Last Sunday, weeks of demonstrations against the government of Macedonia culminated in a big protest event before the government building in the capital city Skopje. PAX's Kosovo programme manager Michael Warren saw 'a vast, energized, and patient crowd of 20-25,000 citizens. Families, students, workers and old folks were waving Macedonian, Albanian, and even Roma, Turkish and Bulgarian flags. A festive atmosphere, and also a hopeful one.'
Michael Warren in Skopje: 'At one point, we climbed up to the sixth floor of an apartment building to take some photos, and a man came out of his flat and invited us to join his 'demonstration party'. The usual Macedonian hospitality and bonhomie inside, but also some sobering comments from new friends. Our host said: "I feel proud to be Macedonian today. This is what civil society and solidarity is supposed to look like. I hope we can be a model for the rest of the Balkans." '
'Another woman told me that, when she left home that afternoon, her 8-year-old son asked her where she was going. She reminded him of the high school plenum she took him to visit a couple of weeks before, and the fired-up teenagers there who wanted to change things. "I'm going to a protest, and you'll do the same thing someday, because that's how people make a better country together." The challenge now is to sustain this solidarity and this optimism, through the counter-demonstration of followers of the government today and the even greater obstacles to come along the path to transformation.'
Michael James Warren is visiting Macedonia to meet with civil society in the city of Kumanovo, where violent clashes between police and an armed group heightened public insecurity last weekend. A city with large ethnic Macedonian and Albanian communities, Kumanovo was a major site of inter-ethnic fighting during Macedonia's conflict in 2001. PAX has had presence in the last decade in Kumanovo, and will explore opportunities to provide new support there upon the invitation of local peacemakers.