Harvesting Watermelons

As NATO completes the disarmament of Albanian rebels, some Macedonians have decided they need disarming, too.

Harvesting Watermelons

As NATO completes the disarmament of Albanian rebels, some Macedonians have decided they need disarming, too.

Tuesday, 11 September, 2001

Rolling pins, pots, tomatoes, plastic pistols, a watermelon. Those were only some of the weapons collected by the inhabitants of Skopje, in a parody of NATO's Operation Essential Harvest staged on September 7.

The action, organised by several media groups and held in front of the parliament building, was dubbed the "Watermelon Harvest" (Go obravme bostanot). It was an attempt in troubled times to look at recent events from a humorous perspective, not only to ridicule NATO, but also the situation in which ethnic Macedonians find themselves. The name plays on the popular expression "we have harvested melons", which really means, "we are in deep trouble, and can do nothing about it".

"Who says that my weapon is not dangerous?" asked Natalija, a grandmother, as she handed in an old rolling pin, checking whether she had handed over her weapon in the right place.

Thousands of ethnic Macedonians from Skopje agreed to be "disarmed" in this way during the action, which was organised by the television and newspaper groups Dnevnik, Zum, Vest, Nova Makedonia, Fokus, Vecer, Sitel, Kanal 5 and A1. The Albanian-language media did not take part.

Ethnic Albanians and foreign observers were far from amused by the episode. They will have seen it as yet another example of the highly partisan role played by some of the Macedonian press in the current conflict.

The media farce takes mocking aim at the Western-backed disarmament deal hatched between Macedonia's ethnic Albanian and ethnic Macedonian political leaders on August 13. Under this agreement, which ended seven months of conflict, NATO undertook to deploy troops in the republic to disarm Albanian rebels. Their stated aim was to collect 3,300 weapons, which the insurgents are voluntarily surrendering.

But the mission is not popular among the ethnic Macedonian majority, who resent the way NATO troops in the neighbouring Serb province of Kosovo have failed to disarm Albanian forces there and stop them from illegally crossing the border into Macedonia.

They suspect the only thing NATO will "harvest" is old weaponry that belongs in museums, and they fear the alliance will effectively endorse the partition of the country. The belief is widespread that NATO will not allow ethnic Macedonians driven from their homes in Albanian-controlled areas to return home.

In their ironic response to the alliance mission, the citizens of Skopje handed in "bombs" of eggplant, eggs and bottles, and "ammunition" of carrots and other winter foodstuffs, as well as marbles, old telephones, forks, plastic pistols, old TV antennas and one APC - a donkey.

At the "disarmament" action, in front of the parliament building, a combine-harvester could be seen - an appropriate symbol of an unusual and extraordinary harvest.

The organizers of the "Watermelon Harvest" claimed their action was not intended to be anti-NATO. But some of the people gathered in front of the parliament used the occasion to express their anger with current developments, catapulting the "weapons" at the parliament building. One broken and several dirty windows were the only casualties.

After the weapons were collected, President Trajkovski met a delegation of the journalists who had organised the event. They informed him that it had been successful and that one-third of the "weapons" had been collected. The president, in turn, made clear his support for the operation, praising the people's sense of humour.

Finally, the collected "weapons" were piled onto several tractors and trucks and delivered to the NATO command centre in Skopje. After being unloaded in front of the building, alliance representatives were presented with a few watermelons. They tactfully accepted them, but later, at one of their regular press conferences, returned the unsolicited gift.

Gordana Iceska is the deputy editor-in-chief of Skopje based weekly Kapital.

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