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Over 2000 Macedonian Students Celebrated International Student Day in Protest

Over two thousand students took to the streets of the Macedonian capital Skopje on November 17, 2014 to march against the decision of the government to impose external testing in the country's universities. The protest march began in front of the St. Cyril and Methodius university main building. Students then proceeded to block streets around the University and marched towards the Ministry of Education and Science, with occasional stops in front of the Government building and the Student Parliament.

Student march in Skopje, Macedonia. Photo by Marjan Zabrcanec, used with permission.

Student march in Skopje, Macedonia. Photo by Marjan Zabrcanec, used with permission.

In a speech before the march, members of a student movement called Student Plenum expressed the students’ collective outrage at what many have called the destruction of higher education in the country. The students activists called for other students to “wake up” and asked attendees not to succumb to provocations from the ruling party and others.

Student Parliament is an NGO which nominally serves as an official representative of the student body and is favored by the government as such. The university students become its members by default. The students symbolically “buried” the Student Parliament during the protest because of its failure to take responsibility and a position on the matter, as the legitimate representative of the student body. They laid wreaths at the doors of the Student Parliament headquarters and called on members of the Parliament to come out, but found only locked doors.

The last destination of the march was the Ministry of Education and Science, where the students then asked Minister Abdilaqim Ademi to come out and face them. Since there was no response, and some the participants shouted demands for his resignation. The Student Plenum later left a letter addressed to the Minister with their official demands. In the letter, the students once again expressed the arguments considering the external testing which according to them is contrary to the right for education and the autonomy of the educational institutions. They believe that such a move is unnecessary.

The protest was peaceful, with no incidents and with strong police protection. The massive student march in Skopje was also officially the students’ celebration of November 17, commonly marked as International Day of Students in Macedonia and other countries.

Previously, Student Plenum organized four meetings during which students discussed this government decision and other university-related matters. The meetings were held in different departments of the University in question and the number of participants increased at every new meeting. Their Facebook page gathered over five thousand supporters in just one month and serves as a place where they will announce future meetings and activities.

In addition, the movement's panel organized two, as they called them, “guerrilla actions” where they set banners with messages from the students in public view. One such action addressed the participants of traditional student hike on nearby Vodno mountain, asking them “Good morning students, are you awake?”

The vast majority of the Macedonian online community applauded the march, and expressed outrage against the muted coverage of the event in the country's media. Using the hashtag #СтудентскиМарш (#StudentMarch), Twitter and Facebook users attempted to add to its public visibility on social networks. Many local activists stated that the youth brought hope of breaking the overwhelming apathy grappling Macedonia, which has been ranked on of Europe's poorest countries in recent years.

The protest seems to have had tangible results, although the Minister of Education attempted to publicly label the protesters as “controlled by the opposition”, stating that “only political parties are allowed to demand resignations from ministers”. Student Plenum denied these allegations. Several days after the protest, high government representatives started giving conciliatory statements about the protest, attempting to pacify the protesters by announcing a “softer” version of external testing, which would be implemented as of 2017. Student Plenum responded that they do will not accept any such “amnesty” because their goal is to save future generations external testing, which they deem as unjust.

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