The summer is flying by – I can’t believe I only have a few weeks left here. I had coffee with a friend from ESE last night who was asking me my impressions of the country. I said with total honesty that it’s just a nice place to be—the people are very friendly, it’s very safe, and while there are certainly many economic and political problems, the mood seems to be that things are improving (however slowly) and will continue to do so. It’s common to hear older people reminisce about the good old days of communism and complain about the current reforms, but in general—especially compared to where I was in Georgia—people here seem hopeful about the way things are going. Unemployment is a big problem, with the resulting brain drain as many educated people go abroad to find work. Rural communities are also being drained as everyone under the age of 25 wants to be in Skopje. I know I would have had a totally different experience living in a small town, but in Skopje itself there’s definitely a feeling of energy and optimism. The current government, which was elected last year, has also been fairly impressive in pursuing reforms. EU membership continues to be held up as a panacea.
I’m actually working on some research on how the EU accession process might affect domestic violence legislation in Macedonia. Interestingly, I found that domestic violence rates in EU member states are high–around 20% in most countries–and there isn’t any EU-wide legislation regulating the problem. But whereas most EU governments are pretty active in providing counseling, legal aid, etc. to victims, in Macedonia there are very few such services, and offenders are almost never prosecuted and are punished even more rarely. In Macedonia and other countries in this region, the general status of women is so degraded that a large proportion of women here aren’t aware that domestic violence is illegal and often don’t consider it wrong. By contrast, within most EU countries 90-95% of people say that domestic violence is illegal and should be punished.
I’ve spent this week making contacts with NGOs in the U.S. and Europe, as well as some regional organizations working on women’s rights issues. I hope ESE can develop partnerships with some of these groups, and that there will be opportunities for collaborating on fundraising, advocacy projects, awareness-raising events, etc.
I’ve drafted quite a bit of English-language information on ESE’s work, but it will be great if they can get an English website up and running (their Macedonian site is great, and several of their reports are published in English). That’s scheduled for sometime this year, but for now everyone around here is really busy finishing up the annual reports ESE publishes on its programs, finances, etc. This coincides with the summer holiday period, so it’s a little short-staffed at the moment—and I can’t do much to help since the reports are all in Macedonian!
I just finished working with ESE’s development coordinator on a grant proposal for an institutional development project. The goal is to reorganize ESE’s executive board, which is responsible for setting policy and priorities for the organization. So far board members haven’t been too involved in ESE’s operations, but many of them express willingness to do more. The plan is to create sub-committees within the board which will each be responsible for one of ESE’s program areas (e.g. women’s health, domestic violence), and one committee for fund-raising and development. If ESE receives the grant, they’ll be able to organize several training sessions for board members, as well as a study trip to Hungary where board members can meet their counterparts in Hungarian civil society organizations.
I leave tonight to spend a few days in Croatia and Bosnia. I hope it’s cooler where I’m going – a state of emergency has been declared in Macedonia due to the heat, and government employees are now getting off at 1 p.m. (not that this marks a huge change in how the government operates, frankly). Driving back from a meeting last week I saw some of the forest fires which have been raging–but I can’t complain, since unlike Katie down in Bitola, my apartment has not been directly threatened by the fires. And I’ll take the dry heat here over a humid DC summer any day.
Two days ago the temperature was the highest ever recorded in Macedonia, about 45 Celsius–and then the power went out in the entire country (this was, not surprisingly, blamed on Greece). Figuring that a giant power outage during a heat wave in a developing country could take days to fix, I went out to stock up on water, etc.–and everything was back on two hours later. I waited a lot longer than that when one power line went down on my street in Georgetown….
Posted By Stephanie Gilbert
Posted Jul 26th, 2007