Some ten years ago, the then popular blogger Vuna, in an exceptionally creative way, opened a burning question for our society: how are people using drugs treated by the Police. Namely, on his blog, Vuna published a banner with the following content: „Ganja kills you only if “Alphas” catch you”. This visualized message became a true hit not only in the virtual world, but also in the physical by disseminating a sticker with the same content on public spaces by young people who recognized the importance of this short, but strong message.
After a long time, we asked Vuna about his motivation, and he told us that in that period (ca. 2006) there was a trend of a police „crackdown” of people who use marihuana recreationally, and stories about police brutality during arrest or during extorting confessions at the police stations, were often times heard. „That of course was not exceptional for 2006, there have been and will be such periods. However, that period, at least for me, it became a very visible and burning problem. On top of all that, police raids were accompanied with a public campaign about the damaging effects of using marihuana (in the “you could die from smoking weed” line). On the other hand, the consuming marihuana culture is endlessly peaceful, and marihuana in comparison to other drugs is by itself harmless. From there the logic of the sticker, that smoking weed will never do any damage by itself, but if the police catches you, and if they show their full face, then you are doomed to have consequences” – Vuna told us.
The appearance of the banner corresponds in time to the appearance of the Alphas who, according to Vuna, compared to their predecessors (NTSU (abbr.: Unauthorized Trade and Smuggling Unit)) were far more rigorous, but also more prone to violence. “I don’t exactly remember, but it was at that time that the case of Trajan Bekjirov happened (I think I made the sticker just before that); however, that was the period in which the Alphas were sowing fear and panic on the streets of Skopje” – says Vuna.
We witnessed a pompous police action called NETWORK which was spectacularly announced and shown in the media, and the result from this action was 5 grams marihuana, two joints and 300 seeds confiscated. The news awoke the social networks, and many young people asked the legitimate question for misuse of people who use drugs for defaming and criminalization during election campaigns. Remembering similar rhetoric from the past, Vuna told us that even before making the banner he wrote a text entitled „Alphas collect“ which was a critical overview towards the former government lead by the Prime Minister Buchkovski and the Minister of Interior Dzango. „The Police then (and now) was boasting their efficacy (like they are very tough for arresting children with 0,1 gram on them), and Alphas were praised to have particular merit in this. In the background of all this was a system of fear, repression and violence.” – remembers Vuna.
„I think that in this period, my columns opening these issues were positively received by activists and other concerned parties, but there were also a lot of negative comments (for example, “junkies are asking for it”). However, the sticker went viral, especially in the blogosphere at the time, and on several online forums; since then, I have noticed it appear in social media from time to time and I’ve seen the sticker on several places across the city. It gave me real joy when a friend much younger than me was showing me the sticker the other day (“look, man”), and wouldn’t believe me when I told him I was the author” – ended Vuna, leaving it on us to open the theme of police and systemic brutality on people using drugs again.
Irena Cvetkovikj and Anastas Vangeli
Old blogger dudes