Macedonian B-Movie Gone Wrong

This article originally appeared on 26 November in Balkan Insight,

Last night, Skopje entered a post-modern time warp, which might have put a symbolic end to the transition period. At last, the city – alas, not the rest of the country – has entered the post-modern era of media-tized staging of political operettas. Welcome! We were waiting for you to join.

Many people invoked Bucharest in December 1989. Indeed, all the elements were there. Almost. Except for tanks and machine guns shooting at the masses of demonstrators, snipers staging fights with terrorists and killing innocent people, dead bodies in the streets, the hunger, the desperation, a coup d’état by an insider elite, etc.

Get real! What happened yesterday was a parody of a B-movie gone wrong, staged by directors high on testosterone.

Let us observe the protagonists. Start with the man in the background. He owns a TV station and a dozen other companies and considers all this his own empire, in which the state has no say. And of course he has put on his Robin Hood costume and styled himself as the defender of the poor and the oppressed. In the meantime, the borders between his businesses and his media – the thin line between journalism and chicken meat – have been crossed numerous times, alienating professionals and alerting state institutions like the financial inspectors. The whole story is about him, except he is nowhere to be found.  And nobody expects him to be.

On the other side, we have the governing structures. The TV station in question has always been a strong opponent of theirs, with high ratings and a numerous, constant, viewing community. How tempting it must be to the rank and file police to impress their bosses and put some pressure on the TV station! There is no better opportunity than to use the pretext of a financial inspection to show some muscle. Pure testosterone. Policemen showing off in front of female journalists, using a bit of force to drive them crazy and make it clear who is in charge. Discreet deployment of special police units in the background. Martial displays, used as a warning and sending a clear message: we are in charge! I have no doubts about the legality of yesterday’s action. But the way it was staged had a disastrous PR effect.

Why all this during prime time? There are two ways of looking at it, and either one makes the state protagonists look stupid. Either it was a premeditated attempt to spread fear among opposition structures, to intimidate them in the spirit of the tribal reflex of: “You are either with us or against us”. Well, it went wrong. The wave of solidarity for the station shows it. And it was and should be perceived as a misuse of constitutional powers for the purpose of cheap political gain. The second possibility is that the police lost control of the script. The action was extended into prime time by the subjects to the investigation dragging their feet. This is the more realistic scenario. But then it makes them look even more stupid and unprofessional. In that case it is 1:0 for the opposition. And the helpless attempts of the police spokesman to defend his position were almost pitiful. Thinking you can get away with a scandalous event like this is either courageous or stupid – or both. Putting into motion the propaganda machinery of the government-controlled media doesn’t add to the credibility of this action.

The third protagonist: the collective of journalists of the TV station. Staging a situation of siege and asking the free world to assist them was as credible as the daily horoscope. Of course, the clumsiness of the police machinery made it all possible. And they made sure to grab the opportunity and use it, thoroughly. Unlike their counterparts, they are pros. The victimization mechanism started quickly, went live and manifested itself in a dialogue of crosscut images from the studio that they were defending and from the entrance area, where police, angry journalists and a slowly growing number of politicians and other defenders of free speech gave the impression that a street revolution was going on – Macedonian style, with just a handful of people. All a bit shaky, everybody very nervous. Testosterone flowing.

What followed, was the fourth protagonist: the parade of defenders. A plethora of more or less eminent politicians and omnipresent public figures parading in front of the cameras, sitting down in the studio and giving their enraged statements. Of course, the political opposition used the opportunity given to them. Who wouldn’t? Except, they didn’t have much to say, or offer. At last the monstrous hole in the script became apparent: a TV under siege? How many victims did it take to finally break through the siege and penetrate the station to freely broadcast? One, big and lonesome victim: the truth.

And here we finally have one uncontested parallel to the events in Bucharest almost exactly 21 years ago. What remains till today in Romania is the feeling that they were betrayed. Live and in colour. Except in Bucharest it was for real. And it was interesting.

Vision! You are being used…


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