A coalition of local NGOs dubbed “Coalition for Life” held a march on Sunday in Skoplje in order, as they say, to raise awareness amongst Macedonia’s youth about the importance of marriage and child bearing.Several thousand people brought their children along to attend the march in central Skopje, held just as the government announced fresh set of measures to boost population growth amid growing official panic over falling birth-rate.
“Our traditional family values are in crisis… All should help in raising the birth rate because today families with three or four children are a rarity… We are here to remind young people of their forgotten duty to form families,” said Miroslav Pendarovski, one of the organizers of the march.
The march has highlighted the growing division between conservatives, backed by the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, and some local human rights activists who fear that the government is using the demographic problem to attack women’s rights and the rights of sexual minorities.
A day before the march, two LGBT activists were beaten at the same main square in Skopje and their info stand demolished. The police said that they had apprehended a middle-aged man they suspect responsible for the attack.
The activists were handing out flyers with a message “stop homophobia in education”, as a protest against what they see as discriminatory definitions of homosexuality still contained in some text books.
In late October, Prime Minister Gruevski said in a dramatic speech that the “demographic recession” posed a greater existential threat for his country than the global economic crisis.
He noted that the current fertility rate of 1.4 children per mother was far below the minimum of 2.1 needed to maintain the population. He also noted that only 22,000 children were born in 2011, as opposed to 40,000 in 1980, a drop of almost 50 per cent.“We are now debating perverted values, same-sex marriages or even adoption of children in those marriages, some kind of women’s rights, or men’s rights… and while spending energy on these issues, as a state we are running out of people,” the Prime Minister said in October angering many who support more liberal values.
The country’s Social Affairs Minister, Spiro Ristovski, recently announced fresh measures in education, migration and infrastructure policies, economic development and the fight against poverty and social exclusion, intended to stimulate child birth.
This came after government’s previous attempt to boost population growth by granting cash bonuses to mothers with more than one child was annulled by the Constitutional Court in 2009.
The court then ruled that the provision was discriminatory as it envisaged state help only for mothers living in mainly ethnic Macedonian areas with a low average birth rate.