Bodies of the Besa bus disaster victims returned to Macedonia, Government official criticized after trying to make a spectacle out of it

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Government leaders, including Zoran Zaev, Stevo Pendrovski, and many ministers attended the ceremony at the Skopje airport today when the bodies of the 45 victims of the Besa bus disaster were repatriated from Bulgaria. In two military transport planes, the bodies were carried from Sofia, after they were identified using DNA samples from their relatives.

The Government originally intended to stage a procession from the airport to the capital and set a video screen on Skenderbeg Square in downtown Skopje, so that citizens can observe the procession. But after protests from the families, this plan was dropped. State MRTV channels broadcasted the ceremony live.

The ceremony was not without controversy. Zaev’s top PR official Marjan Zabrcanec was strongly criticized on social media after he posted an Instagram picture of the TV trucks awaiting the start of the ceremony, with a comment “going live soon!” Zabrcanec was likely the person behind the idea to give extensive TV coverage to the event in an attempt to show national unity. In fact, the tragedy showed a shocking level of failure on state institutions to conduct inspections on the Besa company, whose bus was not registered for international travel and apparently did not even have a valid license plate. Like in the previous Tetovo hospital disaster in September, which killed 14 people, no Government official bore responsibility.

VMRO-DPMNE spokeswoman Marija Mitova said that Zabrcanec’s comment is “distasteful” and that tragic moments should not be used for promotion of the Government but for calls for accountability.

Zaev himself was criticized for his tactless comments in Sofia on the day of the disaster when he insisted that the disaster will positively affect relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria. Zaev was apparently hoping that he will be able to use the wave of sympathy between the two countries to get Bulgaria to lift its veto against Macedonia’s EU accession talks at the coming European Council. There are clear indications that Bulgaria will not lift the veto any time soon.