Navel-Gazing at the Wall

This article originally appeared in Balkan Insight,


The world’s eyes were turned to Berlin these days. This is the line, which many journalists used to open their articles on the 20 years anniversary of the wall coming down in Berlin.

And they were, the eyes.

More than 30 world leaders were present, most of them physically, Obama by satellite – although I am sure he wanted to go, which could earn him yet another prize for good intentions. The event has its deep symbolic meaning as it commemorates the irreversible end of a sick system.

The end was not initiated by the Germans, but once the wall was destroyed, it became clear that we were looking at this very end. And it does not harm to celebrate it, especially in times of economic and financial crisis, when silly opinion polls like the one conducted for BBC or Slavoj Zizek’s New York Times op-ed try to invoke the failure and implicit end of capitalism, to be replaced by – what?

Maybe by this: Mikhail Gorbatchev receives the 2009 MTV Europe Music Awards Free Your Mind Award. I so wished he had received it from Bono and Bob Geldof holding hands. The three of them could then have sung “Winds of Change” by the Scorpions.

In times of cheap populism it is important to remind each other that the Wall was not only a symbol, but harsh reality. For those of us who by the accidents of biography were born and lived on the wrong side of the iron curtain, it represented a real, deadly barrier, keeping us from living the way we wanted, banning our wishes for a self-determined life into the realm of dreams. Or behind bars, for that matter.

The world as a guest in Berlin. The provincial perspective taken by many German journalists, especially by Berlin-based ones. The city that will always strive to become a real Metropolis, and will always fall short of it. Size does matter, sometimes. A hopelessly provincial and narrow-minded political class has led the city into ruin. Partly also due to the reunification, the story of Germany condensed into one city, the economic, financial and political legacy included. Despite of having become a major touristic attraction and despite desperate and stuck-up attempts to (re)construct a perceived glorious past, the soul of the real Berliner has remained rather provincial. And as such, it is deeply flattered by being in the centre of the world’s attention, even if for just one day. And it does not matter. For one day, the city that is, that lives, that does not obey, can be the star. In the end, it is the city and its people, who have endured decades of being not at the frontline of two systems, but actually BEING that frontline. They deserve to be celebrated for having provided the world with the symbolic act of literally obliterating that frontline.

I am writing all this from Skopje. I watch TV, I read the newspapers and all I see is navel-gazing. The world’s navel. The fall of the wall is merely a metaphor, used and misused by both politicians and journalists to address internal issues. Whether the wall is still in the heads of people, as the president put it, or whether it still prevents Macedonia from being part of Europe, as I read somewhere, they refer to the wall as a physical or mental barrier. Ah, the temptations of cheap rhetoric!

Let me set a few things straight, which might enrich the metaphor. The fall of the wall provoked a chain reaction of events in Germany. Almost everybody was taken by surprise, at least officially. The event required action, answers. Some were happy, but hesitant. Talk arose about helping East Germany to stand on its own feet, to stabilise as a state and to enter some sort of partnership with West Germany. In other words, don’t do too much, let the events drive your decisions and see, where the boat of history takes the whole thing.

But there was the other stream of consciousness, which came from the streets of East Germany, demanding immediate unification. Most politicians were hesitant, some did take the risk and made the bold move. Helmut Kohl will not be remembered for his sixteen years of poor governance, for being yet another politician who couldn’t keep his promises, but for being the chancellor who unified Germany. And quite rightly so.

What I am trying to say is that bringing down a wall can happen, when the constellation is right. But managing the aftermath requires leadership, power of decision-making and a clear vision. Macedonia is in that seat now. The European constellation was never more favourable in the last two decades.

Now is the moment to be grasped. A solution with Greece on the name will open the doors to another dimension. Macedonia has a choice now. Stay alone and isolated, become a failed province, driven by frustration and more navel-gazing. Because the horizon would be walled. Or take a bold step into a future that will be not rosy, but at least joint, European, and safe. Choose wisely, but do it quickly. The clock is ticking.


Vision! Now…


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