Interview with Macedonian LGBT activist: “Activism helped me to heal from the past”

Antonij_Karadzoski_Headshot
Credits: “International Queer Migrant Film Festival”

*This article is part of the interviews conducted with LGBT activists from the Balkan region

Macedonian activist Antonij Karadzoski recalls his past in Macedonia and the struggles of being a gay person in a small city in Macedonia. Now settled in Amsterdam, he has tells about the importance of art in overcoming the bullism and obstacles.

 

A brief summary of the achievements you reached through LGBT activism in Macedonia.

I never expected to become a human rights activist and an LGBT activist, since my background is architecture and engineering. After escaping Macedonia, my journey started in Slovenia, where I lived there for a year before I came to Amsterdam. It was a very difficult  time for me while I was living in Ljubljana. It was a struggle to survive and integrate in a new culture, and of course there was always the past lingering behind me, but living in a country where the LGBT situation is quite good I felt safe and decide to speak up and share my story through art and with that putting the focus on the LGBT community in Macedonia.. I call myself an activist, I use activism throughout art. I decided to create a poster campaign called “culture of humiliation” which is an activism campaign inspired by my past growing up as a gay in a small conservative town in Macedonia, where at the age of 13 I got raped by four guys because of being gay, and then that escalated in constant bullying in school, and later on through internet it turned into cyber-bullying on social media with a lot of hate speech towards me. The campaign is  to prevent bullying and cyber-bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I really wanted to share this with the world and to inspire and help others who are going through the same thing so they can see that they are not alone in it. After the opening exhibition of it, the campaign became a huge success, now the posters are used in schools in Slovenia and Macedonia, where the children are taught  what is bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity  and how to prevent it.

You can see the work and my interview on it  on this website ( https://www.cultureofhumiliation.org)

After the campaign become successful, I was invited to Amsterdam to exhibit the work for the “International Queer & Migrant Film Festival Amsterdam” in 2016. There I met the director of the festival Chris Belloni and I got an offer to start working for the festival as well for the organization “Stichting art.1″. Since the festival and organization uses art such as film, theater, art exhibitions  as a method to break down stereotypes and discrimination based on sexual diversity and gender identity, this opportunity was perfect for me, so I moved to Amsterdam to continue my activism. Now since I am the producer of the  International Queer & Migrant Film Festival (https://www.iqmf.nl) as well as project manager of our organization Stichting art.1 ( http://stichtingart1.nl)  we are executing many projects in the Balkan area like organizing the first LGBT film festivals in the area, as well as working with local  LGBT/ human rights  NGO’s . We are now in the process of executing a big project called Youth Activist for Change which focuses on human rights/LGBT rights, youth work and advocacy. We included 4 countries  from the Balkan area (Serbia, Macedonia,Albania and Kosovo) and we will use the method of art and film festivals to break down the stereotypes regarding LGBT issues and enhance the knowledge on human rights, through exhibitions, film screenings and workshops for youth.

In my spare time ,individually I am helping many young gay people who are still living in Macedonia, in finding for them a way how to leave and start a new life in a place where they can be free for who they are.

 

A brief description of the reasons and circumstances that forced you to leave your country.

It has been three years since I left my native country Macedonia. I always knew that I would never have a free safe life where I can be myself and not be judged by society based on my sexual orientation. The breaking point for me deciding to leave everything behind and start over somewhere else, was when I got attacked on the streets of my hometown Prilep. Couple of guys were waiting for me on the street and started throwing glass bottles at me and trying to run me over with a car. At that moment i started laughing because I couldn’t believe what was happening, but also I knew that something had to change soon, that I won’t continue living my life in fear. I had to protect myself and if i wanted to help the LGBT community in Macedonia, i knew that i had to leave that place and go somewhere where i can feel safe and start helping the community from outside my country.

If you had the chance to do it all again, would you change anything?

Many people are asking me that question, and my usual answer was always yes, I would like to change so many things and situations. But now since I am settled in Amsterdam, and when I look back I would have to say no. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason in life, and if it wasn’t for those difficult times and struggles I would never be here now, and be in the position that I am, and I wouldn’t be able to help others who are going through the same thing. For many years I was also asking myself “why all of this happened to me”, so in regards to this I can only say how grateful I am that I went through hell and back, because I wouldn’t be the person that I am today, and I would never have learned what it means to really forgive and most important how to truly love and take care of others.

 

 How is your life now, are you continuing your activism?

My life is getting there slowly, sometimes it is very difficult since my work is  to be constantly surrounded  with LGBT refugees and asylum seekers here in the Netherlands, and traveling to refugee camps like in Palestine and asylum camps in the Netherlands, and hearing their heartbreaking stories. But when I realize that for so many years I was worried about my own pain  and my own survival, and after I started to travel and meet survivors who escaped war, prejudice and rape, my life completely changed. Working with them and helping them get their life back on track is the most beautiful thing I can do, because not only I am helping them, they are keeping me alive and healing me from my past. I know now that my life wouldn’t mean anything if it’s not of use to others, and I couldn’t be more grateful and happy that I am the person who gives them a voice, since I never had one back in Macedonia.

/k.m/

/l.k/
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