Postcard from Skopje: The Melancholy Revolution

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Postcard from Skopje: The Melancholy Revolution

Postcard from Skopje: The Melancholy Revolution

Postcard from Skopje: The Melancholy Revolution

Postcard from Skopje: The Melancholy Revolution

“I think this is a melancholy revolution,” Giovanni said on Thursday evening, and I knew what he meant. There is an ennui in the air that seems to creep into everyone. Zoran Zaev has called his big protest for this Sunday. Estimated attendance ranges from 20,000 to 50,000 but we will only really know come Sunday afternoon. In the meantime, people sit and twitch at the uncertainty. The nightly protests that just days ago felt full of vitality have taken on a repetitiousness, even if the “Gruevski, resign!” chants have grown louder. People march from the government to the parliament at six each evening and all that seems to change is the route. After they wonder if sitting drinking beer with friends always left them so restless.

For all the attention Macedonia has drawn from across the world this last week, like a daisy in the eye of a tornado, sitting in the epicentre of events it can feel as though nothing is happening. Time has stood still waiting for Sunday to creep in. Of course, there is plenty happening.

The next day, Friday, was a hot day. Every day is hot these days. Except when it rains, then it is wet and hot. Traffic drifted through the heat, ignorant outside the window of the Helsinki Committee’s Skopje office. Inside, the entire staff of the Macedonian outpost of the human rights defenders organisation gathered around a YouTube livestream. Zaev’s latest ‘bomb’. Tuts and chuckles alternately broke the rapt silence that surrounded the tape recordings of various ministers discussing unspeakable malfeasance like mere mortals tell dirty jokes.

Friday’s bomb was an illustration of the parallel ministries that have sprouted within their official sisters to bond state and party into one. After, executive director of the Helsinki Committee in Skopje Uranija Pirovska told Giovanni and me that she believed this bomb was “for the police officers who are honest, who didn’t know what was going on within their structures.”

Pirovska told us that for the Helsinki Committee this bomb, like many of those before it, clarified much of what they already suspected about the state’s marionette-like relationship to the ruling parties. “All ministries are tools of VMRO in order that they remain in power,” she said. She explained how during a past election Prime Minister Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE housed their campaign headquarters in the Ministry of Interior while the Ministry of Labour doled out social benefits to the party faithful.

VMRO-DPMNE might have been able to carrot-and-stick their way through the corridors of power until now, but Pirovska believes the days of this kind of politics are numbered. “Gruevski is buying time with his little reconstruction of government,” she said, referring to the resignations of two ministers and Macedonia’s chief of secret police on Tuesday night. “But he has to go, there is too much now that we have heard.”

How long it will take the prime minister to go and how far he will go to stall his departure is a point of concern for Pirovska. “Gruevski is acting like a wounded animal. I hope we do not face violence again like we did on May 5, when the police used force,” she said.

In the days following the violence eight young protesters were arrested and a further three on Wednesday of this week. As of Friday afternoon, all 11 were still in detention at Sutka prison. Pirovska, who has been liaising with the arrestees’ families, described conditions in the prison as “really awful. And I’m afraid the young people will be traumatised for life.” She believes the arrests were designed to “send a message” to discourage Macedonians from taking to the streets on Sunday.

Many former ambassadors to Macedonia along with serving Members of European Parliament from the European Socialist Party have pledged to join the protest calling for Gruevski’s resignation. Until he does step down, said Pirovska, “We are all occupied by this government.”


Photo gallery: Jacopo Landi for Balkanist. 

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Jack Davies

Jack Davies is a freelance journalist focusing on the Western Balkans. You can find him on Twitter @jackoozell