Lice v Lice: Filling the gap in Macedonian media
When we visit the fifth-floor offices of the streetpaper Lice v Lice in late July, the International Network of Streetpapers (INSP)’s annual conference is fast approaching. For Lice v Lice founder Klimentina Ilijevski, the event is not only an opportunity to discuss streetpaper publishing but a chance to learn how international problems like homelessness are addressed elsewhere. However, one week before departure, Klimentina has just been told that the UK will take three weeks to process the visa application that will allow her to travel to Glasgow – where the conference is being held.
Lice v Lice is a bi-monthly magazine that conforms to a streetpaper model, in which disadvantaged people buy the magazine for half the cover price and then then sell it on to the public.
“Lice v Lice gives young people, disabled people, homeless people and people on the street over 60 a chance to have a job, earn money and be part of society,” says founder Klimentina. “It is a good way to overcome prejudice.”
Started just two years ago, the magazine currently has 43 vendors across three different cities in Macedonia. At the time of visiting, it was about to expand to a fourth – Ohrid, designated a cultural and natural world heritage site by UNESCO and the chief destination tourists visiting Macedonia. Although I didn’t personally see any signs of this in Ohrid, a number of people working with the homeless in Skopje told me that a significant proportion of the transient poor community made their way to Ohrid in the tourist season to beg.
Macedonia is one of the poorest countries on the European continent, facing problems not only in terms of unemployment and people living beneath the poverty line, but also ranking poorly on the global index for press freedom. Earlier this year, international election monitors reported a lack of independent media coverage of the parliamentary and presidential elections, and expressed concerns about the state’s overly close relationship with the ruling parties.
Klimentina was working as an arts journalist on a daily newspaper until September 2012, but set up the Center for Media Activities in Skopje with a team of others after becoming frustrated with her job. Lice v Lice is just one part of the Center’s ‘activities’, which include awareness-raising events and contributing to pan-Balkan research on press freedom, as well as communication services for companies and NGOs.
The magazine’s goals are two-fold: to provide a means of income for marginalised people, and to cover social issues otherwise unaddressed in mainstream media. Previous editions have included articles on illegal organ trafficking and gay rights – with the latter a particularly difficult subject to discuss openly in Macedonia.
“We want to fill the gap in the media offering in Macedonia, and very specifically the complicated context in which Macedonian media exists,” says Klimentina. “Lice v Lice publishes educational and raising-awareness content, focusing on the problems of marginalised people, environment, social entrepreneurship, healthy habits, engagement, volunteering and active citizenship.”
As I browse back-issues of Lice v Lice, it strikes me that it has the print and design quality of a magazine that would sell for around five pounds in the UK. Although the publication and its educational programme receives some funding from the city of Skopje, its combined income (including sales of magazines) is not yet enough to be self-sustaining. As a result, costs are heavily subsidised by sponsors – with a new one acting as the main sponsor for every edition.
“It is more than necessary to have a streetpaper in Macedonia, but every new issue is a new struggle,” says Klimentina. “But the pages of the magazine are open for [potential collaborations with] other good NGO initiatives…”
As we leave Skopje to take the four-hour bus to Ohrid, we visit the Center for Media Activities one last time. Only that morning, Klimentina had found out that the UK Border Agency had rejected her visa application to attend the INSP conference. It is not clear why, particularly since she has a letter of reference from the INSP and her return flights booked.
While the visa is in no way symbolic of the attitude of the international community towards the work of Lice v Lice, it is difficult for Klimentina not to take it personally. Given the scale of social problems in Macedonia, it must already feel like the Center for Media Activities is battling an uphill struggle, and when I think about the extensive networks of social initiatives I have seen developed in countries including Greece, Serbia and Portugal, it strikes me how alone the Center is. Yet despite operating in this kind of vacuum, the four person team are firing from all sides – working with the local authorities to develop Lice v Lice, fostering the growth of the social enterprise sector and reaching out internationally to develop the first steps in formally tracking homelessness in Macedonia.
Klimentina resigns herself to following updates from the conference remotely, but it doesn’t lessen the strangeness I feel, as a representative from a country that appears to have inexplicably shut its doors to an entirely legitimate request.