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Macedonia: NGOs and Netizens Prevent Undemocratic Youth Law

The withdrawal of the Draft Law on Youth from the parliamentary procedure indicates that the otherwise stubborn authorities can be persuaded not to do more harm if the civil society, social media users and international organizations work together.

At the initiative of Youth Educational Forum, 45 youth and other NGOs joined up and organized the process of consultations, which was supposed to be conducted by the government. It included public debates and meetings with stakeholders (e.g., MPs and youth branches of political parties), as well as press releases and media events to inform the public.

Much of the work was done online, with the website mladizakon.org [Youth Law] as the central web resource of the NGO members and other netizens who spread information via their websites and social networks, including direct tagging of Facebook ‘friends’, such as politicians and media personalities.

Lack of official information about the state of the legislative process spurred NGOs to conduct a media conference at an entrance to the Parliament a day before the deadline for submission of amendments. Photo by <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/kinj0" _mce_href="http://twitter.com/#!/kinj0">Kinj0</a> (CC-BY-NC)

Lack of official information about the state of the legislative process spurred NGOs to conduct a media conference at an entrance to the Parliament a day before the deadline for submission of amendments. Photo by Kinj0 (CC-BY-NC)

An announcement [mk, en, sq] by the civil society organizations, which advocated changes to the draft law and tried to persuade the MPs to submit amendments for its change, sums up the process:

Forty-five youth and civil society organizations welcome the decision of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia to withdraw the proposed Youth Law – considered to be undemocratic and restrictive for the youth by the expert and general public.

The decision was reached late last night [Oct 30], during the open session of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia. As announced on the official government profiles on Facebook and Twitter, the Youth Law is being withdrawn from parliamentary procedure in order to conduct a wider consultation with the youth NGOs. The Government reached this decision only half a day after the press-conference of the youth organizations held before the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia [mk].

The organizations that took the initiative to defend youth participation and submitted proposals to the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia for amendments to the proposed law believe that the withdrawal of the draft-text is useful and that it has been done at the right time, before any more damage could be done to youth organization. The organizations highlight that the future process of drafting laws must directly include all youth stakeholders, interested youth organizations and the youth wings of political parties.

The initiators congratulate all 45 organizations for their efforts and commitment and invite all young people to get more interested in youth policies and youth organization on a local and national level. The 45 organizations will continue to actively participate in the analyses and creation of effective solutions to youth problems. They will focus on providing conditions for establishing a National Youth Parliament, as a self-organizing body of all forms of association of young people in Macedonia regardless of their age, political orientation, formal or informal association, ethnic, religious or other affiliation.

If adopted, the current draft-law would have introduced more bureaucracy, control and restrictions for youth organizing, and an additional precedent – the highest representative body of youth in the country would have been the State Youth Council, in which more than half of the members are representatives from ministries of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia.

The advocacy process against the proposed undemocratic solutions was accompanied by intensive online activities of the youth, sending appeals to the decision makers and tagging them on social networks Facebook and Twitter.

Macedonia is obliged to change and enact a number of laws as part of the reforms required for joining the EU, and conduct public consultations providing opportunities for civil society and individual citizens to provide comments and suggest improvements. However, this has not always been the case – quite a few laws have been brought up under emergency procedures without any public discussion. And in cases when consultations have been conducted, the remarks by the civil society have been neglected.

Examples of this include the Anti-Discrimination Law and the Law on Associations and Foundations, which were found faulty by local activists, legal experts and the international community (you can find more info about this in the 7th, 8th and 9th editions of the Accession Watch Report by EU-integration watchdog NGOs MCET and FOSM).

Text: "In Defense of Youth Participation - www.mladizakon.org". Photo by <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/kinj0" _mce_href="http://twitter.com/#!/kinj0">Kinj0</a> (CC-BY-NC)

Text: "In Defense of Youth Participation – www.mladizakon.org". Photo by Kinj0 (CC-BY-NC)

Back in August, human rights expert and university professor Mirjana Najchevska commented [mk] about the Draft Law on Youth [mk]:

…Most cynically, the Government claims that this Law should enable youth participation in decision making, preparation of laws and expressing their specific interests… While on the contrary, the Law has been prepared without youth participation, without any public discussions, nor does it contain provisions for promotion of the interests and needs of the young people.

The Law claims that one of its goals is for “young people to voluntarily associate in youth organizations.” However, a few paragraphs below it defines this “voluntary association” as directed by the municipal councils or the national Parliament, through “forming of a Youth Council, formed by the Municipal Council” and “National Youth Council formed by the Assembly of RM, as umbrella organization over all youth in Republic of Macedonia…” So these boards formed by the state should represent the interests of the youth – cynical, ain't it?

Articles 5 and 8 of the Draft Law, about the top priorities of the youth, accentuate this cynicism:

“the primary purpose determined by the statutes of the [youth] organization is advancing the position and status of the youth, development of democracy, civil society and human rights, protection from drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, delinquency of minors, alcoholism, prostitution and human trafficking, improvement of volunteering, and other activities of public interest determined by this or other law.”

LOL. I've always knew that the primary goal of young people is to fight prostitution. It was only necessary to write it down.

And moreover, if the voluntary associated youth fail to include these goals in their statutes, they will commit violation and suffer punishment:

“A fee of EUR 200 to 300 in Denar value will be incurred to the youth organization… if its activities comprise something other than the goals determined by articles 5 and 8 of this law.”

I cannot imagine bigger mockery of youth association and avant-guard youth activism.

Cynicism continues: Instead of promotion of non-discrimination and equality in the structuring and work of these para-youth structures, there are no provisions for equal representation of sexes, inclusion of marginalized groups in decision making, or securing multicultural approach. It all boils up to faded phrases by political morons on just representation.

Within these para-youth structures, the authorities leave no chance for any rebellion, disputing the decisions of the political establishment, or offering alternatives. For this reason, half of the National Youth Council members:

“…will be proposed by the Government of RM, representatives of Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Education and Science, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Local Self-Government, Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planing, Agency of Youth and Sports, Secretariat of European Affairs, Secretariat for Implementation of the Framework Agreement, and National Agency for European Education Programs and Mobility.”

As a professor and educator I call upon the youth to oppose the enactment of such a law.

To emphasize her position, Prof. Najchevska also illustrated her post with photos of Hitler Youth, and wrote that she purposefully quoted all the spelling mistakes from the draft law to show the inadequacy of the proposal.

European Youth Forum, representing 98 National Youth Councils and International Youth Organisations from across Europe, issued a statement [pdf] expressing its concern over the draft youth law, especially about the independence, structure and funding for the future Macedonian National Youth Council (NYC):

According to the draft law in its version from April, the proposed NYC will be politically run by a board, in which the absolute majority of members would be selected by state authorities. A total of six youth representatives out of 29 would be elected for the board, the rest will be selected in what seems to be a non-transparent and non-democratic fashion. On the city level the democratic process is also lacking: apart from the nomination of candidates by youth organisations, the proposed law would see all board members selected by city authorities.

Furthermore, we are concerned that the draft law already defines membership criteria for the NYC. These criteria should be set by a democratic, youth-led initiative for the formation of a NYC, not arbitrarily by the state.

During the night after the press conference, the recently inaugurated official Twitter account of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia quoted the Prime Minister [mk] from the session of the cabinet, broadcasted live on TV*:

Gruevski: The Government withdraws the Draft Law on Youth from the parliamentary procedure in order to purport wider consultations with youth NGOs

In the following month, no new information has been provided by the authorities about the next steps regarding the Law on Youth.

* Unlike the globally famous Aló Presidente TV show, such open sessions of the Government, interviews and public appearances of high officials in Macedonia do not seem to lack a precise script, set in advance by PR experts.

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