Le ONG macedoni e l'imminente appuntamento elettorale. Il 15 settembre in Macedonia ci si recherà alle urne. Dejan Georgjievski, nostro corrispondente da Skopje, ci descrive una Macedonia che nonostante il caldo dell'estate sente l'avvicinarsi dell'appuntamento elettorale. In particolare si sofferma sul ruolo che le numerose ONG locali avranno nel processo elettorale. Il testo è in inglese.
Life goes on in Macedonia. The heat has taken over big time. The life has slowed down to a grind and the people would rather live the Mediterranean sides of their lives with the siestas and sangria and whatnot, were it not for the elections. Now almost everything is known. They will be held (alas!) on September 15, the campaign will officially start on August 15 - it has unofficially started with the huge opposition rally two weeks ago - and all the chances are that by the time this article is completed even the State Electoral Commission will be voted in and appointed.
The politicians have started running around. The opposition has increased its tempo of verbal accusations against the Government. The Government has both increased its verbal activity and started inaugurating whatever they can in order to use it as a promotion tool. Old alliances are broken, new alliances are created, apparently without any ideological or program considerations. The left is joining the right, the right has no problems in making coalitions with the extreme-left, and the center is available for talks with anyone, but not with the parties of the, rather ambitiously called, "the Third Way."
The pollsters sit by their phones and pray to God that they will call enough people to prove that the party that contracted them will have a lead at the end. The media are more than happy to print those polls and are engulfed in a sweet anxiety over the revenue that political advertising shall bring them.
The question is, what is the NGO sector doing? Apparently, quite a lot.
Cooperation is the call of the day
The activities of the NGOs are diverted in several fields. There are those that work on voter education, those who are mostly interested in regularity and fairness of the elections and, of course, those who are "in charge" of the media conduct during the campaign. They all work seemingly independent, but are nevertheless all coordinated, to the possible extent, by the Open Society Institute - Macedonia (commonly known as Soros) under the auspices of "Fair Elections" Program. The women organizations lobby for greater presence of women in Macedonian politics in general, including the party electoral lists, media NGOs and associations of journalists and private broadcasters prepare their "rules of engagement," and so on.
"Citizens for the Citizens" Coalition is one of the NGOs that will be engaged in the Elections. Zage Filipovski, the Coalition's Spokesperson and PR person, says that they have been preparing for this for the past two years. In his words, "the last round of elections, the 2000 Local Elections taught us several things. Firstly, judging from the violence we have seen, some parties are willing to do anything to win the Elections. Secondly, that the people are at least a bit reassured when they see some sort of monitoring. Third, that they don't actually know the power they have." CFC (they prefer to use the more hip "C4C" acronym) plans to be watchdog of political parties behavior and to register all irregularities and make them public.
"We mostly depend on people we know, people that the partners of coalition know, their friends, relatives, acquaintances. They provide us with the information. We try and confirm the story but we make it public anyway. Sometimes spreading a rumor may not stop a political party on acting badly, but we hope that they will think twice before trying to bribe the voters."
Bridging the community gap
The plans of CFC is to have monitors on the ballot day that will be present at the ballot stations to observe the voting process completely. They don't want (and it would be out of line completely anyway) to influence the voters. For the monitoring part, they expect to sign an Agreement for Cooperation with the Macedonian Helsinki Committee and with Association for Democratic Initiative -ADI from Gostivar. There should be about 3000 monitors, of which ADI shall provide approximately 900, and the rest will fall on CFC.
CFC is a coalition of over 50 NGOs from all over Macedonia. They will organize debates, roundtables and conferences, public campaigns to motivate the voters to go and check the regularity of the voters' lists, to see if they are registered voters, what are their rights and obligations at the ballot stations.
Filipovski does not feel that there is much danger of interethnic strife over the elections. More likely (and it is prevailing fear slowly creeping into the hearts of the foreign diplomats even), we may see intra-ethnic strife, in his opinion. "These elections," he says, "are not important in terms of political workings between the two biggest communities in Macedonia. Seen the way the Parliament should work after Ohrid (Agreement), it doesn't matter whether there are three or thirty Albanians in the Parliament. They have the "majority of the minority" clause there to ensure that if they don't want something, it won't be done. The same goes for the Macedonian parties. If there is irregularities, it will be for the home turf, so to say. It's a situation that nobody likes, but, hey, we have to be realistic." His view is shared by Albert Musliu from ADI. In Musliu's opinion, the only difference now shall be that probably the level of violence among the Macedonian political parties shall increase. "At the last Local Elections, in 2000, the level of violence seen among Macedonians paled in comparison with what was going on among the Albanian political parties. Now, I'm afraid, we are to see something more serious this time. Indeed, as Bozin Pavlovski, a best-selling novelist and columnist for Dnevnik daily wrote last week, on the apparent beginning of the campaigning: "I decided not to write about the events in the Albanian political block. After all, they won their right for parallel life with arms last year...".
Levels of spite
In order to make a valid, well-intentioned ballot, a person needs:
500 grams of Angst
300 grams of Spite
300 grams of Weltschmertz
1 minute of concentration at the ballot box
That is the beginning of the Voters' Manual, prepared by OXO. OXO is a Macedonian NGO that works primarily in cultural and democracy issues. The Manual is seen as a tool, as a text book that will help the voters make the right decision come election time. The Manual's original concept, of a "test in the basics of democracy" was envisioned by Pece Talevski, OXO's Programming Director.
"We decided that we should do something different this time" says Talevski. "We decided to make it more cynical. This is a nation of cynical people, who are very well versed in commenting on events rather than doing something to change them. Now, if we make a cynical comment about their cynicism, we just might provoke them to do something."
Talevski also plans to have a round of debates and conferences all over Macedonia, directed at motivating people to go out and cast their votes. They will be helped on the Albanian side by ADI, too, which also plans a motivating campaign. There is only one message they have for the rather ambivalent and disinterested voters (some polls put the figure of the people that are prepared to abstain at about 45%). As Talevski says, "they have to figure it out for themselves, but in general, we will try to show them that boycott might be legitimate form of political protest, but is not a valid one. At least not in Macedonia, since we lack an instrument to proclaim the Elections invalid in terms of voters' turnout, nor we have a threshold that will have to be surpassed in order to have valid elections. They will have to come out, and instead of sending messages of disillusionment with the politicians, they will have to try and change those they deem unworthy of political office." Filipovski thinks that it would also be good to try and lobby and press for a legislation that will make the lists open, so that we can avoid voting again and again the same people from the same political parties, regardless of what our personal choices would be. "That may prove, I think, a great corrector for the internal party politics, which in Macedonia usually is rather dictatorial by nature. You have the leader, who is absolutely untouchable, and then no one for several levels. Open lists might provide such people that may put the pressure, through their support in the electorate, on the party leadership to be more responsible in their works, and more responsive in terms of the wishes of their voters."
The media in the middle
Several NGOs and professional associations have directed their attention to the media conduct during the Elections. One of them, the Media Development Center, have worked towards establishment of viable and strict rules for media coverage of the Campaign, and the rules for both free and paid political advertising and presentation. By lobbying with the Parliamentary Groups of the political parties, with the international organizations in charge of revising the proposed rules by the Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia, MDC managed to put some of its ideas in the Rules (limits of paid political advertising a political party may purchase, limits in the free presentation, limits for the public sector broadcasters, etc.) As Roberto Belicanec, the Director of the MDC says "these things are important. In general, my greatest concern is not the private media, since they 'bet their own money' into the whole thing. The public service broadcasting is much more important, since they act here mostly as mouthpieces for whoever it is that is in power."
MDC also plans (as it turns out, a lot of the activities are intertwined), in cooperation with OXO and the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, to establish an NGO Press Center dedicated to the NGOs that will have activities during the 2002 Elections. Besides the central facility, the Press Center will use the services of the regional and local offices of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, both in terms of collecting the information and distributing them further to the media.
As never before, the NGO sector in Macedonia is determined not to miss out on these elections. The stakes are high, but so are the possible gains. Finally, to use a quote from OXO's Voter Manual:
You don't give your vote based on which party has the best looking girls. You pay attention to what the "candidates in the pageant have to say on other issues, besides the World Peace.
NGOs, obviously, have a lot to say. The thing is, they have talked the talk, can they walk the walk?