by Irina Banishka
Views on the topic…
In a small dead-end street, in Przhino, people for years have been living in houses and barracks, some bigger, some smaller. On the same street, someone managed to buy two of the plots there, two older houses, to connect them, and now the urban plan currently foresees a six-storey building there. The residents have addressed the second instance committee at the Ministry of Transport and Communications and their complaint has been rejected, which is signed by the Minister.
The example shows that the biggest problem is that for the institutions the easiest thing is to sign, because it is exactly from the construction activity that it is very easy to profit. Profiting is the biggest problem when it comes to urbanism. And now imagine, a small and dead-end street, and a six-story building with over 20 apartments, over 30 automobiles… And everywhere around Skopje like this.
I believe that there is political will for solving the urban chaos in the city, though, the question is whether this has been at all presented as a problem with an appropriate solution in the programs of the political parties. The environmental problem is not a priority. It is obvious by the urban chaos in which we are living in, that the role and the importance of the local self-government for this issue is being neglected. It is easier to give out construction permits than to sanction someone throwing waste. That is why I think we need to work on a dialogue between the citizens, civil society, the government sector and the institutions, in order to hear stories such as the above-mentioned one, and for someone to think about the fact that the piece of paper they are signing changes things much more for someone. Such dialogue will make it possible to reach a certain institutional instance that will contribute to more organized and planned urban environments.
Green values, environmental justice and education
In my experience, green values as a topic, notion, concept, are fostered through events, conferences, debates, most often organized and supported by the civil sector, but active participation in this topic is lacking. If the question is where to start from with their promotion, with educating the citizens about the importance of this concept, the answer is simple: five years ago I finished secondary school and the only way to get involved in an activity that promotes green values was through something that is outside the compulsory education process. Representatives of NGOs would come, have presentations, hold several workshops, and usually this where it ended. In the educational process itself, green values as a notion did not exist, rarely had a high school student acquired understanding about the concepts of green values and environmental justice in the formal, compulsory (!) education. It was left to the good will of the conscience students to decide whether they would be involved in such activities with the purpose of learning more.
What was lacking the most were those seemingly little things, such as recycling bins…, the educational institutions themselves were not thinking about placing them, and if someone from Pakomak had not come or a similar organization to place them, the waste would have not been selected. On the other hand, as someone employed in a private school, I have witnessed that it is not difficult at all to introduce such habits as long as there is will. And there is. In public schools, children are engaged if they want to, they are educated and acquire habits that are “green”, and if they do not want to – well no big deal, the grades are the only thing that matter to parents. Therefore, starting from the education, as an exceptionally important aspect in the development of each individual, up to the political parties and the government, green values do not exist as a priority in anyone’s agenda. And they should be high on the priority list of each citizen individually as well. Unfortunately, for the citizen this is somewhere at the bottom of priorities. That is why civil society needs to and has to remain the most vocal for green values as a priority in our lives, until a will is created in other stakeholders in society as well.
The influence of green values on personal freedom, health, happiness and human dignity is very big. However, this influence can also be negative. I think (and this is where my pessimism on this topic comes from) that as peoples, we have no sense that we are affecting all changes, which sooner or later affect us all. While on the one hand there are people that practice green habits and values, there are such who are completely ignorant. The one half cannot balance the other half that does not care, and for all of us to be suffocating and coughing in the winter time when it is the most polluted. I am not sure that every citizen individually asks themselves – what is happening is also due to me, it is possible that I have caused it. And perhaps individually that is not felt, but collectively we see it, we feel it (and breath it) throughout the country.
I would define environmental justice as a right and obligation of every citizen, first to live in a clean environment, but also an obligation to care for it. Yes, every citizen, but not just the backyard, but also the place where they go to work, the park they go to walk or the beach… and not only the work place but also how they get to work (here I mean bicycles, and the poor infrastructure for using them), up to the big polluters…
Even though in recent years positive changes have been made on this topic, I think that we simply must not keep silent, we must remain loud. However, usually people who have directly faced injustice are the ones who speak about the problems. People who are not facing social problems are the ones who keep silent, regardless of what they think and that they want things to change for the better. That’s selfish. The problem doesn’t have to be personal in order for someone to react, if it isn’t yours today, tomorrow that could change, and as a social problem it will not disappear. A big step forward is needed, and many loud citizens in order to influence the political agendas, in order for significant changes to take place”.
If we take workers’ rights, then the opportunism that exists in trade unions and institutions has to disappear. As long as the boss is part of the trade union, and even worse if he is a president of a trade union, it is unlikely that a bunch of measures will be adopted, that the minimum wage will increase, that the working hours will be regulated, obligations and similar. Such a set up in the trade unions and institutions gives workers the feeling that there is no one to protect their rights. When individual and party opportunism are removed from the institutions, whose role is the protection of workers’ rights, it is then that these measures that have already been adopted will progress.
Many citizens who have insufficient incomes, in most cases associate with the political party and hope for some support, whether it is financial assistance, a job or whatever else is being offered at the moment when the party comes to power. When the government changes, so do all positions in the state institutions, one removes the others, bring their own people and vice versa. Hence, it becomes logical that we can talk about the term social injustice more than social justice, in situations like this. Instead of using changes in political situations productively, using them for dialogue and cooperation, we persistently go back to the old out-dated and unproductive practices. That is why we are pessimists. Black or white. Very rich, very poor. And for four years, vice versa. While we are talking about social justice, we are living in social injustice.
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