Consulting Local Communities in Macedonia
Among the many problems that local communities in Macedonia face, strained relationships between ethnic groups often give rise to issues that are difficult to deal with. Local government institutions are overburdened, or lack the capacities or political will to constructively work on conflicts that concern the community. Especially the municipalities that have experienced demographic changes in terms of ethnic composition find it difficult to address common issues and go beyond mere coexistence. The citizens from ethnic communities become alienated while conflict is lurking, primarily because of a lack of contact and attempts to jointly address issues of local importance. Often they see common issues through their ethnic lens, which prevents them from engaging in joint initiatives to improve community life and for the benefit of all.
Acting as a third party, forumZFD takes on a consultative role and approaches local communities to offer support in dealing with conflict in a constructive, non-violent way. Together with our partner organisations and municipalities, we analyse the respective context carefully and develop ideas for activities tailored to the relevant actors’ needs.
An example: supporting (informal) citizens’ initiatives in Kičevo
Kičevo is a municipality in Western Macedonia with an ethnically mixed population of about 55 thousand inhabitants. It is one of the municipalities that has only recently undergone a territorial reform. The redrawing of municipal borders resulted in a shift from an ethnic Macedonian to an Albanian majority. Since most people vote for parties representing their ethnicity, Kičevo, which was traditionally governed by a Macedonian mayor, has had an ethnic Albanian mayor since the elections in 2013. While interethnic relations have generally been known to be relatively good, this structural change provoked uncertainty among certain sections of the population and could potentially endanger the community’s fragile peace.
It is against this backdrop that forumZFD intervened, offering support to prevent conflicts and improve relationships within the local community. In close cooperation with our local partner organisations, the Community Development Center Kičevo and the Center for Lifelong Learning, we trained local civil society and government representatives in civic participation and techniques of conflict resolution. Calling themselves ‘Vredit da si od Kičevo’ (‘It is worthy being from Kičevo’ in the local Macedonian dialect), the trained group now acts as a network of engaged citizens that supports initiatives benefitting the entire local community. As such, the group has issued a joint vision of a multi-ethnic Kičevo highlighting the importance of good relationships and equal treatment of all citizens as well as efforts to improve the quality of life in the municipality. Last year they organised an Open Day to portray cultural diversity as a positive trait in their city. The success of their initiative motivates them to remain committed. Further activities on questions concerning local government, conflict resolution and dealing with the past are to be planned jointly in the near future.