Macedonia: Reasons for Protesting

This post is part of our special coverage Macedonia Protests 2011.

Bloggers from Macedonia consider the historical significance of the current protests against police brutality, in the context of democracy development.

Sead Dzigal, a researcher, media expert and co-founder of the influential blog network, expressed his view – in Macedonian and in English – that the protests represent the first authentic outburst of direct democracy in the history of Macedonia:

Civil protests against police brutality which have been taking place in Skopje [since last Monday, June 5, 2011] and since Friday (June 10, 2011) in several other cities in Macedonia (Bitola, Strumica, Kumanovo, Kocani, Veles …) are significant turning point for democracy in Macedonia. For sure, this is the first example of a successful Online Activism where young people from Macedonia used social networks (Twitter, Facebook) and blogs to distribute information, coordinate activities and organize events and protests where they voiced their resistance to injustice and deviations of the institutions. They demanded accountability of those hidden behind the grandeur of the state, institutions and the state system, asked for responsibility of those who abused all professional rights, used force, hid the truth, manipulated the public and shamelessly lied all in order to keep their positions of power and sources of material benefits. Among many other things, these protests represent a voice against process in which state apparatus is forming a special class of people who are above the law, especially against those who are using brutal physical force.

Good citizens don't thinkThis was a rare case, if not the first, where citizens used their legitimate rights to practice direct democracy without interference from political parties. In this particular case they used protests, petitions and loud and clear demands to implement justice. [Direct Democracy] in Macedonia is almost completely absent and is dominated by “Representative Democracy” model. In most of the cases this type of democracy is managed (or even manipulated) by the political parties as in the case of the expected referendum on the name issue, the [referendum for territorial division from 2004] and so on. The protests are a reminder that for most important issues in the society people must engage themselves directly and they have to move their assess in order to achieve something. Things are totally unlikely to change by themselves, and those who expect problems to be resolved by the political “saviors”, leaders, etc., often face the cruel reality that the only thing they save is their own interest.

Macedonia is a society highly politicized by the main political parties and citizens in the past years witnessed the incredible growth of political parties’ power. This is the main reason why civil society has regressed dramatically in the past decade or so. Parties have “exclusive rights” to debate and settle all important issues in the society, from business, employment to interpretations and implementation of political rights and civil freedoms, and marginalize all who don’t agree with them. They succeeded in this venture mainly due to passive stance and weak resistance of the citizens, and were strongly supported by the highly corrupted media. They managed to establish some sort of a Political Party Monopoly on Democracy and supremacy of “one dimensional model of representative democracy” (you elect them and then you lose your right to interfere in public issues). So, only the parties have a right to decide and make decisions, of course always in the “name of the citizen.” The Citizen was reduced to a voting machine who regardless for whom he/she voted was actually reproducing the same system: society ruled by the party in which the citizen is a citizen for only one day in four years. For the remainder of the mandate their only role in the society was that of a humble taxpayer, subordinated administration serviceman, powerless pensioner, poor and unemployed student e.t.c.

After achieving this dominant status in the society, political parties continued to mock citizens rights and make a circus out of democracy through daily childish arguments between each other which served them only to postpone resolving of the burning issues, control public debating and basically keep the same well controlled system intact: serial one-party system in which only one center of political power can do what whatever it wants. Everything else related to a functional plural society remained formal. No NGOs, no courts, no other institution was able to resist their plans and pursuing of their selfish interests. This of course lasts until another political center of power replaces them and “legitimately” inherit the right to do whatever it wants for their own interest.

These protests emphasized that Macedonia needs, more than any change of government, a change of the ruling model practiced by the elected political parties. The process of abandoning of the parties’ monopoly on democracy (supported by the corrupt media, party affiliated NGOs, paid institutes and intellectuals, pseudo-experts and others) is inevitable. Of course, this change and giving “a chair” to citizens in deciding HOW and not only WHO is governing is not going to be easy as it requires those in power to concede parts of their power, but it is a right which belongs to citizens and is a right they can’t give up. Moving from the existing Party Democracy to Citizen Democracy is essential move towards real democracy. This generation owes it to generations who come after us and for sure there will be no excuse if we spend 30 years of independence to secure this right.

And so, after a long, long time, with the ongoing protests about an important issue the citizens showed up independently and aside of the political parties. How about that for an “Awkward Moment”? They stood for their rights and are still trying to break the endless cycle of arguing between the parties, who continuously blame each other and do nothing to improve things. To show up in public was such a refreshing feeling, and it was encouraging to see young men and women who know what they want proving they think with their heads, and are trying to contribute for their own and common good altogether. On the other side were the young representatives of political parties with their unenthusiastic faces and repetitive clichés, reading their written announcements and accusations (prepared and written by those who are using them as an instrument), trying to shun responsibility for those in power and those who have put themselves above the law and human justice.

This generation of young people also distanced themselves from the elderly citizens, who spent most of their lives in Communism, and who answer the question what to expect from the elections only answer: just employment for the young people so they can carry on with their lives normally. Well, well… a right to work is OK, but is this a proper understanding of democracy? This reduced idea of “democracy” is completely wrong! Democracy is not supposed to be “get a job and keep silent on anything else that's going on in the country,” as most of the public servants are practically doing. Silence is Not a Democracy, silence means totalitarianism and we believe we have abandoned this since the end of communism. Or perhaps not?

Democracy is expressing your voice and being in constant activity and struggle for your rights and values: it is continuous effort through peaceful, legal, civil, democratic and lawful means in order to achieve justice for the common good. Democracy, like any other “plural competitive system”, requires constant participation and activity. If you abandon this you will be pushed aside by the powerful and this is only because you have already pushed aside your dignity and you’ve forgot about your legitimate rights.

Youths sit in the streets while chanting slogans against police brutality, Skopje, Macedonia. Image by igor banskoliev, copyright Demotix (08/06/11).

Youths sit in the streets while chanting slogans against police brutality, Skopje, Macedonia. Image by igor banskoliev, copyright Demotix (08/06/11).

For a bit wider theoretical framework, see the 2009 lecture on the Role of Local e-Content in the Development of Local Democracy by Dzigal, available online on the website of the‘s annual conference.

VBB wrote [mk] that “without public reaction, the murder case would have been hushed up.” He also added:

While talking about the autocratic characteristics of this government with a friend who supports the [ruling party] VMRO-DPMNE, he asked:

“Why do you whine about dictatorship here, while you often travel to Russia, which has far more limited democracy?”

Man, I do not go there to engage in politics. It is good to travel, to see beautiful cities, which make Skopje look like the last backwater, to see magnificent museums, and to meet an even more magnificent girl (I wrote photo-reportages [mk] about such trips). In many respects, the Russians are a hundred times better than us, but my friend, I do not want to copy/paste that system here! That part of the world has its own philosophy of authoritarianism and oppression, with a rich continuous tradition: [Ivan the Terrible], [Peter the Great], [Stalin], [Putin]. Even though it's obvious they have some successes, they have no freedom. There's no chance for Putin to step down; journalists like [Anna Politkovskaya] mysteriously disappear; mysterious bombings take place (some suspect secret services); no chance for [Mikhail Khodorkovsky] to exit prison till the end of his life; opposition protests are suffocated; oligarchs and mafias run the natural resources like oil, gas, diamonds – our [Dzingo] is a two-but pickpocket when compared to them; the glorious Russian Army, whose parades we admire [mk] also has [“dedovshchina”] – the worst form of the often deadly harassment as regular practice for new recruits in remote garrisons; the bureaucracy is terrible; corruption rampant; thousands of people from the provinces want to live in Moscow, but there's limited freedom of movement – the police checks your papers and ask for permits all the time, and can detain you if lacking (especially you, with a bit darker complexion, can be a suspect as terrorist or illegal migrant worker from Chechnya or Dagestan ;)). You can tell your quasi-Russophiles ;-) who probably have never been there or in Moscow cafeterias only, that even though they are angry with the EU, the Eurasian despotism should not be Macedonia's goal. In spite of all the problems, Western values are closer to us, and we must strive towards them: democracy, transparency, rule of law, free elections, freedom of expression and movement, pluralism (political and any other kind)…

This post is part of our special coverage Macedonia Protests 2011.


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