By Petre Dimitrov
This story was written as part of the Investigative Journalism Support Project of the Macedonian Institute for the Media – MIM
Homosexuals in Macedonia have no rights. If they want to fit into the everyday life, they have to keep quiet about their sexual orientation. Publicly declaring that you’re different from the majority of people would only bring you into trouble. Sometimes, even their closest friends can’t understand them. Their parents – almost never.
Employers generally don’t like having gays and lesbians in their companies. That’s why homosexuals mostly have to keep quiet about that part of their private life. If they don’t, they get insulted, ridiculed, laid off from work, beaten in the streets. These are just some of the problems facing homosexuals in this country. But, a much bigger problem is that they have no one to complain to about these difficulties, and they can’t seek any help.
A homosexual cannot be a lawyer?
“I worked in a nongovernmental organization for a couple of years. It was a job I was qualified for, and one that I always wanted to do. When the president of the organization learned that I was lesbian, he said that they no longer needed me”. This is the story of Maria from Veles, who lost her job because of her sexual orientation.
Left with no work, she had to return to her parents in Veles, because she had no means for a living in Skopje. According to Maria, her whole life changed, but the way she got fired was much worse than that.
“ The boss, in front of all my colleagues, told me that my sexual orientation would have a negative impact on the organization’s work and image. Obviously, getting me fired wasn’t enough. I had to be singled out as someone who is not normal”, says Maria, 25.
Maria’s case is not the only one. Business people in this country don’t like having employees who are different. However, some managers think differently:
“ When someone comes asking for a job, I don’t inquire whether he/she is homosexual. Even if they are, I don’t have a problem with that, it’s their own business. All I care about is whether they are good workers”, says Goran Jovanovski, owner of a private company in Skopje.
Although the employers we interviewed mainly claim they have no intention of interfering in their employees’ private lives, reality paints a different picture. The case of Nikola from Stip confirms that.
After graduating at the Faculty of Law in Skopje, Nikola started to work as an intern in a private lawyer’s office in Skopje. “I had to spend some time working in a lawyer’s firm in order to be able to take the bar exam. It all went along fine, up until the moment my supervisor’s wife found out about my sexual orientation, after I refused her invitation for an intimate account. My boss was informed about that, and I lost my job, with an explanation that a gay person cannot be a future lawyer”, said Nikola, 28.
A lot of homosexuals we interviewed state that the safest thing for them is to keep quiet about their sexual orientation and not get too close with their colleagues. Otherwise, consequences could be catastrophic.
Being homosexual means being invisible
However, the workplace is not the only area where people whose sexual orientation is different must hide their sexual identity. If they want to lead a normal life, it’s best for them to keep quiet about this wherever they are. Although in the world there are homosexual associations and places where homosexuals can meet and socialize, in Macedonia that subject is taboo. Places where they can meet are limited.
Sasho, 18, and Elena, 23, both from Skopje, met online two years ago. They say they’re very good friends. The Internet, they claim, is one of the rare alternatives for Macedonian homosexuals to find friends, people who think alike, or partners.
“We don’t have gay-bars where gays (homosexuals) could hang out and openly declare themselves as such. There are only a couple of gay-friendly places in Skopje, attended by straight people (heterosexuals), that consider homosexuality normal and have no problems with that”, said Elena.
“In order to be a homosexual in Macedonia, one has to be invisible. One can’t and shouldn’t speak openly about that, because one would wound up alone, condemned and humiliated by everybody, they claim. When my best friends at school found out I was gay, they stopped associating with me. Now they ridicule me everyday, in front of the whole school. I can hardly wait for the school year to finish, so I could get out of here”, said Sasho.
Parents have a hard time understanding that their children are different from others. The experience of Philip, Sasho’s boyfriend, is a bitter one. Two years ago, he told his family that he was gay. He hasn’t seen his father since. After the confession, his father threw him out. Philip now lives in his late grandmother’s flat.
“ I’m living with Sasho. I only contact my mother and sister, incognito, because if my father finds out – he would kill them. And, we’re constantly the talk of the whole building”, said Philip, 27.
Treated for homosexuality with lexilium and diazepam
Often, when parents find out that their children are different, they try to cure them. Many homosexuals we spoke to say they understand their parents’ efforts to make them the same as the majority, but that it’s sometimes shocking just how some experts are trying to cure them.
“After my parents found out that I was homosexual, my mother took me to four psychiatrists. The first one, “in order to cure me”, prescribed me a combination of daily doses of lexilium and diazepam”, said Igor, 26, from Bitola.
“I often see boys and girls who have the same problem as Igor. They are in a dilemma, at a crossroad of sorts. They don’t know which road to choose. These kids need help, not “treatment”. What happened to Igor is horrible. Being treated with lexilium and diazepam?!” says a well known Macedonian psychiatrist, who wanted to remain anonymous out of concern he could be labeled as someone who is attracted to men.
The psychiatrist Dr. Alexandar Marcikic, who has a private practice in Skopje, says that some psychiatrists now tend to stop defining homosexuality as an illness or a psychological disorder. It is increasingly being considered as a “normal choice” in a person’s emotional and sexual connection with the object of love, he explains.
“I try to explain to parents who are having conflicts with their children that a homosexual couple has many features characteristic of heterosexual relationships, and that everybody is entitled a freedom of choice”, said Marcikic.
Important for a person to fulfill his needs
“Problems arise when society or one’s closer environment interferes with that, or when the person itself hasn’t come to terms fully with its preferences and needs”, says Marcikic. According to him, homosexual men who are not completely confident in their preferences often have problems with their personal and sexual identity. Homosexual women talk more openly, especially when faced with their conscience and the norms of society. A person’s inability to satisfy his needs only aggravates things. Such people often suffer from depression and insomnia, explained Dr. Marcikic.
In order for such situations to be avoided, Marcikic says that society must do more to increase tolerance towards homosexuals. “ We also need special counseling for parents and their children to get the right advice and direction”, said Marcikic.
In 1974, the American Psychiatrists Association (APA), removed homosexuality from its official diagnostics manual, because it didn’t fulfill the criteria for being treated as a mental illness. APA’s manual is quoted in all international psychology textbooks.
In Macedonia, the story is different. The psychiatric diagnostic manual of therapy (the latest of its kind), classifies all mental disorders using the latest international classification. In the classification, homosexuality is not present as a mental illness or condition. However, in the introduction, where all disorders of psychic functions are listed as clinical symptoms, homosexuality is again mentioned as a disorder in the drives (hand in hand with anorexia, pedophilia, nymphomania, anthropophagia, zoophilia etc). This manual is used by students of medicine, stomatology (mouth disorders) and psychology.
Does the Ministry of Internal Affairs hold any records of homosexuals?
Despite the fact that foreign influences are slowly changing the prejudices against homosexuals, insults are something they encounter every day. Homosexuals claim they’re often mistreated by official representatives, especially the police. We spoke to several homosexuals from Kumanovo about their unpleasant experience with the police. Several years ago, a pharmacist was killed in that town. During the investigation of the murder, the police found out that he was homosexual. So, they rounded up every homosexual from Kumanovo in the police station.
“It would’ve been OK if they held us for questioning. But instead, we were endlessly humiliated. The police officers made rude gestures with their sticks. They completely forgot why they brought us there”, tells N.M. from Kumanovo.
After the event, his parents found out he was gay. “My family was in shock for a couple of months. We were all terrified that the police would hold records of us. Many of us believed the police held some sort of a register on homosexuals”, says N.M. Officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVR) state that the police have never held such records, and that there’s no such thing. “ The Ministry of Interior has never kept records on homosexuals. For us, homosexuals are simply good sources, because they’re involved in various social layers and know a lot of things”, anonymous sources in the police told “Kapital”.
MVR officials we interviewed about this subject openly admit that homosexuals are not welcomed in the police. “Policemen don’t like gays, that’s a fact. When we take any of them for questioning, officers make fun of him: “Now, be good and turn your back, so we could have a go at you”, or “Colleagues, hold on to your sticks or they could be stolen”. This is just a part of the general atmosphere when we bring in some gay”, say sources at the MVR.
Until 1996, the law forbade male homosexuals
“The fact that homosexuals are being humiliated in police stations is somewhat standard procedure, not only in Macedonia but all over the world as well. Of course it’s wrong, but policemen are notorious for their cruel treatment of homosexuals”, says Gjorgji Marjanovic, a professor of criminal law at the University in Skopje.
With the changes in the Penal Code of 1996, no criminal charges can be brought against homosexuals. They cannot be held for questioning on that account, explains Marjanovic. The Penal Codes of 1959 and 1977 regarded sex between two men as a criminal offense, liable to a one-year prison sentence. Lesbian relationships in Macedonia, however, have never been regulated by law or sanctioned.
In 1995, under pressure by the Council of Europe, the Government of the Republic of Macedonia was forced to make changes to the Penal Code in order to get full membership in the Council. In July 1996, the new Penal Code was enacted in the Parliament, and became operational on November 1. With the new Penal Code, sex between two men became legal. According to the Penal Code, only an adult who performs a sexual act upon a child or in a public place can be sentenced.
“Persons with different sexual orientation can, whenever they like, at whatever age that may be, declare their orientation. That act of declaring is not and cannot be punishable by law”, says Marjanovic.
Macedonia laws neither protect, nor punish homosexuals
Homosexuals claim that reality is different than the regulations. Macedonian society finds it hard to accept homosexuals. On the other hand, legal experts explain that the regulations themselves can hardly protect homosexuals.
Sehad from Tetovo tells how he was often beaten up by young people in his neighborhood, because of his sexual orientation. “ There isn’t a single person in my neighborhood that hasn’t beaten me. Since I can’t do anything about that, I simply tolerate them. I’ll endure this for another month, and then I’m off to my relatives in Switzerland”, says Sehad, 20.
Experts on constitutional law state that Macedonian laws basically have a positive attitude towards homosexuality as a sexual orientation. But, in order for opportunities for discrimination of homosexuals to be removed, according to them, significant amendments are needed. “Sehad can’t file a criminal complaint, because there isn’t an article in the laws that would support that”, experts say.
In their view, freedom of sexual behavior of people of the same sex is not explicitly regulated by the Constitution, or by Macedonian laws. According to them, there isn’t a single article in the Constitution that explicitly protects homosexuals, nor does it state the right of sexual orientation (as a separate clause) – be it in a positive or a negative sense. Also, there aren’t special positive laws that homosexuals would “call upon” when discriminated in the workplace or physically harassed, explain the experts.
Human rights experts concur with the legal experts on that. “At the moment, our regulations offer freedom of expressing one’s sexual orientation, but no protection from possible discrimination. Homosexual behavior is not penalized. However, there are no positive regulations to be used for direct, immediate protection of these people”, says Mirjana Najchevska, president of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for human rights.
Can homosexuals be parents and are they allowed to?
Ana and Svetlana have been living together for 10 years. Ana is a physician in one of the Skopje clinics, and Svetlana works at a government institution in Skopje. “ We function just like any other married couple. Of course, we don’t tell many people about our orientation. Our neighbors think we’re relatives”, says Ana, 45.
Svetlana explains that between the two of them, they have everything that is necessary for functioning as a “traditional” married couple. “ In economic terms, we have a lot more than an average Macedonian family”, says Svetlana, 50.
They have been trying to adopt a child for quite a long time. Ana, who grew up as an orphan, explains that she has an immense need to adopt a child. She says she wants to provide love and care for the child, things she didn’t get when she was little.
Three years ago, Ana filed an application for adopting a child with the Intercommunal Center for Social Affairs of Skopje. According to the Law on Family, as a single woman she has the right to adopt a child. However, her application has constantly been turned down.
“I went to the Center to inquire why I was being turned down over and over again. They told me that I would never be given a child because I was “one of those”. They said – well, we found out you were living with another woman”, says Ana.
Dr. Marcikic believes that same sex couples need to have their relationship legalized, for practical reasons. “ They need to be accepted by society. And, since they want to be married couples, they also feel the need to have children. As a way of life, homosexual relationships may be avant-garde. But, standards are changing on a daily basis”, Marcikic points out.
Macedonian laws don’t allow for people of the same sex to marry or to live in a legally recognized or registered union. The Law on Family defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, explain experts on family law. In Macedonia, only married couples have the right to welfare benefits, pension, health insurance, and other responsibilities and rights that arise from living in a union.
In our country, the clause “sexual orientation” can only be found in the Journalists’ Code, that states: “the journalist shall not intentionally create, nor process information that endanger human rights and freedoms… under any grounds (nationality, religion, race, sex, social position, language, sexual orientation…)”.
Europe insists that homosexuals mustn’t be discriminated against
In February 1993, the European Parliament brought a Resolution calling all member states to abolish decisions in their legislation that criminalize or discriminate against sexual activities between persons of the same sex. The resolution calls for bringing an end to the inadequate treatment to homosexuals regarding rights and administrative rules that regulate the social security and pension system, i.e. the rights of adoption and inheritance, equal access to national funds, right to marry and rights arising from it, as well as corresponding provisions in the Penal Code. This resolution was reaffirmed in September 1996.
“The resolution is a legally non-binding document for us. It shows the way members of the EU act. That’s not a process that goes on under pressure, which on the other hand is typical for solving most situations in Macedonia”, said Ninoslav Maldenovic, Master of International Law in the field of human rights.
Europe’s positive stance on this issue has also been confirmed with the Amsterdam Convention of 1997, signed by all members of the European Union. The Convention entitles the European Council of Ministers to take appropriate actions to combat discrimination against, among other things, persons whose sexual orientation is different.
Civil marriage between two persons of the same sex (in the real sense of the word), with all its legal consequences, privileges and responsibilities, is allowed only numerous countries in Europe. In Belgium, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Norway civil marriages are allowed, said Dr. Robert Vintemute, professor at the King’s College in London, in a statement for “Kapital”.
“In the case of registered partnership, same sex couples get a package of rights and obligations equal or almost equal to the ones present in civil marriage such as in France PACS. Partners receive certain legal privileges such as health insurance and benefits, or a right to inherit the partner’s possessions”, says Vintemute.
“All we want is to live our lives”
“Obviously, the trend in the world is to regard the problem of homosexuality as something personal which, as long as it doesn’t cross the boundaries of the personal, can also be allowed. Such is the example of homosexual marriage, which is permitted in some places”, said Jovan Korubin, professor of sociology at the Skopje University.
He believes that the influence of international trends can be felt in Macedonia as well, especially with the younger generations. “ There was a time when homosexuality was hidden, and now it’s becoming more and more visible. Of course, ours is quite a traditional environment, so this will be regarded as a pathological thing for a long time. However, this doesn’t mean that the appropriate institutions of our society shouldn’t start to think about increasing transparency – in terms of approaching this problem without prejudice”, said Korubin.
Macedonian homosexuals we’ve interviewed point out they’re aware that traditional beliefs prevail in our society. They don’t want a revolutionary change to occur over night, but they do want for society to accept them as they are, at least in a manner that would allow them to function normally in their everyday lives.
“All I want is not to be harassed on account of my different sexual orientation. To be left alone. I don’t interfere with anybody’s life, and I don’t like anyone interfering in mine. Everybody is entitled to live their lives as they please. I want to live my own life”, said Natasha from Skopje.
Difference in the attitudes of the younger and the older generation
In Macedonia there’s a lot of opposition, not only to homosexuality in general, but also to thinking about sexual rights as human rights and the perception of sexual minorities as a discriminated group. This is the general conclusion of the first research into the condition of homosexuals in Macedonia, “Limits to the freedom of choice – gay and lesbian communities in Macedonia”.
“The prevailing view is that homosexuality is an illness, which should and could be cured. Most of the respondents think that homosexuals should be isolated and that they should be morally punished by society”, says Mirjana Najcevska, chief coordinator of the project. The results of this research indicate that the majority of respondents don’t like the idea of homosexuals working in education.
There’s a visible difference in the attitudes of the younger and the older generation. Young people have a lot more positive attitude towards homosexuals. “ The most interesting moment in the research is the fact that women here are far more conservative in their thinking than men”, said Najcevska.
The pilot-project was executed by the Macedonian Helsinki Committee in cooperation with the Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, and the Center for civic and human rights. The poll was conducted in five cities in Macedonia – Skopje, Stip, Bitola, Gostivar, and Tetovo.
Experts don’t want to speak publicly about homosexuality
In order to fully portray the position of homosexuals in Macedonia, “Kapital” has consulted a number of domestic experts in various fields. Some of them agreed to provide statements or their own views, but on one condition – to remain anonymous. Some of them feared they would be labeled as homosexuals, some were concerned about losing their jobs or the authority they have in society. Others refused to talk at all, saying “Why should I be the one to speak on this subject?”