Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Macedonia mix

This is slightly belated but nevertheless here is more on our 8-day in Macedonia starting with some history. Yay! I really miss social studies class, I had an incredible US teacher and we had the best debates and lectures. I'm sure come first semester mid-terms I'll be longing for Serbia but since September I've had intermittent cravings for classroom learning. Back to Mace!

In 1991 Macedonia declared its independence from Yugoslavia and it was uninvolved in the brutal Balkan wars of the '90s (basically Serbs vs Croats+Bosniaks). However between March and June 2001 a civil war was fought between the government and ethnic Albanian insurgents. The war ended with NATO intervening. Under the terms of the Ohrid Agreement, the government agreed to delegate greater political power and cultural recognition to the Albanians and the Albanians agreed to abandon separatist demands and to fully recognize all Macedonian institutions. Today Macedonia has about 2 million citizens: 65% Macedonian, 25% Albanian, and 10% Turks, Serbs, Roma with 65% Orthodox, 30% Muslim, and 5% Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish.

In the '90s Macedonia was run by social democrats who, according to our native Macedonian lecturer, were experts at criminal privatization, judiciary fraud, ignoring education and healthcare, and disobeying the law. Today there are more conservative politicians in charge who are either less corrupt or better at covering there tracks but regardless he (the lecturer) is still very dissatisfied with the government as is every local we met.

In 2005 Croatia and Macedonia were given 'candidate status' to the European Union. After this comes the negotiation process which simply was never scheduled for Macedonia (mainly because of the name dispute). Croatia has had and is finalizing these negotiations and today most consider Croatia as the next Balkan state to become a member of the EU. To put it in perspective, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Albania are 'potential candidates' so Macedonia is farther along then them but its status hasn't advanced in the past 5 years.

The name game (← I figured out how to link!) is first or second among the hinderances of Macedonia's EU accession. As I mentioned in that post, Macedonia sued Greece for breaking their '95 agreement to not stand in the way of Macedonia's NATO or EU accession so long as they go by the name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" for official documents. Actually Greece (in that agreement) said they would support Macedonia's accessions but that's just asking too much. Needless to say Greece has not supported and has stood in the way, most recently accusing Skopje of harboring ambitions to take over territories of Greece in the 1st litigation in Hague International Court of Justice on March 24th. Macedonia hoped that the court would rule that Athens illegally vetoed Macedonia's NATO applications in 2008 over of this name dispute which violated the '95 agreement. The hearings were completed by March 30th and the ICJ's decision is expected in the next six months.

Other factors holding back EU and NATO accession seem to resemble those of Balkan countries: corruption and broken promises. Our lecturer told us of illegal government intervention in the media, especially by blocking the most influential (and controversial, of course) TV station. The government promised to confront its young demographic by addressing education which so far, he reports, has not been touched.

There are new elections this May or June and Macedonians, much like Serbians (#2!), have called for early elections.

Serbia and Macedonia have parliamentary governments with a proportionate number of seats given to each party based on their percentage of votes. Because of the Ohrid Agreement, the two Albanian parties are given proper authority in parliament. Our lecturer said that about 25% of the members of parliament and other governmental officers are Albanian which he was pleased with since that at least accurately corresponds to the 25% Albanian population. Macedonian law requires a double majority; a decision cannot be made in parliament without a majority from both the Macedonian and the Albanian representatives. However there is much conflict between and within ethnic political groups and hardly any integration. In fact our lecturer described the government as having two systems with the Macedonian and Albanian coalitions.

There are actually a much less-proportionate amount of women in parliament considering they are roughly 50% of the population. Out of 120 members of parliament only 30-35 are women, 4-5 of whom are Albanian.

Three weeks before we went to Macedonia, there was a large rumble between Muslim Albanians and the others (primarily Orthodox) on Kale, a turkish word for 'fort' and the fortress in Skopje. These religious tensions have existed through all the ethnic/national conflict but until the Skopje 2014 project –- which is spending a lot of money constructing an Orthodox church-like building on Kale which is to become a national museum -- the tensions hadn't become physical. The Muslims were protesting building this “religious object” that did not reflect the overall heritage of the area. 60 people were arrested and are being charged but hundreds were involved in the protests which spurred the fighting. Video footage from the fight, also a chance to hear what Macedonian sounds like. The fortress wasn't damaged much if at all during the fight but it was still closed off while we were there so that no more violence would ensue.

Another bit that's holding Macedonia back is their law against discrimination. I think I mentioned a few months ago that very recently, in late 2009, Serbia finally made a law saying discrimination is illegal. Macedonia had such a law before Serbia but the Macedonia one doesn't say anything about sexual orientation which the Serbian one included.

Lastly Macedonia is faced with the same youth apathy and brain drain that Serbia's dealing with. Our lecturer works in an organization creating projects and workshops to educate and involve the youth, like our work last semester in Novi Sad. He said 35% of high school students want to leave in the next ten years because of economic issues and that 75% see little possibility of prosperity. Student protests are not allowed, the education system is known to all as corrupt, there's no proper curriculum, they cannot get part time jobs, often the only way to be employed is to be a member of the political party in charge. More or less all of this applies to Serbia as well.

So that's a bit of Macedonia's history and politics. Now some pictures:

First border crossing! Quite uneventful

General view of Skopje

City center/pedestrian zone

Mother Teresa House museum, Mother Teresa was born and raised in Skopje, Macedonia and this memorial was built on the grounds of the Catholic Church "Sacred Heart of Jesus" where Mother Teresa, then Gonxha Bojaxhiu was baptized one day after her birth. It was really lovely but it's located in the midst of the pedestrian zone in the middle of the city so it felt sort of out of place.

Macedonian Idol, we watched one of the final rounds and I was hoping to hear some Macedonian hits but nope, all the competitors belted oldies that I was familiar with. Maybe there was a required genre? Still it was an unexpected treat to be in the studio and actually see this show. It has that same theme song, font/sign, and set up as American Idol so far as I could tell.

Macedonia, much like Serbia and the rest of the Balkans, is a country of smokers. These should be everywhere

Stari grad, the old city of Skopje

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