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  Interview

   

Interview: Dr Abdurauf Prusi, president of HO “El Hilal”

We will focus on social welfare and education in Macedonia

Government’s aim should be mainly investments, especially in the regions where there is a high concentration of social cases. Urgent interventions will only mitigate the situation, but they will not solve the problem of poverty.
Dr. Abdurauf Prusi is the president of the humanitarian organization El Hilal, which became popular, but also provoked a lot of controversial reactions during the Bosnian war and Kosovo crisis.


We talked to D-r Prusi about these periods, but also about the present and the future that Macedonian country is facing.

C.W. – How did you get the idea and what were the reasons to form a humanitarian organization such as El Hilal in 1991?
A.P. – After the break-up of former Yugoslavia and Macedonia’s independence, there were conditions for some non-governmental organizations to start operating.  However, in April 1991, when El Hilal was founded, there were not such conditions and, as it is known, it was founded as an association within the Islamic community in the Republic of Macedonia, and later became independent and was registered as a non-governmental organization. It has never stopped the relations with the Islamic community.

The reasons for establishing it were the existing circumstances in Macedonia and around it, especially in Kosovo and Macedonia. Kosovo was having a particularly difficult political-social situation – ten thousands people were made redundant. On the other hand, Albania was having a very difficult crisis as a result of transition from cruel communist system to democratic society. Therefore, it was necessary to be organized via a non-governmental organization as El Hilal, because taking into consideration the political circumstances at that time, this was the only way to help.

C.W. – How does El Hilal work and what activities could you emphasize? What are the plans for its work in future?
A.P. –
El Hilal mainly helps social cases in the region, and in special cases, it deals with other issues.

After the Macedonian Red Cross, El Hilal is the biggest non-governmental organization in Macedonia that deals with helping social cases. It has a highly developed network with branches and sub-branches, covering the whole territory of Macedonia. There is horizontal and vertical cooperation to be praised. This means that regardless of the great number of branches and sub-branches, El Hilal works as one body and there is a high level of informing.

As it is known, El Hilal gained the highest reputation during the crises caused by the wars in former Yugoslavia. In 1992, with the escalation of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was the only organization that got engaged in accommodating and providing for a lot of Bosnian refugees who came to Macedonia. It was also the only organization to organize their return to Bosnia. This experience helped later during the Kosovo crisis, when a lot of people, running away from the Serbian terror, came to Macedonia. We accommodated over 170,000 refugees in families and we also helped the refugees who were placed in camps.

We acquired the highest reputation with the Blace case, where ten thousands refugees were left for almost ten days, because the Republic of Macedonia did not let them enter, although our organization was ready to place them in families. With help from donators home and abroad, El Hilal took care of them all the time, organized medical teams that were working in three shifts. Regardless of the international obligations referring to the refugees, the then government, via the police, was putting obstacles during the help distribution. The world TV stations, while reporting on Blace, continuously broadcasted pictures of our activists giving help and moments when they were beaten with clubs by the irresponsible policemen. The great enthusiasm of the El Hilal’s activists admired the world and acquired a high world reputation.

The cooperation with a lot of organizations from the country and abroad also had a successful influence. We should particularly emphasize the cooperation with CRS from the USA and MCIC.

We pay special attention to education. Believing in calmer future in this area, in my opinion the main activities will focus on social cases and raising the educational level of Macedonia’s population.

In my opinion an activity which gives results should not be changed, but promoted. I think that El Hilal’s work will be a model for other non-governmental organizations, not only in Macedonia, but wider.

C.W. – Macedonia passed a war phase in 2001. What actions did the organization take in that time and what is your opinion on the multi-ethnic relations then and now?
A.P. –
The role of the non-governmental organizations, especially the humanitarian ones, is to create a climate of human trust, which means multi-ethnic, multi-confessional, multi-race trust. One of the main principles of our organizations are these categories.

We know that for a long period the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional relations in Macedonia were not on the necessary level, especially between the ethnic Albanians and Macedonians. It is not my job to elaborate on who is to blame for this, because I am here as a president of a humanitarian organization, not as a politician.
The help that El Hilal distributes is aimed at people who need it, regardless of the nationality, race or sex. It is true that our organisation has operated in regions where more Albanians live, or, it is better to say people of Islamic religion, who have used most of our help. But El Hilal has also distributed help to people of other nationalities and religion. I can freely say that giving help in this way can only reconcile the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional relations in a region.

It is true that the multi-ethnic relations were bad during the crisis caused by the war activities in Macedonia in 2001. El Hilal played a relevant role in improving these relations. It helped the displaced, both Albanians and Macedonians. It was the first organization to send help for the displaced Macedonians in some camps. Often in cooperation with other organizations (MCIC), it sent help in ethnically mixed places, giving an example of co-habitation in Macedonia.

Therefore, in my opinion the humanitarian help, especially when realized by organizations that have activists of different nationality, can very positively influence improving the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional relations.


C.W. – How do you see the social situation in Macedonia and what steps should be taken for its improving? What is your idea of decreasing poverty in Macedonia?
A.P. –
Nowadays in Macedonia, according to some governmental data, about 25% of the population is in great poverty, and according to our observations, about 60% of the population lives in difficult social conditions. This should be an alarming situation for Macedonia, and some measures have to be taken for improving this situation.

Both the former and the present governments, in cooperation with the World Bank, organized two seminars where our organization was present. Unfortunately, as many other seminars, it did not give any concrete results. In my opinion, without solving the economic situation in Macedonia, without solving the security situation in it, we cannot expect some recent improving.

Government’s aim should be mainly investments, especially in the regions where there is a high concentration of social cases. Urgent interventions will only mitigate the situation, but they will not solve the problem of poverty. I think that if the non-governmental organizations from this area have better cooperation with the Government, they can help the Government’s assets to be redirected more in the sphere of investments.


C.W. – You mentioned the cooperation with the Government. What was the cooperation with the state institutions like during the crises and in normal conditions?
A.P. –
As a non-governmental organization, different from the other organizations, we cannot say that there has not been any cooperation with the state institutions. However, we cannot be satisfied with it, since there have been more obstructions in our work by the state institutions than any constructive cooperation.

In many countries around the world, there is not much love between non-governmental organizations and state institutions. This is a result of the fact that these organizations often disturb the plans of the people in power, especially in the countries with underdeveloped democracy. Nowadays, many of these organizations manage the democratic processes in a country and at the same time they influence the creation of certain opinions in a country.

As far as Macedonia is concerned, in spite of the fact that the number of non-governmental organizations is much bigger in comparison with the population, it can be said that only few of them have had some successful activities during their work. Here, the opinion of the state institutions is getting better every day.

During the war crisis in Macedonia in 2001, our organization, together with MCIC, was constantly present at the weekly meetings held by the coordination body of the Macedonian Government. The purpose of these meetings was a better coordination of the humanitarian help in the crisis regions. Regardless of the agreements reached at these meetings, El Hilal faced various problems while sending help in the crisis regions. With or without problems, we, as an organization, even waiting for a few days, finally managed to distribute help to the necessary destinations. 

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