On 28 March 2009, protesters gathered on Skopje’s central square in order to make publicly known their objection to a government sponsored plan to construct a new church in one of the most used everyday public spaces of the city.
The protesters wanted the space to remain open and had reservations to erecting an orthodox church there with the use of public funds. Their peaceful demonstration was met with violence as an orchestrated counter-protest which, with slogans such as "who is against the building of the Church, is against God", challenged their right to demonstrate. To add insult to injury, the leaders of the protest were accused of acting in defiance of the law that allegedly required them to give notice to the authorities prior to the demonstration.
Leaving the legal technicalities aside - the constitution enshrines the right to peaceful protest - there is a lot at stake in the recent demonstrations and violence that ensued as well as the verbal exchanges between the authorities and the activists of the past couple of weeks. The freedom of expression for one cannot be curtailed by counter demonstrations and no government should consider such actions to be lawful or even legitimate. And second, the choice of building a new church in a city that is not short of churches is a highly symbolic one as it seeks to frame the urban landscape (and one of its few and prominent open spaces) in ways that are suspect and alarming.
The nationalization of religion (see my earlier post on History Wars) as, indeed, the Church's complicity in forging this unholly alliance with forces within the current government can hardly be dismissed as an accident and do not bode well for Macedonian democracy.
collage: Goran Janev, Blaž Križnik
dedicated blog: http://skopje2803.blogspot.com