TV show helps Macedonia mend
A children's program about young friends from diverse ethnic groups starts its final season this month.
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Nashe Maalo, which targets children between the ages of 8 and 12, begins its final season this month. Funding for the nonprofit production from foreign governments and organizations in Europe and the United States is drying up, but the producers, Refet Abazi, an ethnic-Albanian, and Robert Jazadziski, an ethnic-Macedonian, still hope to reincarnate it in a teen version next year.Skip to next paragraph
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"Nashe Maalo shows kids how to solve conflicts in better ways than our politicians have demonstrated," Mr. Abazi says. "Our society still needs this kind of medicine, and it is most effective with kids, because they are not yet poisoned with the frustrations and conflicts of older people. It is possible for them to go a different way."
Macedonia is the last shard of the splintered former Yugoslavia where substantial ethnic minorities remain without administrative barriers between their communities. Macedonia suffered six months of interethnic conflict in 2001, which forced the ethnic division of schools and claimed the lives of nearly 150 people. Before the conflict, ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians often studied in the same schools, but attended separate classes in their separate languages.
Now, analysts say even more people have been killed since the peace agreement was signed in Ohrid than during the conflict. Sporadic shootings, bombings and kidnappings continue to make the countryside treacherous and serve to sharply divide Macedonian society along ethnic lines.
As a result, Nashe Maalo is one of the few places in Macedonian society where people of different ethnic groups mingle freely. Boyan says he is often harassed by people in his neighborhood for appearing on a show with Albanians.
"They say I should beat up Beni, the Albanian kid," he says. "I try to tell them that Beni is my friend and a really cool guy, but they don't always listen."
But Beni, or Fisnik Zeqiri in real life, is in fact the most popular young actor in the country. At the height of the 2001 conflict, he continued to receive love letters from numerous ethnic-Macedonian girls, a sign that the program's message of ethnic tolerance is getting through. Interethnic dating is extremely rare in Macedonia.
There are signs that the Nashe Maalo message is catching on with kids, but adults still have a ways to go. A group of children play on a side street in one of Skopje's mixed neighborhoods. From a distance one cannot tell whether they are Albanian, Macedonian, or Turkish.
In fact, they are all three. In among a dozen ethnic-Albanians, two boys proudly proclaim that they are ethnic-Macedonians and one says he is Turkish. "We want to be like Nashe Maalo, I don't care if my friends are Albanian or Macedonian or whatever. We're friends and that's all that counts, and I don't care if our parents don't like it," says ethnic-Albanian 13-year-old, Besmir Ismaili. The younger children cheer.
He puts his arm around Vladko Milunovic, one of the Macedonian boys, and they grin defiantly. But 10 minutes later, a Macedonian woman appears, scolding Vladko and ordering him to get away from the Albanian children. He walks slowly out of the little group with his head down and heads home down the alley.