Eight days in Ljubojno with „No H8 Speech”

It was June, early summer in Macedonia, when over 30 participants from Croatia, Denmark, Portugal, Slovenia, and a hosting country, came together to combat one of the most recent and present in our daily lives problem – hate speech. Between 11.06 and 20.06, the picturesque village of Ljubojno at Prespa lake was the main stage for the implementation of the project „No Hate Speech: Increasing Competencies of Young People to Use Media and Theater Based Tools to Combat Hate Speech: Step 2”.

photo Kiril Gochevski

We live in times where the online world allows humanity to perform more actions than it is permitted offline. Anonymity supports freedom. Why is it a chance and a threat at the same time? People feel more encouraged to expose their talents without exposing faces behind them and still to be seen and heard and receive feedback. At the same time, the amount of hate speech is rising as people feel they can’t be punished as long as they stay anonymous – thus, they feel free to do and say whatever they wish to. For this reason, young and motivated people of different countries and backgrounds came together on a far-away-from-city youth exchange to exchange experiences and find a solution. The solution, which can’t heal the whole world at once, can surely heal the worlds of individuals.

Sharing a house together in a small village where only a bench on the main square, one restaurant, and one shop connect the local community brought participants of the project even closer together. A rural place where locals don’t have as many opportunities as big cities has suddenly become a place where many “big” things are happening. The energy of locals and internationals came together to make this project unforgettable. During those eight days, we were not only working on how to fight against hate speech but also experiencing a place. That being said, it is small. It is facing not that more minor problems in comparison to significant places the participants are coming from. We took into our hearts that here and now, it is our place of action and time to make an impact. Among many empowering activities we participated in, we also became video makers. Participants in four different groups were working on four different videos. One group was exploring the village, climbing hills, and interviewing local people, to create a promotional video of Ljubojno, while the other was filming a movie from a dog’s perspective – making not only locals but also stray animals happy and curious. The third group made a one-shot video focusing on the topic of how people coming from different Balkan countries can unite together, preventing hate speech caused by one of the “burning” topics – football rivalry. The last group created a song about the hope of having a better world free of hate speech, which long time after, will be sounding on the little streets of Ljubojno and, (hopefully), will go viral.

“I’m thrilled that I was given a chance to get involved in the second part of the Erasmus+ project “No Hate Speech,” this time in Ljubojno, Macedonia, as it was an unforgettable experience. I had an amazing time in this delightful mountain village with a rich spirit and shared great experiences with amiable and honest people. The program was exceptional, and using various methods and activities (like theatre) during the process, helped us better understand certain real-life situations and how to deal with and battle against hate speech. A lot of the activities and discussions led us to answer many questions about the causes and consequences of hate speech and taught us how to work as a team. Apart from the program, we had many energizers, fun workshops, and free time to explore the village or hike. We also had the chance to visit a few local festivals, which enriched our knowledge and taught us about rural life and typical Macedonian traditions and cuisine. As a group, we also participated in a local event by singing a song, and locals got to try food and snacks from different countries. The greatest part of this project was that I got to meet wonderful people from around the world and share special memories with them that I will never forget!” – said Marija Stamenova, Macedonian participant.

The final event of this Erasmus+ project took the stage of Ljubojno – team leaders of each country group gave short speeches on the stage in the center of the village, which usually hosts local events. Through this International Culture Evening, we wanted to provide an opportunity for young people from rural areas to become part of our world. We went international, giving a glimpse of Croatian, Danish, Latvian, Portuguese, and Slovenian perspectives and promoting European values and opportunities that the Erasmus+ program offers. After our presentation and a heart-warming song, locals and internationals together celebrated the beauty of this uniting and thoughtful evening with the concert of a local band from Bitola, Sound Waves.

To end, and to give you a little bit of the feelings we shared in Ljubojno, a small piece of our song should speak the word:

“Nature, beautiful eyes, deep conversations, trustful smiles,
I know there’s much to do at home, but in Ljubojno, you are you.”

Ewelina Chańska

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