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Macedonia: March for Peace as “First Step.” What Now?

Thousands of people turned out to express their willingness to live together in peace by walking the streets and bridges of Skopje during the March for Peace on March 17, 2012.

Estimates of the number of the march's participants by the various media range between 2,000 [fr, en, en] and 4,000 people. The only certain number is that the Facebook event [mk] had 2,225 confirmed participants, and few hundreds more “maybes,” and about 17,000 more invitees who did not respond.

The people first gathered in the Skopje City Park, at the open stage called Školka (Shell).

March for Peace: People gathering in Skopje City Park. Photo: Filip Stojanovski (CC-BY 3.0).

March for Peace: People gathering in Skopje City Park. Photo: Filip Stojanovski (CC-BY 3.0).

Public figures of different ethnic backgrounds read the short manifesto quoted in the announcement for the Peace March in Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Roma, Serbian/Bosnian, and Vlach (Aromanian).

Organizer Petrit Saracini - a musician, a journalist and a writer - speaking at the beginning of the March for Peace. Photo: Vančo Džambaski (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Organizer Petrit Saracini – a musician, a journalist and a writer – speaking at the beginning of the March for Peace. Photo: Vančo Džambaski (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The walk proceeded “without flags and symbols” along Ilinden Boulevard, by the building of the Government, over Goce Delchev Bridge, by then turned left and passed the ancient Stone Bridge, and returned along the River Vardar to the park. The event concluded with a concert of several bands.

March for Peace on Ilinden Boulevard. Photo: Vančo Džambaski (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

March for Peace on Ilinden Boulevard. Photo: Vančo Džambaski (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Several photo galleries were published right after the event by:

Political exploitation & media spin

During the opening, one of the participating celebrities, Esma Redžepova, a renowned singer but also a local politician on the payroll of the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE, greeted the President who happened to be present in the crowd from the stage. Human rights activist Xhabir Deralla wrote [mk] the following day:

…I doubt that the number of 2-3 thousand people who gathered yesterday is enough to persuade the political figures who hurried to appear at the event that it is up to them to stop the policies which brought us to this situation. I even heard a greeting to the President from the stage… Oops! I said to myself. On Facebook some tried to explain that it was just Esma's urge and personal style, not the official position of the organizers. OK, but to accept this, can someone explain why the organizers did not issue a retraction of Esma's greeting?

When I was approached with an offer to support the initiative of the March for Peace as the representative of Civil NGO, nobody told me that it would provide space for the representatives of politics that violates human rights and freedoms, and directly incites deterioration of inter-ethnic relations and tensions between communities in Macedonia. I wrote countless e-mails and had many talks with colleagues, collaborators and friends about the noble background of the March, regardless of the [critiques]. I insisted that as many people as possible attend the March. I firmly believe in the motives even now, but I am not so sure that the goal has been achieved. I still want to remain positive this sunny Sunday morning, partially believing that the March is a good first step. Albeit a belated one…

I knew that the spinners would allow the politicians to turn the event to their own advantage. In the evening news, the government-controlled TV stations pushed the conclusion that the inter-ethnic violence of the previous weeks had resulted from the destructiveness of individuals who went against the wonderful efforts of the current government to build cohabitation in the country. The initiators did not take this into account, even though they should have.

Twitter user MirkoSlav wrote [mk] to “all the haters” that the most important thing is that the March for Peace was successful:

Big deal if some politicians had their photos taken – what else do they do anyway?

Deralla referred to his previous writing on the responsibility for the current situation by the nationalist parties in power to point out:

I am not persuaded that there were enough people in the audience who really understand what stands behind the government practices, and that this March for Peace should have been a warning to the political parties in power, and all political parties in general…

I am not persuaded that the people who climbed onto the stage to recite messages for peace in different languages and sing Bob Marley songs are aware of this. Or they are, but their personal motive and desire for peace were stronger than this awareness? It is legitimate to succumb to noble feelings, but how much did this bring us closer to the goal – peace and cohabitation?

I admit that before arriving at the City Park with my family and colleagues, I secretly hoped that politicians would not attempt to hijack the event. I hoped that the evening news wouldn't spin the information. I hoped that those who support the destructive policies of the main centers of political power (everybody knows who they are), and were in the procession, will come with just a bit of conscience that such initiatives are for the benefit of their families and descendants.

What Now? In Macedonian and Albanian - the logo and slogan of the 2001 post-conflict campaign by NGO Civil - Center for Freedom.

What Now? In Macedonian and Albanian – the logo and slogan of the 2001 post-conflict campaign by NGO Civil – Center for Freedom.

What now?

In his day-after article, Deralla reminded that in 2001, before the outset of most intense hostilities of the military conflict in Macedonia, Civil organized the concert Rock for Peace in Skopje, attended by thousands of youths. Even though it did not influence the course of events, he did not regret it, and wrote that one should continue supporting pro-peace activities, no matter how hopeless they might seem – while the “Nazi machinery continues to work on its dark designs.”

Prior to the March, Djordje Djordjevic from Serbia expressed similar sentiments, in a Facebook note [sr] with reminiscences about the pro-peace efforts in 1991, when he, as a nine year-old child, accompanied his aunt to gather signatures for peace before the break-up of Yugoslavia. They gathered bags of notebooks by people who were signing to appease their conscience (akin to ‘liking’ progressive content of Facebook these days), but also saying that all was in vain.

He wrote:

I grew up near a refugee camp for people from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the nineties. When you see a whole family losing everything they had, when you see that a person is eternally grateful for receiving your old shabby sneakers, or that the whole family has to share one can of “humanitarian beans” for the whole meal, when you hear a woman crying over her whole slaughtered family, no action for peace or for living together seems amateurish or irrelevant.

Imagine if all the people who were signing those notebooks in 1991 went in the streets, stood up in front of the tanks, and said one joint NO for war and one joint YES for peace. Imagine how many lives would have been saved, how many tears would not have been shed!

During the walk and through the Facebook event, the participants expressed appreciation for the support by the Global Voices community, which translated the announcement in over a dozen languages (mk, sq, hu, de, fr, sv, es, nl, it, mg, bg, sr, tr).

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