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9 Jul, 2019 13:16

Alexander the Great relation or Russian prankster? N. Macedonia PM duped into pledging church bribe

Alexander the Great relation or Russian prankster? N. Macedonia PM duped into pledging church bribe

Posing as the former president of Ukraine, a Russian prankster made North Macedonia’s PM agree to pay Constantinople for local church recognition, while bragging about his close family ties to Alexander the Great.

Zoran Zaev has become the latest target of Vladimir ‘Vovan’ Kuznetsov and Alexei ‘Lexus’ Stolyarov, a duo who gained notoriety for their high-profile pranks of politicians worldwide. They lured the prime minister into a series of awkward phone calls in which they skillfully mimicked Ukraine’s former president, Petro Poroshenko.

As the conversation went on, ‘Poroshenko’ offered a bizarre history lesson in order to get more personal. “I have [connections] to Alexander the Great,” he proclaimed. “Vinnitsa, my hometown, was founded by Alexander the Great, he liked its wine,” the ‘Ukrainian president’ said

We’re relatives, and I can be called Peter of Macedon.

Surprisingly, Zaev readily agreed: “I read about it, yes.”

Ultimately, ‘Poroshenko’ landed on his desired topic – the precarious status of North Macedonia’s Orthodox Church. Back in 1967, it unilaterally ceded from the Serbian Orthodox Church, which condemned the Macedonian clergy as schismatic.

Since then, the Macedonian Church has remained unrecognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and all other churches close to the Serbian one. Things began to change last May when Constantinople agreed to review its status.

And here is where the bizarre prank got more interesting. “Maybe you heard the good news that we’ve received the tomos from the Constantinople Church,” ‘Poroshenko’ said, referring to a decree which granted the self-proclaimed Ukrainian Orthodox Church formal recognition from Constantinople.

That move was denounced by the Moscow Patriarchate and other churches as unlawful under canonic rules.

‘Poroshenko’ then bragged about the close ties he established with Bartholomew I, the Archbishop of Constantinople. “I met with him recently, Bartholomew is my friend now,” he proceeded until Zaev interrupted him, saying: “Oh, you need to lobby for us also!”

At the time, a formal recognition by Constantinople was something that could help North Macedonia’s pro-Western government to get closer to NATO and EU membership. “I would appreciate very much [if you could say] some good words from your side to Bartholomew,” Zaev pleaded.

After a while, he asked if there’s “any hope” for him. The pranksters explained that Bartholomew’s approval comes at a price. “I should let you know about some condition... [I made a personal donation] to Bartholomew,” ‘Poroshenko’ admitted, adding that the “donation” was somewhere around €100,000 ($112,000).

“Yes, very good, no problem!” the North Macedonian premier enthusiastically replied. He also agreed to provide the money in cash to avoid “some kind of bureaucratic procedure.”

It’s OK, there will be a donation in cash, normally we will do it because they need support. We’ll do it.

“So I can arrange your personal [meeting with] him and we can bring all that stuff together,” the bogus Poroshenko suggested, telling the North Macedonian PM that there would be “a discount” if he comes. “My friend, thank you very much, that is what we needed,” Zaev concluded.

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The pranksters told the media that they talked to the prime minister on several occasions throughout the year. The first phone call was made in August 2018, and the rest were made later. At one point, they even managed to compile excerpts from speeches by the NATO secretary general, in order to create the impression that Poroshenko was talking to him during a conversation with Zaev.

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