“On days like this, you feel a new love, a love for your home country,” said Dolores Popovic, who has taken to the streets of Macedonia’s capital for daily protests since the “Colorful Revolution” begannearly two weeks ago. “And you want to stay here defiantly – at any cost.”
For a long time, Popovic, a student of drama, had thought public protests would not change anything. When students took to the streets against education policies last year, she did not join them. But, after witnessing the protests of the Colorful Revolution this month, she asked herself: “If 18-year-old children can fight, why can’t I?”
Macedonia’s youth want work, opportunity and a stable state. “I am fighting for change,” 22-year-old communications student Darko Malinovski said. “The way things are going in Macedonia now, it offers no future. It does not matter what you have learned; only party membership will get you a job. I refuse to subject myself to that. I see no other alternative except to protest.”
Malinovski strongly believes that people can force change but that to be effective demonstrations need to turn out the masses and turn them up loud. “Protests and pressure will bring about the desired effect,” he said. A successful opposition movement would beat the alternative: emigration, which has been the answer for many young people in Macedonia over the years. “This should not be an option,” Malinovski said.
Macedonia is no idyll for its youth. Dona Kosturanova, who directs the Youth Educational Forum NGO, said the state had made young people a “marginalized group” in Macedonian society. Youth unemployment tops 50 percent, and precarious working conditions and poverty are part of life for most young people.
“That is why the phenomenon of extended adolescence exists here,” Kosturanova said. “In Macedonia, you are still a student at 29; you still live with your parents and have no job. This leads to apathy and social exclusion.”
As a result, many young Macedonians, such as 33-year-old Gorgi, look west for their futures. For 10 years now, he has kept his head above water with odd jobs. But he has had enough. “The years pass; nothing changes,” Gorgi said. “Why should I spend my life in a country where I have no future? I do not even dare to imagine a positive future for myself. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel – but I no longer have time to waste.”
Though his suitcases are already packed, Gorgi still goes out to protest every day. The Colorful Revolution has given many young Macedonians one last hope of making a future in their home country. One banner waved by a demonstrator in the center of Skopje put it best. “Demonstrate,” it read, “don’t emigrate.”