Rebellious Macedonian village stages carnival

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 19, 2013 at 1:32 am •  Published: January 19, 2013
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The villagers first attracted international attention when the government sent special police units to suppress the 1987 protests and dismantle barricades set up over the water dispute. Despite severe beatings and violence, the water rebellion dragged on for weeks, until authorities eventually backed down.

"The authorities, in different times, could not put up with the originality, the assertiveness and independence of Vevcani, not only this authority but in the former Yugoslavia, and the old Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Ottoman times and the rule of Bulgaria," said Nenad Batkoski, the self-proclaimed consul of Republic of Vevcani. "This place has always had resistance."

It is this rebellious spirit that has become the hallmark of the Vevcani carnival.

The country's politicians are a preferred and regular target. One of this year's costumes depicted a magician's box, with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski sticking out of one end, and the opposition leader Branko Crvenkovski poking out the other, while a magician sawed the box in two. It was a dig at the deep divisions between the governing Conservatives and opposition Social Democrats.

Last year, the festival sparked violent protests among the country's Muslim minority over costumes mocking the all-encompassing burqa for Muslim women. The festival has in the past also mocked the Christian Orthodox church.

The festivities sparked outrage in Greece after some revelers of the parade staged a mock funeral for Greece, with participants carrying a coffin representing the nation's crippled economy. Macedonia has been at odds with Greece for two decades over the former Yugoslav state's name, with Athens contending that the name implies territorial intentions against its own northern province of Macedonia.

Greece was the butt of jokes again this year: A group of carnival revelers commemorated "one year of death" for its southern neighbor due to its financial woes. Dressed in a costume made up of the blue-and-white stripes of Greece's national flag, Gojko Luoski begged for money while carrying a cradle and baby.

"I am not making fun of Greece," he insisted as he marched down the street in the parade. "Greece is in debt so I'm begging for whatever you have ... however many billions you have so it can pay its debts."

The masks are a tightly kept secret until the day when hundreds of villagers parade on the streets of the hamlet. The day after the festival, all masks are taken to the village square and burned -- a symbolic act of purification to chase out the evil spirits.

Magdalena Marevska, who is from the northern town of Kumanovo and was visiting the village for the carnival, said the annual mockery was also a way of airing some uncomfortable truths.

"It's not about our neighboring countries, it's about the tradition that the carnival has on its own," she said. "They are showing how the society actually looks like during the year," she said.

"After all, this is only a carnival. This is make-believe," said Ilieski, the mayor, underlining that there was no need for anyone to be insulted by the costumes. "It is something that is not real. It's a mask. Anyone who has any common sense understands that it is a mask. You take it off and burn it."