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Shamed Macedonian Government Caves in to Student Demands

The Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Macedonia announced a 1,050,000 euro (1.46 million US dollar) tender for renovation of the now infamous Goce Delchev student dormitory in Skopje on April 30, 2014, as reported [mk] by Faktor.

Apparently, this decision is a direct consequence of the digital activism initiative Operation Student Dorm, which gave visibility to the horrific living conditions provided in the university dormitory in question and managed to reverse the trend of years of promises [mk] that went unfulfilled by the government into concrete action.

Screenshot of Facebook ad with PM Gruevski and title "The Students are Right" and subtitle "The Student dorm Goce Delchev will be completely reconstructed."

Damage control: Facebook ad
with Macedonian Prime Minister's picture titled “The Students are Right”. It claims that “the Goce Delchev student dorm will be completely reconstructed.”

After the initial reaction of intimidation and censorship by authorities, the ruling political party apparently evaluated the risk of alienating the 1200 students living in the dorm (and their families) on the eve of the upcoming elections. As part of an apparent damage control campaign, they promised that the dorm will be reconstructed, and publicized that promise through government-friendly media, along with paid Facebook ads leading to an interview with the incumbent Prime Minister titled “The Students are Right.”

Some social media users noticed that the words used by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in this interview eerily resembled a famous quote by Yugoslavian socialist leader Josip Broz Tito, after a brutal intervention of the so-called “people's police” failed to quash major student protests in Belgrade, which were part of the 1968 world movement for democracy. The sentence [sr], “Comrade Tito said that the students are right”, was a popular catchphrase throughout the former Yugoslavian states, and was immortalized in a famous scene [sr] of the regional cult classic 1986 film The Elusive Summer of '68. In the film, after ‘the troubles’ of the 1968 protests are depicted, the father of the family removes the television set to prevent the children from talking about things the regime might find seditious. After Tito's announcement, he proudly takes the television set out from the cellar and allows his children to use it again.

Another current government action bears evidence to the growing importance of students as a voting bloc. Just before the last round of the 2014 presidential elections on Friday April 25, the Macedonian government transferred funds for students’ overdue scholarships. The monthly instalments for students who begin the school year in October usually start several months later, with pauses, most often dragging the payments out until the following autumn. This time around, students received seven months worth of late scholarships in one bulk payment, even though the government previously announced that payments would start in May, after the elections. The monthly stipends amount to between 50 to 65 euro.

There has been no announcement about the reconstruction of other student dormitories in Skopje or elsewhere, many of which house a smaller number of students. One such example is the ‘Medicinar’ dorm for medical students, which is set within the complex of the Skopje Clinical Center. The following photos were taken by the author on April 9, 2014 [all published here under CC-BY license].

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