The end to the domination of evil, hatred and selective injustice...

May 23, 2015

“There is nothing wrong with living in a society where people think differently. But the problem in Macedonia is that on the one hand there are people who want a functional system, education, independence and on the other hand there is a privileged élite, a disfunctional system, injustice and crime! When the second group will overcome fear and reject received undeserved privileges, then the members from the "top" will be mere servants who work for the citizens”, said Mersiha Smailovikj, known activist from the NGO sector, in an interview with Factor.

As part of a non-governmental organization advocating for the promotion of Muslim women in all spheres of social life in Macedonia, and as a lawyer for the same NGO, Mrs. Smailovikj is fighting for rights that are restricted or banned to them.

 

Gorazd Chomovski interviewed her.

F.: At the end of the 20th century, in his book “Bolno pleme [Sick Tribe]”, the great Macedonian writer Kole Chashule wrote: "Macedonian society today is incomplete, undefined, unaccomplished.” In this book he observed Macedonian conditions through a different, but still current, context. He describes three types of history: "The remembered history, the allowed history and the selective history." How would you describe our society now that the situation in Macedonia is getting worse?

M. S.: It takes the best sociologists and writers to describe in a few words what is Macedonia today. I would say it in these words: evil, hatred and selective injustice! I want to be optimistic after the big protest on Sunday, I believe things will quickly change for the better.

F.: Does it feel like living in two different Macedonias? One where there are students, high school students, academics, NGOs, people with different beliefs, and the other with people who are ready to swallow whatever comes from “above”, even if opposite to their principles?

M. S.: There is nothing wrong with living in a society where people think differently, but the problem in Macedonia is that on one hand there are people who want a functional system, education, independence and on the other hand there is a privileged élite, a disfunctional system, injustice, and crime!

When the second group will overcome fear and reject received undeserved privileges, then the members from the "top" will be mere servants who work for the citizens.

F.: Recently, on your Facebook profile, you wrote: "Two and a half years ago I was walking quietly with my one-year-old daughter along the river Vardar, and we sat on the benches, beside the cafes. Suddenly an angry mob appeared.  They had strange faces. They looked at me with such hatred... We quickly moved to "our side of the Vardar." What is the origin of anger, hatred and mistrust that prevails among people?

M. S.: The date of the publication of that post is very important: 18/05/2015, which coincides with the big meeting of the political party in power, in front of the Parliament building. I was in town during that unpleasant event in April 2013, when Johan Tarchulovski was released and the political party in power organized a spectacular home-coming celebration for him. That day, Skopje witnessed an invasion of party supporters and sympathizers from all over Macedonia. Skopje roared with "Gas chamber for Albanians” and other fascist slogans. When the crowd saw me quietly sitting by the river, they started yelling vulgar slogans to me and disgusting things even louder! Some of them came up to us, but two policemen quickly stood in front of them, making a shield and escorting us to the Bridge of Freedom, near the Holiday Inn Hotel. The same poisonous ovation echoed again in Skopje on 18/05/2015.

F.: Lately, Macedonian reality has been quite inspiring. The famous “bombs”, the publication of the wiretaps, were transformed in a universal discourse, and have been the object of sociological and anthropological interest. How much have these revelations about the political leadership affected Macedonia and its change during the past six months?

M. S.: So far, we heard 33 “bombs”, conversations full of hatred, corruption, failure of the principle of independence among the executive, the legislative and the judicial powers. I have started to doubt, 9 years ago, everything I’ve learned from the Faculty of Law. Surely, the government still has a voting electorate, but there is a number of undecided people who joined those belonging to a party in a common voice and movement, calling for the resignation of the politicians in power. Macedonians today know what they want!

F.: As a Muslim woman, what was your reaction when listening to the expressions used in the wiretaps: "Shiptari", "Indians", "wild tribe", "Gypsies" etc.?

M. S.: You don't have to belong to any particular faith to feel insulted, humiliated and confronted by those words. You just have to be a human being to condemn them and feel horrified. It then comes natural to ask those who spread such hating speech and used such terms to take responsibility for them. Following their example, others would feel entitled to use the same terms spreading more hatred.

But such way of speaking does not only involve those tapped conversations, we heard the same things by many pro-government media. Their editors use the same terms! They call for punishment, hate and war against their opponents, other ethnicities, while the institutions responsible for them remain silent.

F.: More and more Muslim women in Macedonia are covered with burqas or with traditional Islamic headscarves. Is it about tradition, fashion or is it radical religious expression?

M. S.: The burqa is the traditional way to cover a woman’s body in Afghanistan. In Macedonia, the dress code for a Muslim woman is the headscarf, the hijab, or even the niqab, which covers the entire body. It's about the individual right to choose, and about the free will of every Muslim woman to dress in accordance with her religious beliefs. Headscarves or hijabs are not a novelty in the Balkans. It is a Muslim women century-old tradition, that persists still today. The headscarf is a symbol of exclusive obedience to God and of the message that Islam carries: the spreading of peace as a universal message.

F.: Through your NGO "EDU NISA", you defend the rights of Muslim women in Macedonia. What are the real fears instilled by the so-called Islamic fundamentalism and is there a real threat to the security of our country, especially after the last two armed incidents?

M. S.: As a member of this Non-Governmental Organization, committed to the promotion of Muslim women in all spheres of social life in Macedonia, and as a lawyer for the same NGO, I struggle to see some of the rights recognized. Regarding the second part of the question, I thought a lot about the absurd belief taking over the world. Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim. This  confirms the prejudice of every connection of armed attacks. Macedonia should not fear consequences connected with radical understanding of Islam. For more than 14 years, the media have speculated about an Islamic terrorism threat, but Macedonia was never in danger of any kind of criminal acts inspired by the misunderstanding of Islam. I do not believe threats of attacks are real.

F.: Why there is such a large number of migrants in Macedonia? Why is our country a transit zone? What is the attitude of competent authorities towards this issue?

M. S.: The worst refugee crisis facing the world today also includes Macedonia. More than 5 million Syrians are displaced outside their place of origin, fleeing the war that engulfed their country. We also have people from military occupied countries, like Afghanistan and Iraq. And poor people from the fragile nations of Africa. All these people out there are refugees, they fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones and they see our socially developed European countries as their safe haven from war and poverty. They are forced to embark on very dangerous trips, either by crossing the Mediterranean Sea in precarious boats or by walking to reach Europe. Macedonia is their transit zone before their last stop: the countries of Western Europe. However, Macedonia is one of the riskiest stops. Because of our laws, refugees are considered illegal migrants, police arrest them and push them back to Greece, from where it is assumed they entered Europe. Smugglers exploit this situation and offer them transportation to the Serbian border, but if the Macedonian police catch them, migrants can spend up to 6 months in the Reception Centre for Foreigners of Gazi Baba, where they are detained until the lawsuit against the smuggler ends, and are held in detention only as witnesses.

For this, they decide to walk instead, through dark and unsafe roads, where they are assaulted by criminal gangs and robbers. Often they use railroads as roadmaps, and when this happens there are accidents. We have had around 14 railway accidents so far, in which about 30 migrants lost their lives. It is a serious issue that requires a drastic change to the Asylum Seeking Law, allowing migrants a "temporary asylum", giving them a 72 hour permission to submit the asylum seeker application  or leave Macedonia. The certificate of temporary asylum, will grant them entrance to Macedonia,  allowing them to use public transportation, hotels, access hospital care and enjoy all other human rights. This is the experience of Serbia, which does not face the problems we have: victims of train accidents, overcrowding of the reception center in Gazi Baba, inhumane living conditions and lengthy procedures in order to obtain the “asylum seeker” status.