The color of ire
Skopje -- It’s been some two months since the color protests started here. They began by demonstrations downtown, with protesters whistling and chanting anti-government slogans. At some point, the protesters started to throw eggs and paint-filled balloons at government buildings. And that’s how our “Colorful Revolution” was born.
In the beginning, the protesters’ aim was less than ideal and the paint they threw regularly ended up on my clothes and photo equipment. I washed both about a dozen times before giving up. If you want to get a good photo, you have to be ready for anything. Including resembling a moving modern art painting. I have many such wearable works of art now.
The demonstrators launch their attacks on public buildings with several weapons -- balloons, waterguns and slingshots being the most popular. Their favorite targets are monuments that have been erected during the 10-year rule of prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who stepped down in January to make way for controversial elections, and whose costly neo-classical makeover of the city has not been appreciated by all. The Victory Arch and the statue of Alexander the Great have taken the brunt of the ire.
The seeds of the protests were sown in February last year, when an opposition leader began releasing recordings that appeared to reveal high-level corruption and official wiretapping of thousands of Macedonians, including politicians, journalists and businesspeople.
Government denials sparked mass protests on both sides and the EU stepped in to broker a deal. Then President Gjorge Ivanov poured fuel on the fire in April, when he issued a mass pardon to those implicated in the wiretapping scandal, including his ally, the long-serving premier Gruevski. That sparked more protests that eventually transformed into the “Colourful Revolution,” with the demonstrators demanding that Ivanov step down and repeal the pardon.
The protesters have been mostly peaceful. They gather in late afternoons, at a place announced in a Facebook post, which also lists the target for the day. At dusk, they return home.
With time, their aim has become quite good. Every paint balloon or slingshot projectile that reaches its target sets off an ecstatic burst of applause and cheers. Sometimes covering the demonstrations I get the feeling that I’ve stepped into an Angry Birds video game.
A group that has baptised itself “the commandos” has become specialized in striking with water guns filled with paint, with which they have targeted all sorts of walls of the capital.
There is also a group that blocks Skopje’s main thoroughfares for a half hour midday, creating monstrous traffic jams.
But there are no demonstrations during the weekend. Everybody takes a rest.
The protests have failed to dent the support of the ruling party, which according to surveys still enjoys 30 percent support among the population, compared with 11 percent for the main opposition party.
And many of the people who support the protesters in principle, many elderly among them, don’t approve of their methods of defacing the capital.
After two months, the protests seem to be at a standstill. They never attract more than a few thousand people and some believe that the start of the school and university vacation season, at the end of June, could see the end of our color revolt.
This blog was written with Jovan Matic in Belgrade and translated by Yana Dlugy in Paris.