PREVENTIVE INTERETHNIC CONFLICTACTION IN MACEDONIA

Violeta Petroska-Beska, Professor, Ph D, Ethnic Conflict Resolution Project, Faculty of
Philosophy, University of St. Cyril and Methodius, Skopje, Republic of Macedonia

Eran Fraenkel, Ph D, Executive Director of Search for Common Ground in Macedonia



Eran Fraenkel: BACKGROUND : MACEDONIA

Images that usually come to mind when thinking of Macedonia are of "ancient inter-ethnic hatreds", irrational bloodletting among neighbours, and unpredictable eruptions of senseless violence. U.S. and mainstream press coverage, Oscar-nominated films such as Before the Rain, and popular books such as Balkan Ghosts all reinforce this perception. Contrary to these, however, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (henceforth, Macedonia) stands out in the constellation of Yugoslav successor states as the only country to have made the transition to independence free of violence.

Nonetheless, this absence of violence does not imply the absence of conflict - indeed serious economic, social, and political conflict. Rather, that conflict has not escalated into violence testifies to the relatively measured politics of Macedonia´s national governments since independence in 1991, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to the successful promulgation of preventive measures by the numerous non-governmental (NGO) and supra-governmental organisations (United Nations, OSCE) present in the country.

Of the former Yugoslav republics (excluding Kosova and Vojvodina as parts of Serbia), Macedonia is ethnically the most demographically heterogenous. Still, Macedonia has evaded persistent violent conflict either internally or with its neighbours. For the future, two sets of issues, intrinsic and extrinsic, will determine Macedonia´s ability to survive: How to reconcile its national interests with those of Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania; and how to reconcile the, at times, conflicting interests and demands of the country's own diverse commmunities, which have only begun to discover and exercise their political voices in the past four years.

Violeta Petroska-Beska: ETHNIC CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROJECT

The ECRP is run by the Faculty of Philosophy, University " St Cyril and Methodius, Skopje. Its overall goal is to help citizens of the Republic of Macedonia to take an active position towards the resolution of intractable conflicts rooted in ethnic and other differences. They work mainly through education - for increasing awareness and sensibility for conflicts, training in negotiation and mediation, and training trainers in the area of conflict resolution; they also take part in preparing educational radio and TV programs for children and adults about conflicts and conflict handling (see Dr Fraenkel´s paper below).

The ECRP suggests perceiving a conflict as often being

1) an outgrowth of diversity that might include possibilities for mutual growth and improvement of the relationship
2) only a part of a relationship which, besides interests, involves needs, feelings, values, perceptions, goals, power
3) a whole series of events that mark a relationship, but can also help clarify it (not an isolated event that defines the whole relationship for good)
4) a confrontation with some, but not all aspects of a relationship

After this introduction Dr Petroska-Beska took us straight into some classrooms (with the help of video), where we could see her and her colleagues in action, working with conflict-resolution and inter-ethnic understanding among children of different ethnic groups. The video was frequently stopped for questions and discussion with and between the participants, representing themselves many different ethnic groups from many countries. The language problem often came up, and the question of to what degree, and how, schools should integrate different groups. A comparison was made with the school situation in Kosova.

Eran Fraenkel: SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND APPROACH

Among the NGOs active in Macedonia, Search for Common Ground in Macedonia (SCGM) stands alone in its exclusive dedication to the resolution, prevention, and management of international, inter-ethnic, and other forms of conflict, and to their transformation into active cooperation. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1982 and operating in Macedonia since March 1994, SCGM has launched numerous projects designed to assist the country´s ethno-linguistic communities in arriving at mutually acceptable and collaborative ways of adressing sensitive issues that could escalate inter-ethnic conflict into violence. Intended to promote mutual understanding, respect, and trust, the programs making up SCGMs "toolbox" focus on sectors of Macedonian society which Search, together with its local project partners, consider to be particularly influential.

Interethnic roundtables

A fundamental premise in conflict resolution is that direct contact between conflicting sides in a safe and neutral setting facilitates the trust building and mutual repect on which collaborative problem solving rests. Accordingly, over the past two years SCGM, together with other U.S. and local NGOs, has gathered Macedonian and Albanian community, political, and religious leaders for discussions of divisive issues. Since 1985 these roundtables have been hosted on an ongoing monthly basis at the Center for Ethnic Relations, part of the Institute for Sociological, Political and Judicial Research (University of Skopje), each session focusing on a specific topic such as primary and university education, local self-government, and the role of women in society. The SCGM/Center meetings aim beyond the objectives of traditional roundtables which are restricted to discussion without action - by presenting the discussants points of common ground (without personal attribution) in a report which the center for Ethnic Relations submits to the appropriate government ministry for consideration. Consequently, the level of interest in the roundtables has intensified markedly since the participants are aware that their ideas will at least reach policy makers, regardless of whether or not they are implemented.

Conflict-Resolution Training

To inculcate the culture of constructive conflict resolution at the grassroot level, SGCM has cooperated with several international (Catholic Relief Services, Balkans Peace Project (Cambridge, Mass.), the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (Columbia University), the Centre for Applied Studies in International Negotiation (Geneva) and local conflict-resolution organisations (Ethnic Conflict Resolution Project (ECRP)) at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Skopje, to organise conflict-resolution training. Focusing primarily on the educational system, these trainings have been held at ethnically mixed elementary and high schools as well as for Macedonian and Albanian students at the Pedagogical Faculty. Participants have included students and teachers, as well as school psychologists, sociologists and pedagogues. In addition to the training, the programs have produced several handbooks as well as Macedonia´s first professional book in the field, Conflicts: What They Are and How to Solve Them (1995), written by ECRP director Dr Violeta Petroska-Beska and published in one volume both in Macedonian and Albanian.

MEDIA PROJECTS

Print Journalism

Since 1994, SCGM has been working in collaboration with the New York University Center for War, Peace and the News Media (NYU Center) as well as with the Ethnic Resolution Project at the University of Skopje on a series of projects aimed at the development of print journalism in Macedonia. As in the other emerging post-communist states, the media in Macedonia are redefining their identity and role in society and have been facing critical issues including privatization and attracting readers and advertisers, establishing new codes of conduct and of professionalism, and, most importantly, adressing their role in a new multiethnic, pluralistic society. Reflecting Macedonia´s political and ethnic cleavages, the media, both state-sponsored and private, are by and large narrowly focused on specific ethnolinguistic or political audiences. Thus, for example, Macedonians and Albanians rarely, if ever, read each other´s press. Furthermore, due to the Yugoslav legacy, the various ethnic communities in the country feel misrepresented, if not damaged, by the way they are depicted in each other communities´ media. The outcome of these factors have been at best mistrust of the press, and at worst the contribution of media toward worsening inter-ethnic relations and escalating inter-ethnic conflicts. To adress these issues, SCGM with its project partners has developed three kinds of print-media projects:

Journalism Training Seminars

This training component has thus far consisted of a seminar for journalists and a symposium for editors, in which the topic was the media and social responsibility. Reporters and editors from the U. S. and Europe met with their Macedonian colleagues to introduce them to Western concepts of inclusive journalism, community-wide reporting, the use of non-inflammatory language, and distinguishing between reporting and editorializing. A second symposium will be arranged in September -96, to which we plan to invite a Walloon and a Flemish journalist from Belgium. With their Macedonian colleagues, they will explore and develop the notion that conflicting opinions, especially among different ethnic communities within a country, are not synonymous with conflict, but are, in fact, essential for the healthy functioning of a pluralistic society. Funding permitting, this will generate two additional journalism programs, Conflict of Opinion Without Conflict, and Reporting Diversity Handbook project, detailed below.

Interethnic Reporting Projects

The second set of projects was launched in June 1995 when SCGM and the NYU Center brought Denise Hamilton, a Los Angeles Times staff reporter, to Macedonia to lead a 4-week feature-reporting project involving an inter-ethnic team of four reporters: two Macedonian, one Albanian and one Turkish newspaper reporters. All four journalists belonged to the state-supported Nova Makedonija media group. The project had a number of principle objectives: engaging journalists in feature reporting, which is not practiced in Macedonia; creating a project in which journalists from different ethno-linguistic communities would work intensively in teams and develop professional as well as professional ties; facilitating an opportunity for journalists to report from communities other than their own; and bringing to the reading public of all three communities articles adressing issues of common concern and demonstrating inclusive, inter-ethnic journalism in practice. The three papers had been asked, and had agreed a priori to publish the articles simultaneously. Following a month s work the team produced a series of four articles entitled "How We Survive" in which they explored the impact of Macedonia´s economic crisis on the lives of ordinary citizens of all ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds. Journalists and readers have stressed the uniqueness of both the projects approach and its contents. The consensus of opinion is that stimulating this kind of journalism offers Macedonia a specific and achievable way to overcome its ethnic tension and to prevent such tensions from escalating into ethnic violence.

Conflict Resolution Training for Journalists

SCGM and the ECRP conducted a seminar to train journalists in the basic concepts by which to analyse and deal with conflict. Reporters are frequently situated in conflict situations, and naturally deal with issues of conflict as part of their professional activities. And yet, no journalist has been trained specifically to understand the nature of conflict nor the way in which the media may contribute directly to the escalation or de-escalation of conflict. Impetus for this project (September 1995) came from the participation by SCGM s media consultant, Ibrahim Mehmeti from Flaka, in a 3-part conflict-resolution training program held in Macedonia by Jean Freymond of the Geneva-based Centre for Applied Studies in International Negotiation. Over 25 journalists and editors from print and broadcast media attented this SCGM/ECRP training at which they heard lectures, participated in applied excercises, and were eventually presented a book on conflict and conflict resolution written by ECRP director Dr Violeta Petroska-Beska.

We now expect to launch the following two print-media programs, each of which should be an off-shoot of the planned editor´s symposium

Conflict of Opinion Without Conflict

To implement the idea that diversity of opinion is a healthy component of a functioning pluralistic society, SCGM has designed a project in which one or two newspapers will publish two juxtaposed columns called "Point/Counterpoint". The participating paper will seek out pairs of articulate individuals who could hold contrasting points of view on issues important to Macedonian society as a whole. Whereas within each appearance of "Point/Counterpoint" the commentators would belong to two different ethnic comunities, the project would emphasize opinions that are not "ethnically" determined. Indeed, the author´s ideas may counterindicate their community´s prevailing thinking; for example, a Macedonian who may support the establishment Albanian-language university in Tetovo, and an Albanian who does not. Presenting conflicting opinions in a reasoned and non-inflammatory manner would illustrate to the public not only that it is acceptable and desirable to hold individual points of view, but that all citizens regardless of ethnicity share common interests that should be expressed freely in the media.

Reporting Diversity Handbook

In an international project we hope to work on the preparation of a manual called Reporting Diversity to serve as a resource for reporters covering issues facing minority populations. Several multi-ethnic Eastern European countries are already participating and manuals are to be produced for each country with information on international laws and standards regarding minority populations and a list of organisations and other resources. Each manual will also contain country-specific information on laws and local resources as well as ideas for reporting guidelines and projects. The Macedonian version would be developed through a series of meetings and workshops involving reporters from the country s various ethnic communities and published in Macedonian and Albanian.

TELEVISION PROJECTS

"Pat kon soglastnost" - "Path to Agreement"

Search for Common Ground´s first television project, "Path to Agreement", was co-produced in 1994 with the largest independent television station in Macedonia, A1 of Skopje. Macedonian television often feature programs in which issues are debated by individuals. Such programs, however, do not seek common ground among proponents of divergent points of view. Path to Agreement intended to offer viewers a new approach to adressing sensitive interethnic issues.

Designed originally as a sequence of in-studio mediated discussions, the Pat kon Soglastnost´s format was changed to a magazine-style program filmed throughout the country. The series opened with a segment on the nature of conflict and the ways in which cnflict can escalate into violence examples were drawn from places close to home such as Bosnia, and places further away from Macedonia such as Lebanon. In the only in-studio discussion Eran Fraenkel, director of SCGM, mediated between Macedonian and Albanian high-school principals regarding the quality of education in Macedonia and the educational needs of the two communities. Subsequent magazine programs covered subjects such as the media, political parties, and the proposed Albanian-language university in the city of Tetovo. Concluding the series was a segment that profiled Nakolec, a village in southern Macedonia where Albanians and Makedonians traditionally have coexisted harmoniously - and still do - and which provides all Macedonians with a vivid example of ethnic communities living together peacefully and solving their conflicts constructively.

A1 Television received numerous calls from Macedonians and Albanians about Pat kon Soglastnost, indicating that people found the series thought-provoking. In other words, it has stimulated the kind of dialogue that leads to constructive approaches to conflict and contributes to the de-escalation of potential inter-ethnic violence.

Children s Conflict-Resolution Television

Search for Common Ground in Macedonia is developing an unprecedented television series for children that aims at strengthening the culture of conflict resolution among pre-teenagers of all ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities in the country. Children in Macedonia spend much of their time watching television, but little of what they see is specifically children´s programs and even a smaller percentage has actually any educational or cultural dimension. Indeed, a major component of children's television consists of typically violent American cartoons. Children's programming in Macedonian is more available than in the country's other languages, whose broadcasts are by and large limited to news, music videos, and overdubbed American films - most frequently movies featuring martial arts, war, or other aggression. Thus, not only is there a deficit of television tailored to meet children´s needs, but the daily diet of adult programs reinforces the equation that disagreement or conflict leads inevitably to violence. When viewed in the context of Macedonia's multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-confessional society, it is not surprising that the use of force to settle conflict as seen on television justifies destructive rather than constructive approaches to dealing with inter-ethnic tensions and contributes to the potential for escalating inter-ethnic violence.

To adress these issues, SCGM and the ECRP are developing a children´s conflict-resolution program (working title, "Pamet vo glava") which will be a co-production between Common Ground Productions (the media branch of Search for Common Ground in Washington, D.C.), the Children´s Television Workshop (producers of Sesame Street, among other children´s programs), and Macedonian Television. Upon completion, this series format will serve as a model to develop similar conflict-resolution television in other locations around the world.

Pamet vo glava adresses three primary areas of concern:

* Conflict-resolution techniques/peer mediation: Through positive modelling rather than strictly didactic means, the series teaches children how to interpret conflict positively and to approach the resolution of conflict constructively. Among the approaches offered is peer mediation. namely, developing skills among children to solve their problems independently, without the social, cultural, and psychological biases of adult intervention.

* Active tolerance-building: Rarely do people from one community in Macedonia take an active interest in or have first knowledge of other communities. By appealing to children´s natural curiosity, the program stimulates their proactive interest in the communities that surround them; for instance through exploring music, family celebrations and holidays, etc.

* Inter-cultural literacy: Closely linked with active tolerance building this component focuses largely on language. Pamet vo glava gives Macedonia´s children an opportunity to learn basic phrases (greetings, counting, days of the week) in a number of the country's languages. The program does not intend to teach any child to speak another language fluently but aims to make all children aware of, sensitive to, and curious about their multi-lingual environment.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION

In 1996 SCGM has begun to implement cross-ethnic environmental conflict-resolution projects with the goal of stimulating cooperation among the country's various nationalities to address common ecological problems. Of all the concerns affecting Macedonia's communities, the environment is most basic. Regardless of language, religion, or other parochial distinctions, everyone agrees on the need for clean air, clean water, and unpolluted land. Nevertheless, ecological issues are highly politicized in Macedonia, with conflicts both within the private sector and between the private and public sectors. Citizens and local governments blame the national government for not passing laws or fines to deter polluters, whereas governments blame citizens for lacking "a culture of cleanliness". Villages accuse cities of disregarding their ~ needs, while members of one community point their fingers at the others for their environmental insensitivity.

The situation is clearly ripe for a neutral third party to break the impasse. So SCGM has ; mounted two projects around litter and solid-waste management. By focusing on the environment as a shared interest, we aim to promote inter-ethnic cooperation and to diminish the tendency of Macedonia´s communities to blarne each other rather than addressing their common concerns. These projects also promote grassroots initiative and convince citizens that they can effect positive change, especially through active participation in organs of local selfgovernment.

"Adopt-A-Monument"

In cooperation with ten pilot schools in three cities, we have brought together ethnically mixed groups of 6th-8th-graders to clean and maintain litter around historical/cultural monuments and public spaces. Each school has "adopted" a particular site, and on a monthly basis 30-40 children make a sweep of the location to clean up the litter that has accumulated. The school has also formed an "eco-patrol" that monitors the adopted site on a weekly basis and reports to the patrol´s school mentor, to the municipal sanitation department, and - if necessary- to the local media. During the summer break from school, eco-patrols will also be involved in engaging surrounding businesses and households to keep the location litter-free.

To support the project, SCGM has compiled a workbook of ten interactive lessons that teachers in various disciplines can use; they range from making recycled paper in the classroom to mapmaking and statistical analysis. This workbook has been studied carefully by the Ministry of Education, as the first environmental curriculum to be introduced in the school system and as a component of the "interactive-learning" program that the Ministry is preparing for the 1996-1997 school year.

The project clearly demonstrates the complexity of environmental problems and the need for cooperation across ethnic, political and social divisions: approval from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Urbanism, Transportation and Environmental Protection; coordination with municipal sanitation departments, sometimes consisting of two or more sections, for the disposal of the litter collected by the schools and the installation of new trash bins at the adopted sites; cooperation with local media in all languages to publicize the cleanups and follow up with stories on the eco-patrols; and requests for donations from private businesses in support of the project - for example: trash bags, runner gloves, refreshments, recycled paper for the anti-litter brochure that were prepared in four languages (Albanian, Macedonian, Turkish, Romane). Finally, we prepared a series of broadcasts and newspaper publicity around the project.

References: Violeta Petroska-Beska: Conflicts - what they are and how to resolve them. Faculty of Philosophy, Skopje, 1995 in Albanian and Macedonian. 1997 in English.

*****

As the time designed for this very interactive seminar turned out to be far too short, it was followed by an improvised round table discussion next day, led by the former social minister of Finland Dr Vappu Taipale, UN Commissionar for ethnic conflict prevention in Macedonia, and with many of the same participants.

Focus was again on the problem of having different languages as a basic problem for interethnic understanding. A young Finnish student recommended the system used in Finland: that both groups are given a basic knowledge in each other´s languages; this is in Finland required to get employment in public service. Various models were discussed; the importance of having school education in your own language was agreed upon by all, as well as of respect for and basic knowledge of "the other" languages.

Again, the difficult situation between Kosova and Serbia was very much in focus.

 

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