How paint has become a weapon in Macedonia’s “Colorful Revolution.”


Bear with me. This story is deeper than it seems at first.

How Paint Became a Weapon in Macedonia’s ‘Colorful Revolution’, by Feargus O’Sullivan (City Lab)

Paint-balling your way to fair elections.

Look at the aftermath of recent protests in the Macedonian capital Skopje, and you might assume a festival had just left town. Archways appear splattered with polka dot blotches of color, statues drip pink and blue streaks, and fountain water runs scarlet. This colorful makeover isn’t the result of some Balkan version of Holi, however. It’s the product of a protest movement whose dazzling tactics—dubbed Sharena Revolutsiya or “the colorful revolution” despite its overwhelmingly peaceful nature—has meant covering city walls and monuments in splashes of brightly colored paint …

 … Macedonia’s Colorful Revolution actually kicked off last winter following shocking revelations over the scope of alleged state surveillance in the country.

Macedonia became an independent country following the breakup of Yugoslavia. Since time immemorial, the geographical vicinity of present-day Macedonia (not to mention the Macedonians themselves, many of  whom live in Bulgaria and Greece) has been a regional bone of contention. Now, Macedonia finds itself astride a major refugee route, with geopolitical ramifications.

With the E.U. relying on Macedonia to stem the flow of refugees trying to cross the country from Greece, European governments have largely taken a softly-softly approach, concerning themselves more with brokering stability than pushing for regime change. All that has forced local protesters to get creative. Instead of throwing bricks or Molotov cocktails, they’ve been firing paint balls, scattering Macedonia’s parliament and public buildings with glaring color.

Here’s the kicker. Macedonia’s political crisis derives in part from ongoing efforts to plasticize and Disney-fy the capital city, Skopje.

That demonstrators are especially concerned with altering the capital’s appearance is not insignificant. In many countries this might come across as a wanton, self-defeating attack on public property that has served many governments, not just the current one. In Macedonia’s capital, however, those very buildings are often new, and represent the forces in the country that protesters loathe.

Skopje has in recent years been undergoing a massive reconstruction project to make it look grander and more imposing (and in Europe, it’s not alone in doing so). The ruling VMRO-DPMNE party has splurged on giving the city a neoclassical makeover that has smothered the city with Brobdingnagian monuments to Alexander the Great, bridges bristling with bronze reliefs, and endless hollow colonnades. At a mushrooming cost of €633 million ($722 million)—meaning that the country is paying out €10,400 ($11,860) every hour—the results are dramatic, oppressive, and hideous. It’s no wonder that these new monuments have been taken as symbols of the government’s grandiose delusions and petty oppression, stone and masonry canvasses on which people are now writing their frustration in day-glo paint. This isn’t just a case of protesters writing their anger on walls. In Skopje, the walls themselves are part of the problem.

Sound familiar?