Week 8: Skopje and the Steering Committee

I began this week continuing my research on domestic violence, but switched gears entirely when my boss asked me to attend a conference in Skopje, North Macedonia on the Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network (BRRLN)! He was only able to attend one day of the two-day conference, so I was about to act as CLARD's representative on the Board on Day Two. I spent Thursday doing a bit of research, then we hopped in the car after work and made the lovely hour and half drive from Pristina to Skopje. Skopje is a beautiful city, with a historic bazaar, beautiful bridges and buildings, and an incredibly large quantity of statutes. On Thursday evening, I checked into my hotel and then walked ten minutes down to the city center and the riverside! The area was buzzing with tourists, which was a noticeable difference from my experience in downtown Pristina, where I sometimes feel like the only one with no Albanian-speaking ability for miles.

The conference ran from Friday to Saturday, and began bright and early on Friday morning. The BRRLN is a relatively new network made up of legal professionals and civil society members from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia. The network was started and has historically been funded by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative. The network is designed to facilitate communication between Balkan lawyers and legal networks, to strengthen the independence of the legal profession as a whole, improve the quality of legal services in the region, and support the position of bar associations and individual lawyers in integrating European Union regulations into the Balkan's legal framework. The heads of the Bar Associations of each country are members of the board, as well as CLARD and a few other NGOs. In addition to the executive board, the network has about five working groups, and CLARD is a senior member of the working group on ex officio appointments and legal aid. 

At the conference:

Me at Conference

The conference was less about the abilities of the network, and instead was a meeting of the Steering Committee; the ABA's involvement in and financial support for the network is coming to an end in September 2019, and the board is working on transitioning to an independently sustainable model of operation. In short, this means finding funding elsewhere, either through dues charged to network members and/or applying for various projects from international organizations that need legal assistance within the region. The Board had to decide on the package services for membership, membership procedures, and the specific responsibilities of the Executive Director, Financial Manager, and other named board positions. The majority of the presentations were done by Strategic Management Systems, a company contracted to help with the transition and make specific recommendations as to how the network could move to a sustainable model of self-governance. A representative from the ABA ROLI also gave a presentation on the mechanisms the network could use to increase its regional presence (social media, catchy graphics, etc.) to attract potential donors. 

In addition to the conference, I was able to have some fun in Skopje! One of the most interesting things about the city is the bazaar, which is made up of both a tented (slightly illegal) structure mainly selling fruits and vegetables, as well as newer, winding streets full of shops selling souvenirs and massive amounts of gold jewelry. Also in the bazaar are restaurants and stands selling every kind of grilled meat imaginable; one of my favorite meals was a giant plate of sausage, steak, kebobs, and other various meats at a tiny bazaar restaurant. Skopje also has a massive fortress overlooking the city, which is free for visitors to wander around inside and on top of. Though slightly run down, it has excellent views over the city!

The view from the conference hotel over the old part of Skopje:

Skopje City View

A view from the fort over the newer part of Skopje:

View From Fort

Downtown Skopje:

Me in Skopje

I took the bus back to Pristina on Sunday afternoon from the Skopje bus station. It took quite a bit longer than the car ride down; when leaving North Macedonia, all of the passengers have to get off the bus and show their passports one-by-one to the border guard. The bus then drives 100 meters down the road, and the Kosovo border guard hops on the bus and collects everyone's passports and ID cards once again, and then returns them in a big bundle. Once we got through customs, it then took more than an hour to get back to Pristina through winding roads and villages (instead of the brand new highway we drove down on). It was quite the adventure!

Next weekend, I am going to explore Prizren, Kosovo! Goodbye until then!