(AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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.

(AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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.

A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, sprays paint with toy water gun on the facade of the Macedonia's Public Revenue Office headquarters on May 10, 2016 in SkopjeIn front of the tax authorities building. (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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.

Leaving their mark. (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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.

Protesters raise their hands in front of the Parliament  in Skopje on April 18, 2016 (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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 ministry of justice. (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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.

The main square of Skopje gets a makeover. (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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 hooded protestor uses an improvised slingshot to throw a balloon with colored paint on the Parliament building while others hold colored smoke cartridges, during an anti-government protest in Skopje on May 27, 2016In front of parliament. (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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.

The presidential office building. (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

There is also a group that blocks Skopje’s main thoroughfares for a half hour midday, creating monstrous traffic jams.

A march toward the government building. (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

But there are no demonstrations during the weekend. Everybody takes a rest.

Anti-riot police officers stand guard in front of the Ministry of Culture in Skopje on April 15, 2016, during a protest against the president's shock decision to halt probes into more than fifty public figures embroiled in a wire-tapping scandal. (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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.

(AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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.

(AFP / Robert Atanasovski)

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.

Protestors wearing masks use water guns to spray coloured paint on The Alexander the Great Fountain during an anti-government protest in Skopje on June 3, 2016, in a series of protests dubbed Colourful RevolutionAt the monument to Alexander the Great. (AFP / Robert Atanasovski)


Robert Atanasovski