shadow play; Greek and North Macedonian actors respond to the impact of COVID-19 on arts.

Movie Night; "Can you see yourself in my life?"

Storytelling evening: "Youth mobilities opening horizons"

On the 21st of December 2020, an online event has held by the initiative Cooperation for a Common Future which promotes and supports bilateral youth cooperation between the Republic of North Macedonia and Greece. The event was focused on the impact of the global pandemic of covid-19 on Arts. 

The event was organized by Anelija Mitrova from Youth Alliance Krusevo and Aigli Sakellari and Nikos Bakirtzis from the iniative SEE in Action. There were two main speakers; one from and one from North Macedonia. The Greek speaker was actor Konstantinos Bibis. Simona Dimkovska an actress as well spoke about the Macedonian experience of being an artist during these uncertain and difficult times. Some of the questions that were answered during the 2-hour active and lively discussion were about the challenges that the artists are facing during the pandemic, the mechanisms for support of the artists during the “new reality” and the impact on them? Aigli Sakellari acted as the moderator. 

The two speakers initially focused on the devastating impact of covid-19 on Arts and how artists on both countries were affected by the lockdowns and the governmental decisions. They also compared their experiences as they are both actors and discussed the different approaches and responses to the pandemic and how it affected actors as well as the various people that are working behind the scenes of a theater production. Konstantinos Bibis also spoke about the Greek initiative “Support Art Workers” which mobilized artists across the country demanding fair treatment, protection and support by the government. Simona Dimkovska also spoke her engagement with the NGO “Cultural Echoes” whose mission is to promote urban and environmental responsibility and create a more sustainable, socio-culturally friendly and modern urban environment. 

As mentioned above, the audience actively participated in the Q&A that followed the initial inputs of the speakers and an interesting, productive and constructive dialogue among young people and artists from North Macedonia and Greece took place. 

The aim of the event was to give the floor to young people and more specifically young artists who are among the groups of the society that were impacted the most by the pandemic in order to share their experiences, concerns and ideas about the present as well as the future of the Arts in both Greece and North Macedonia. Based on the participation on a weekday as well as the engagement of the audience in the discussion the event can be considered a success and similar events will take place in the near future.

In an attempt to encourage youth dialogue between Greece and North Macedonia, the initiative Cooperation for a Common Future, and, specifically, its parts SEE in Action and Youth Alliance Krusevo, organized the movie night “Can you see yourself in my life?” on Friday, 18th December 2020, 7.00 pm UTC+2. The event was the outcome of the collaboration of the initiative and the civil society organization Balkans Beyond Borders. 

The members of the Greek part of the initiative, Anna Bampili and Ioanna Panagiotidou suggested that an interesting way to cultivate awareness of young people of both countries to a, would be to screen two short films, one from each country, which would provide food for thought, as well as an insight of the daily life of people across the borders. Thus, under the support and coordination of the Macedonian part and, specifically, Anelija Mitrova, member of Youth Alliance Krusevo, they contacted the organization Balkans Beyond Borders through their Facebook page. 

The organization, known for the trans-Balkan short film festival BBB (Balkans Beyond Borders), which takes place in an annual base, was able to provide the organizers with a recent list of short films from Greece and North Macedonia, followed by summaries and trailers, to facilitate the selection process. Consequently, the Greek and Macedonian organizers decided to screen the short films “Neon Hearts” (dur. 16:15’), directed by Ana Jakimska (North Macedonia) and “Woman” (dur. 15’), directed by Konstantinos Chaliasas (Greece). Both movies provide with a motive for fruitful discussion about the topic of gender roles, societal norms regarding gender identity and they present aspects of everyday life in the two neighbor countries. 

Vasiliki Maltasoglou, co-founder of Balkans Beyond Borders was enthusiastic about the idea of a double screening and offered on behalf of the organization to co-support and co-organize the event. Hence, she offered access to the material and members of the organization also attended the screening and participated in discussion afterwards. Ioanna Panagiotidou undertook the task of promoting and designing the event in social media (Facebook, Instagram), Anelija Mitrova was responsible for the technical part of inviting people at the Zoom session and sharing the films and Anna Bampili presented the topic and moderated the discussion. 

The event was attended by almost 20 young people aged from 18 to 30 years old, originated from both countries. After the screening, they were able to exchange views on how daily life as presented in the films resembles the daily life in their countries, as well as speak about treatment of police toward people. They were also able to speak about what society expects from them according to their gender and how demanding and suffocating can gender roles be for a person. The discussion also included some short insight about sex workers and trans women, by sharing videos suggested by participants. 

The event lasted almost 1h30m and, despite the restricted number of participants, it can be overall characterized as successful, as it gave its target group the opportunity to meet the neighboring country and its culture, compare it to their own country and talk about norms and perception of society in them. The feedback received by Balkans Beyond Borders was also positive and opened a new perspective for further future cooperation with the initiative for another similar event, under a different context of discussion.

On December 14, 2020, the first joint event of SEE in Action took place, opening the collaboration with YAK, under the “Cooperation for a Common Future” initiative. Aiming to abolish stereotypical thinking about cooperation, the organizers EleniVasdoka and Alexandros Pavlou, supported by Aneljia Mitrova, who moderated the discussion, invited four people, two from Greece and two from North Macedonia respectively, to share their experiences and recollections from the neighboring country, as former participants of youth mobility programs or travelers. The event was live-streamed and reached 134 people, while 32 young people attended the ZOOM meeting. 

After the presentation of the event by its main organizers, Dr. Mary Drosopoulos, a researcher at the South East Europe Programme of ELIAMEP, shared her own special story, so as to present how personal contact of people from both countries can be sincere and familiar. Continuing the narration, Mr. Sotir Gabeloski, Marketing And Public Relations Specialist at Municipality of Krusevo, shared his opinion on youth cooperation and entrepreneurship, while expressing his concern about the relations between Albania and North Macedonia. Moreover, he expressed his positive thoughts about Greek people, as he is still in personal contact with Greek friends he met at his trips. Mr. Paraschou Aristodimos, founder of the organization “United Societies of Balkans” shared stories from youth mobility programs in the two countries and presented his thoughts on hospitality and stereotypes that prevail. Furthermore, he analyzed his family background and the connections his family has with the Balkan region. He pointed out the fact that his own mother speaks Macedonian and is born and raised in Edessa. The story of Mr. Kristijan Veljanov, Coordinator of Examination Centre for Attainment in Greek Language, was in the same context of stereotypes and their dividing, rather than unifying role. His speech enhanced bureaucratic issues and difficulties he encountered, in his effort to practice his work in Greece and North Macedonia. 

During the conversation, young people were given the chance to share their own stories (personal or related to their profession) and present their experiences of the neighboring country related to youth connectivity between the two countries, as well as their common vision and ideas. Participants had also the opportunity to exchange views on the future of the region and to express their concern on hate speech and stereotypical thinking about the other side of the border, as a result of populism. Overall, the opening event can be considered as a successful starting point of a fruitful and promising cooperation.