“The entire concept of operational employment measures, the entire Employment Agency of Macedonia, are actually all based on false promises for employment…Facts show that people are discouraged of applying there. At the same time, we are also noticing a decline in the number of people seeking work and a decline in unemployment, and that ‘circle’, in fact, is ignoring the needs of the citizens. Manipulative promises during elections, only contribute to greater social exclusion and deepening of poverty”, says Biljana Dukovska, President of the non-governmental organization - Macedonian Platform Against Poverty, in an interview for CIVIL Media.
CIVIL Media: Are the socially disadvantaged categories in Macedonia abused in a political or electoral context? What are your realizations and analysis?
DUKOVSKA: From the very fact that in Macedonia we have an enormous percentage of unemployment and people living in poverty, and much more often people who are socially excluded, it is obvious that social justice comes to an end somewhere along the line. Perhaps not directly, in terms of violation of human rights, but, indirectly the burden falls on the poor, socially excluded and socially vulnerable groups. In the context of political elections, this is where there are most violations and where they can be done most easily, because an entire machinery of party soldiers “come down” and seek votes. We are not focused on political elections as a target, or on what citizens do and how they behave during election campaigns, but what we have as information from our research is that – they are not abused directly, but are given wrong, false information and many times are manipulated in places where the system can complete the job. In particular, many times subsidies for energy poverty, other kinds of subsidies, or social welfare are late, and often are given right before election campaigns and right before elections, and this gives people false hope that things are on the right track. On the other hand, though, citizens still have trust in the system and still use their right to vote, still allow political parties to address them and the campaigns to reach them. However, what we are seeing now is that they are no longer telling who they are giving their vote to, and whether what they are being promised in the elections, actually does reach them. Manipulation with information is also an abuse. What it is that they (when I say – they, I mean the political parties) are saying, and what is that the people need. And the people need everything! When they find themselves in a position of helplessness, they certainly seek a ray of hope and certainly rely on what they are being told. And they believe that a better day is coming after elections. Therefore, the abuses from that perspective, are not something that hasn’t been seen until now.
CIVIL Media: Which promises for social justice are realistic, and which promises are a kind of political corruption, or are playing with the expectations of the voters?
DUKOVSKA: It is very easy to sell anything to citizens who are socially disadvantaged. In the past year we are witnessing how information on the increase of social welfare is being “sold”. The fact is that social welfare increased by five percent, and then by another ten percent, but this brought people only 100-200 denars more to their family budget. And that did not change anything for them, in terms of the quality of the life they are living. If we take into account that currently the amount of social welfare is around fifty euros, I do not know if there is any family in Macedonia that can make it through the entire month with that money, while the state has based all of its hope for eradication of poverty precisely on this increase of five percent. The same thing is happening also with the subsidies for energy poverty. When you give people an increase of 100 denars in their total budget, you really do ask yourself – how did it come to this, to believe that 100 denars could actually solve a family’s problem. Where is the manipulation here? Yes, social assistance should increase and should reach a dignified level. Also, subsidies need to be increased, both for electricity and for other needs in order for citizens to have a better quality of life. But not in this way, for them to create high expectations among citizens when, in fact, this does not bring the citizens anything. Citizens become aware the moment they feel the consequences on themselves. The same is happening in the sphere of infrastructure. Schools and kindergartens are promised…These are promises that really do reflect the needs of the citizens and it is fine to do this, but where is the manipulation? The manipulation is in that facilities are built, but in the facilities there are no conditions for the citizens’ needs, because all citizens are different and have different needs. In terms of inclusion, in terms of access, in terms of anything that could ensure quality service in those facilities. When we speak of manipulation, manipulation is also when we say that there is free education. Indeed, the education as it is, is free, however, no one has asked those people whether with the five percent increase they received for social welfare they can actually provide clothing for their children, or properly feed them and send them prepared to go to school to learn. Hence, the manipulation is very systematic and it has to be eradicated, in order for us to build a system in which the citizens would be the focus, and the things that would be carried out, would be with the purpose of overcoming the problems they are facing.
CIVIL Media: What are the social and political consequences from abusing the issues in the area of social justice?
DUKOVSKA: The consequences are far-reaching. The entire concept of operational employment measures, the entire Employment Agency of Macedonia, are actually all based on false promises for employment. Hence, if analyses are made, facts show that people are discouraged of applying there. At the same time, we are also noticing a decline in the number of people seeking work and a decline in unemployment, and that ‘circle’, in fact, is ignoring the needs of the citizens. Manipulative promises during elections, only contribute to greater social exclusion and deepening of poverty. If you do not believe that anyone can help you, and that you have nowhere to go, you will absolutely ignore the institutions of the system. If the system is not subordinated to your needs, and if that system does not come to your home, you will certainly be left out, both from the systematic courses and from what you are actually eligible to and should realize in a social country.
CIVIL Media: What can and what should the institutions, political parties, unions and civil society do in order to prevent the abuse of socially disadvantaged categories, and overall the topics in the area of social justice in the political and electoral context?
DUKOVSKA: Well, for the beginning, they should start cooperating among each other. Not to try to attract the citizen only for themselves, by speaking bad things about the others. Here, there has to be social cohesion in which all those that I mentioned, will find their place and in every domain, within their field, will work with the citizens. What the Macedonian Platform Against Poverty is trying to do is for the focus to be put on the citizens and their needs. First of all, we need to sit down with the citizen and together make an analysis on what it is that bothers him, and what the citizen would do to resolve his situation. And then to have the smart heads who are in position, who have power, channel it and adapt the system to needs of the citizen. Only then can we speak of a functional solution, in which there will be social justice and a social state.