Shadow boxing on the peoples’ backs. Macedonia is heading for snap elections

This article originally appeared on 23 February in BalkanInsight,

So they finally get their will. The two arch-rivals of Macedonian politics, Prime Minister Gruevski and opposition leader Crvenkovski can finally enter the ring against each other. For the first time. Although the haggling about the date and the procedures is ongoing, Macedonia is set to face snap elections this spring. The press conferences announcing victory and attacking the rival are on. Don King is prepping his hairdo.

“Branko, let’s go for elections, it’s time”, Gruevski called yesterday. As if it were about the two of them; about rivalry between two teenagers for dominance in the neighbourhood gang. Or to gain the heart of the hood beauty. Showing off their virility, their readiness to fight it out, at all cost. Quite cool for the neighbourhood bullies. If all this were about the hood.

Only, it’s not. It is about a country, albeit with “the population of a borough of London”, as a former British Ambassador put it some years ago. It is about the future of this nation, which still hasn’t finished defining itself.  It is about finalising the process of integration into NATO and the EU. About finally filling the mantras with substance. It is about ensuring that the inhabitants of Macedonia, who will again be misused as voting pawns in the chess game of electoral arithmetic, have a future ahead of them, which is less bleak than the past and more promising than the present.

It is clear that the key to achieving that lies in a number of hard decisions. The toughest one is compromise on the name row. This will have to be achieved by consensus among mature politicians, based on a sound analysis of the options and as a result of a real negotiation process.

What is to come then is a decade or more of really hard, committed work, to get Macedonia out of its current state of social, economic and intellectual dilapidation and build a real society, based on integration rather than exclusivism, on debate and negotiation rather than paternalism, on intellectual dispute rather than political pressure.

The only problem is that in order to do that, a different type of politics and a very different type of politicians will be needed. Such politicians would understand that it is not a democratic achievement to have a parliament filled with party soldiers, who represent nobody but their bosses. They would also understand that the arena for political dispute is parliament and not the boxing ring of almost yearly elections. They would understand that the dispute is not about exercising control, about seeding fear into peoples’ heads, but about concepts and ideas.

They would understand that exercising power is not about destroying your opponent, but about having the better arguments. They would understand that controlling the media and public opinion make you lose credibility.

But of course it is not about that. The type of politician we are dealing with here was characterised by Istvan Bibo in 1946 as a ‘fake realist’. It is the type of politician that makes use of democratic instruments to distort and corrupt them. The result is personalisation of power.

And it was not Slavoj Zizek, but his much more interesting former wife, Renata Salecl, who once wrote that in such a political discourse, the honesty of the speaker is irrelevant. Whether they are invoking the present or the past, whether they speak of wellbeing or glory, whether they build monuments or networks is irrelevant.  Whenever they say the people, they mean themselves. Whenever they say “we”, they mean “I”.

And what does all that mean? Another year lost for development, for progress, for reform. Another huge amount of money pumped into campaigns, into empty promises, into painting reality in hallucinatory bright colours on billboards, to contrast with the grey around them.  The country will hibernate until well after the elections, when the last post is distributed, the last debt in the network of patronage and clientelism has been paid off. And it will wake up to another year gone.

A year in which a lot of work could and should have been done. If only anyone were serious about it. But as things stand now, policy making has lost against the political battle; content is sacrificed for the sake of power play. And in breach of all rules of fair play, the referee has been beaten up. The treatment of the outgoing EU special representative Fouere by the leading group of VMRO-DPMNE is beyond any acceptable standards of diplomacy and of decency.

As for the elections, they will be fierce. If the rhetoric of these days is just the beginning, we are in for a hot spring. And all this in the context of an international community turning away from Macedonia, in large part because of this political caste. Will they be monitored? I most certainly hope so.

I think it was Crosby, Stills and Nash, accompanied by Neil Young, who sang at Woodstock a little piece called “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”. I beg to differ. So I shall board one of the brand-new Ukrainian buses, drive to the Matka canyon and hide in the bear-cave, hibernating it out. Cheers!

Vision! Hibernate…


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