Matthew Davenport is a Spring 2016 intern at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. He is currently a Master’s student at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. In his post below, he discusses the current political revolution and protests in Macedonia.
As the 25th anniversary of Macedonia’s independence approaches, the capital city of Skopje finds itself rocked by massive street protests. For the past three weeks, Macedonians have taken to the streets to protest corrupt political leadership and the recent laws passed to keep those politicians in power. The protesters are often armed with nothing more than balloons filled with paint. Originally an act of protester vandalism, colorful paint has become the symbol, and brand, of the protesters’ movement.
Protests first erupted on April 12, after Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov halted an investigation into the 2015 wiretapping scandal that potentially implicates 56 Macedonian politicians, including ruling party leader and former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Under Gruevski, the regime was suspected of monitoring the phone calls of 20,000 Macedonian citizens. Gruevski’s party, VMRO-DPMNE, has effectively dominated all state institutions for the past decade, causing little to change in the quality of Macedonia’s governance after Gruevski stepped down following an EU-brokered agreement to return political stability to the country.
The first targets of the protesters’ paint bombs were the recently erected grey-marble monuments under Gruevski’s city beautification plan “Skopje 2014.” A nightly target is the Alexander the Great fountain, estimated to have cost the small Balkan country 10 million euros. Other popular victims of paint barrages include the bronze Prometheus, controversial because of its once nude figure, and the Skopje interpretation of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. Although a fine of 50 euros comes with the act of painting a public monument, few arrests have been made and even fewer fines have been imposed.
The Colorful Revolution has come to represent more than just the method of vandalizing symbols of public spending — it also represents the colorful makeup of the protesters themselves. In the protests, Macedonian and Albanian flags are flown side-by-side, the LGBTQ rainbow flag is paraded, and protest signs are written in Macedonian, Albanian, and Romani. In a country that sees constant flare-ups of ethnic violence between the Macedonian and Albanian communities, it seems opposition to the current regime has had a unifying effect within the major cities. In fact, an anti-regime protest in Tetovo flew Albanian and Macedonian flags next to each other for the first time in the city’s history. Twenty years ago, such an act was illegal.
Finally, the movement plays off the idea of a “color revolution,” or the series of revolutions that overthrew entrenched politicians in the post-Soviet space during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. This branding has outpaced the regime’s own attempts to co-opt the imagery of a people-supported color revolution by adopting symbols and images (including changing the party’s color to orange) of Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution.” The colorful revolution seems to have all of the qualities present in other successful protest movements that have changed governments throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe, but the movement has produced few tangible results — besides a new paint-job for national monuments.