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Rebellious Macedonian village stages carnival

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 19, 2013 at 1:32 am •  Published: January 19, 2013

VEVCANI, Macedonia (AP) — The tiny Macedonian town of Vevcani boasts its own constitution, its own currency and a passport emblazoned with a golden coat of arms.

They are a tongue-in-cheek expression of the village's historical defiance of authority -- and were born of a symbolic declaration of independence. But beneath the mockery lies a real rebellious streak that has coursed through Vevcani for decades and spawned violent protests, diplomatic incidents and run-ins with the law.

That spirit of rebellion reaches a climax every year during the village's annual carnival in January, where villagers don costumes that poke fun at the world around them. The sharp satire leaves nothing untouched, targeting the national leadership, politics, religion and social issues. Most recently it has taken aim at Macedonia's crisis-stricken southern neighbor, Greece.

With its colorful floats and masked revelers, the festival -- said to be 14 centuries old and date from pagan times -- has grown in popularity over the last decade. It attracts thousands of visitors to St. Vasilij Day celebrations on Jan. 13, welcoming in the New Year according to the Julian calendar.

"We have had (masks of) Muslims, priests, world leaders, terrorists," said Mayor Pero Ilieski, adding that people shouldn't be offended by the outré themes: "It is only a carnival, so it is something that is not real."

Vevcani, nestled on the forested slopes of the Jablanica mountain about 190 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of the capital Skopje, held its own referendum on independence in 1993, in a move tinged with nationalism after members of the country's ethnic Albanian minority living nearby did the same. Ninety-six percent voted in favor of independence, and the 'Republic of Vevcani' was born, according to Mirte Aluloski, who drafted the new republic's constitution.

Vevcani set up its own parliament and named its currency the licnik -- although the money is essentially sold as a souvenir and is not in circulation. To selected guests, the mayor hands out red passports of the "Republic of Vevcani," with its coat of arms depicting two harlequins dancing over a magic cauldron.

Although the independence fervor is now largely part of the tourist draw, Aluloski insisted the referendum was serious at the time. Ethnic tension is never far from the surface in Macedonia, where the mostly Muslim ethnic Albanian minority fought a brief armed uprising against the government in 2001, seeking greater rights.

"We have all the things necessary to be independent and they will be activated if the need arises," he said.

For all of the stunts, there's a serious defiance of authority. Last month, Vevcani threatened to stop paying the state-run electricity company over delays by engineers in repairing a fault that had knocked out power to hundreds of homes. The threat worked, with repair crews quickly restoring power in a matter of days.

The village's reputation for rebelliousness dates back to when Macedonia was part of the Yugoslav federation. A government plan in the late 1980s to have the village share water from its wells with a neighboring village sparked outrage, with locals heading en masse to Skopje for rowdy protests — an action almost unheard of during communist times.

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