’s vault, including 16 packages of heroin, and for “losing” or selling confiscated items without a tender. http://thecaseofspaskamitrova.blogspot.com/