The students protests started in November 2014 as a response to the government’s interference with the university system. The first reply was after the Macedonian Government announced that they will implement a new law regarding higher education. The law, which would be implemented for the generation of 2017, implied that the students should give a national exam, which consisted out of two tests, the first one given in the second year of studies and the second one before the graduation. The students had three chances to pass the exam, if they would fail to do so, they would be expelled.
The students organised a movement called “Student’s Plenum” on the 17th of November 2014 which gathered more than 5000 students in the capital of Skopje. The movement raised the people’s and the Government’s interest, although they ignored them at first; however, it soon became a hot topic on social networks, sites uncontrolled by the media.
The Prime Minister of FYROM (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia), Nikola Gruevski, claimed that the approved law had as a purpose the control of the quality of the university professors. The idea of implementing this law came from rumors which spoke about students bribing professors in order to obtain the diploma. Gruevski replied: „The students will benefit from the examination because at the end they will obtain a degree that will help them in the future […] we are aiming with this law to force students to pass the exam with the adequate knowledge” (source: Balkans in Europe Policy Blog – article here)
The second protest came in December and gathered more than 10 000 people. FYROM citizens started protesting along, supporting their cause and also fighting against other issues that were wrong in the country. The respons of the FYROM police with tear gas injured a few people, and in the fight between the Albanian military and the Macedonian police a few people got killed. One of the recently reasons for protesting, in 2015, was the covering up of a young policeman’s death in 2011. (source: Wikipedia, article here)
Professors from the University organised as well a „Professor’s Plenum” protesting for the student’s cause.
The number of protesters kept on growing and on the 12 of February 2015 the students occupied the faculties of Philosophy, Philology, Law and Economy of Skopje University, proclaiming them “autonomous students’ territory”. They asked with an official letter to the authorities the resignation of Gruevski, but their petition was rejected. Moreover, the Government manipulated the media making them speak little of the movements, saying that there were only 3000 protesters and that they were politically oriented.
Andrea Ugrinoska (Advisory Board member of AEGEE-Skopje) wrote a very emotional and informative article entitled Student’s revolution in Macedonia (article here) on the 12 of February, right from the middle of the occupation, from the middle of her new family. She spoke with joy and pride about how ”the whole Country started waking up” and the citizens became more united.
On the 18th of March Jirka Lhotka (AEGEE-Praha) wrote for The AEGEEan about the continuing protests in Macedonia. At this time, Nicola Gruevski had revealed for the journalists of Macedonia that he had agreed to suspend the adaoption of the law for one year. (article here)
Following “the biggest march of the past two and a half decades in Macedonia.“(source Autonomus Balkan Informbureau: article here) we have asked Andrea Ugrinoska a few questions, in order to keep the AEGEEan’s readers posted.
The AEGEEan: Hello, Andrea! How are things going in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia?
Andrea: Hello ! How are things going? There is a whole camp set in front of the Government, streets are being blocked for 7 days already, and no one is planning to leave until the Government, along with the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, resigns. However, things are not as easy and as beautiful, as they might seem. The Prime Minister organised a contra-camp, in front of the Parliament, along with it’s blind nationalistic followers, and they are calling themselves the “Democracy keepers”.
You can imagine the satiric level of the whole ridiculous situation. However, the “Camp of freedom”, as we like to call it, knows no nation or ethnic identity. You could see Macedonia, Albanian, Turkish, Serbian and LGBTI flags, all standing next to each other, as well as people from all of the cities in Macedonia. Our demand is very clear and understandable, and we are not planning to leave until we get what we want. However it may look like, this is a clear sign for the Macedonian people, that we are building our democracy.
People started realizing that things are not right and went out to fight for it. The occupation in front of the Government is the most peaceful movement I have ever seen. Whenever I pass or go there I feel like I enter a new dimension of creativity and vision, combined with an everlasting freedom. There is music every night, debates and speeches about how we envision the new Macedonia, and yesterday there was a panel on “The future of Macedonia” where we, from the National Youth Council, were invited to speak and give our point of view regarding youth. That was seriously a big step. The opposition is giving its support, and showing a whole new mature approach to solving these everyday issues.
However, people have lost trust in the political figures, public authorities as well as institutions, to the point you would not see a single person in the “camp of freedom” claiming that they support any party. No, we are here non-partisan, do not label us, regarding of the support of the opposition, and this is as clear as day, and it is something that the opposition, besides its interest of course, tries to respect as much as possible. It’s a story of mutual understanding and cooperation towards bringing this Government along with it’s leader down, and start re-building this country the way we want it. It’s no longer about who belongs where, but it’s about uniting an fulfilling a higher purpose. It truly is amazing.
On the 12 of February, during the University Occupation you wrote in your article: „And this is where I am right now, with happy tears in my eyes”, referring to the unity of the students. How do you feel now, four months later?
I feel the same. The unity of the students is on the same level, and we are one of the key supporters of the initiative of the camp of freedom. Like nothing has changed. Maybe we won a small battle, but we still have a whole “war” to manage, and we do not plan to quit. Solidarity with the citizens of Macedonia will go until the end.
Written by Gabriela Cioată, AEGEE-București
Note: The article was written on the 27th of May