North Macedonia has come back on a right track

Kalevi Sorsa Foundation presents its democracy project ‘Progress and Bridges – Supporting Democracy in the Western Balkans’ through the people behind it. Programme Manager Katerina Kasovska, who coordinates the project activities in North Macedonia, talks about how corona pandemic has affected her surroundings, but also about the recent development in North Macedonia. She sees the start of the EU negotiations as a bright spot for North Macedonia in the middle of the corona crisis. "It is crucial not to make changes in society in order to fulfil the EU criteria, but to substantially improve the society as a whole", Kasovska states.

· Camilla Lohenoja

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13 APRIL 2020 The interview doesn’t start well. I wake  Katerina up with my Facebook message at 7:42 – 6:42 in Skopje. Luckily, she still agrees to log in to Skype.

”It has been tough”, Katerina sighs about the corona. ”A lot of people were demanding for strict measures from the beginning. But now it’s becoming difficult to cope with everyday life, especially with the curfew. The toughest is to stay home for the whole weekend, you can’t even spend time in the sun.”

”In North Macedonia, we have quite strict restrictions to tackle the spread of the pandemic, but the number of infections continues to increase, as expected. For now, the general assessment is that the health care system is coping well with the pandemic. We can only hope that all this will pass soon without leaving any serious consequences for people’s health and for a society as a whole, especially for the economy.”

How has the pandemic affected your life?

”I don’t know if there is a human being who is not affected by what is happening to the world right now. I, like everyone else, am not immune to these developments. No matter how naive this sounds but in the beginning I didn’t think the virus would reach North Macedonia.

”I had to spend two weeks in compulsory self-isolation since I had a work trip to Germany just before the restrictions. Now, I am trying to undertake all the measures of self-protection, voluntarily isolating myself and avoiding all unnecessary risks.

”I try to see the positive side in all this. The strict restrictive measures in North Macedonia allowed me to rest a little. I have been looking for that for years.  I found some time to dedicate to myself and to reflect a little. The  most difficult thing is that I am separated from my 6-year-old daughter for more than a month now. She’s with my parents in my hometown Resen, 200 km from Skopje. Luckily, it’s happy time for my parents and my daughter, and they are safe. In Resen there are still no cases recorded. That’s what’s calming me.

“The Progres Institute office tries to adapt to the situation and we try to  work from home. But a good part of our work is organising public events and trainings, but they’ve been cancelled or postponed for the time being. The trickiest thing for us is that we do not know how long all this will last. The dilemma is whether to start some activities online, or to wait to see how the things will develop and continue with the usual manner when all this ends. The whole country is relying on the hope that the restrictions will end in the summer. The snap elections that were supposed to be held in the summer can hopefully be arranged in the autumn.”

North Macedonia became a member of NATO and started the EU accession talks. What are your feelings about NATO and EU integration?

”Concerning our NATO and the EU path, it has been a long journey. Entry into NATO and EU were the strategic goals of our country from the early 90’s. What is important now is that after many years of sliding to the opposite direction, the country has come back on a track and moves in the right direction. Both, the news about NATO and the start of the negotiations with the EU came at a difficult time. The world struggles with the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be happy about them. Especially the green light for the EU negotiations is a bright spot in this difficult period.

We won’t feel the positive effects at the very first instant, but the improvements will come eventually. As the EU chapters start opening, it will become clear that we need substantial changes which improve the lives of our citizens, not only reforms on paper. It will become palpable that the purpose of the process is not only to meet the EU criteria, but to substantially improve the country and the society. Approaching the European values ​​and policies will inevitably bring an improvement in all segments of social life and numerous other benefits that we have been striving for since our independence.”

How have you felt about your new post coordinating the KSF activities?

”Very motivated. I am really honored to work with KSF.  I have worked for Progres Institute for seven years and I have been implementing the KSF activities during that time already. But it was a real challenge to become the project coordinator and to continue to implement it from another position. My responsibility is different now.  I find myself asking, what can be improved and how, and how to further expand the scope of the project, how to widen dissemination of our ideas, how to  advocate more successfully the policy recommendations that we are working on, etc.

How do you think the project Progress and Bridges will affect the Macedonian society?

”The benefit of the project is bringing the values of ​​democracy closer to the young people we work with. Value-based politics does not have a long tradition in North Macedonia and is not fully part of the political practice. Everything we do in this project is value-based and towards changing this practice.

”For example, the public debates and the capacity building seminars make the outcomes of the project visible in Macedonian society. The diversity of target groups helps to bridge the gap between political parties and civil society and maybe enables them to work together.

”One of the most important aspects of this project in my view is the promotion of multiculturalism. Particularly, in North Macedonia we emphasize multiculturalism, considering that North Macedonia is a multi-ethnic society. But at the same time deep ethnic divisions exist here. There is still much work to do in order to become a progressive citizenship-based society, where ethnic differences will be fully respected. Unfortunately, the lack of trust among the ethnic communities is strong. There is the need for constant attention to social cohesion.

I’m happy that Progres Institute and KSF recognize the importance of supporting diversities. Our common aim is to overcome the political divisions based on ethnic differences. And having Finnish politicians and experts in front of our participants sharing their knowledge, expertise and best practices on different topics is one of the most significant input that we are providing to the people we work with.”

Katerina Kasovska, Programme Manager in Progres Institute in North Macedonia

Camilla Lohenoja coordinates the KSF project ”Progress and Bridges – Supporting Democracy in the Western Balkans”. Sorsa Foundation has strengthened the civil society in North Macedonia since 2008 and in Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina since 2019 with the support of the Finnish MFA. The partner organisations are Progres Institute in North Macedonia, Qemal Stafa Foundation in Albania and Forum of Left Initiative in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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