Recession of a Nation?

This article originally appeared on 26 October in BalkanInsight

It is the fate of ideologically motivated people that they eventually reach the moment when they hit the wall of reality. No matter how elaborate their ideological house of cards, the big bad wolf called reality will come huffing and puffing and blow it down.

Eventually they find out that their house can only withstand the blow if it has solid foundations and walls made of that very reality. This, of course, is a paradox – and this paradox must be immensely frustrating. If that person is a politician, it must be the cause of endless pain. Reality just won’t bend, because it is what it is.

Just think of the European left, which still has not recovered from the shock almost a quarter of a century ago; it still hasn’t found new answers, approaches and ways. But this blog is not about them.

It is much the same with revolutionary traditions. Fighting for a cause, justifying the means to try and reach that eternally unreachable goal of revolutionary fulfilment, is not only dangerous, but naïve.

As long as it is an individual decision, it doesn’t really matter for the environment. One more frustrated individual does not really count. But when revolutionary goals become the state ideology, society faces difficult times.

The reality of Macedonian society is formed by its citizens, not by its politicians and their visions, or the lack thereof. It is a simple equation.

Social engineering does not work. Anyone in the development industry can whine for hours about the limitations of intervention, though it is amazing to watch how the project labelled “Skopje 2014” has become a brand for a total and successful change of paradigms in relation to the city’s character, turning it from a playground for run-down modernist architecture into an amusement park of petit-bourgeois kitsch-driven delusions of grandeur.

And it is amazing to see how the imposed discourse on the “Antique” identity of ethnic Macedonians has managed to become almost undisputed mainstream within no time.

But there are limits to how much this can work. Despite multi-million investments in public campaigns promoting a conservative roll-back, literally seeking a higher birth rate, i.e. a third child, and a return to traditional values, Macedonian women disobey.

The birth rates are still falling, the divorce rate is still high, and the number of women active on the labour market and actually providing for the family is still high, although dropping. It must be a frustrating picture – so disturbing that Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, felt the need to address the issue on the holiday dedicated to the revolutionary movement to which his party sees itself as the legitimate heir.

An outcry in the Macedonian media and from civil society has followed about the contents of the speech. I won’t go into its details, as it is irrelevant. It is merely a politician’s speech: old news by the time it is delivered.

It is not the speech I am interested in, but the mind-set. A leader, a party, a movement, whatever it may be, cannot seriously ignore the fact that in the 21st century traditional structures are cracking and crumbling.

Conservative as Macedonia’s society, or rather its patchwork of differing, parallel societies may be, rapidly progressing urbanisation has begun to leave its mark. And a clear sign of modernisation is a low birth rate, as well as the integration of women in all levels of society.

It is also a sign of the times, of rapidly progressing modernisation and of the redefinition of human relations not only among each other but with the environment, technology, etc, that traditional gender models are being questioned.

The strict male-female distinction, with clearly defined roles in private and in public, has always been an ideological illusion anyway. It was never enforced anywhere in entirety, regardless of the repressiveness of the dominating system.

The recent reflex in the Balkans to these developments has been rage. The rage of the palanka has descended on urban liberal culture again and again. But it just strengthens the resistance. Only two decades ago, gay culture was a no-no area in the region, but today it is alive and well established.

Has Western decadence and György Soros’s money produced it? Many think so around here. In fact, it is simply a result of democratisation. Thus it is unstoppable. One does not have to be gay to understand that. All you need is brains.

The problem with the radically conservative discourse so well displayed by Hungarian Prime Minister Orban’s party, and poorly copied by a lot of other groups in this region, including Macedonia, is that it is attempting the impossible.

Evoking past values, they try to sell people a time-travel ideology, ignoring that developments in our part of the world have taken on a speed that does not allow for pseudo-romantic rhetoric: you are in or left behind, that is reality. And it is the task of politicians to steer their societies towards where the pieces of the pie are, not towards the crumbs.

Moral speeches evoking traditional values in the Balkans are often made by the same category of people who enjoy to the maximum the joy of being part of the cultural mainstream, aka turbo folk. I would really like to know where the traditional role of the woman as a mother and (house)wife are reflected in this little clip.

It seems a little bit like the stories of priests and choirboys, doesn’t it? Morality is always a thing for others, not for oneself. But let us get back to the atmosphere created in Macedonia in the last few months.

For no obvious reason, government officials started a barrage of gay bashing, of course all in the interest of traditional values like marriage, nuclear family, etc. The opposition, jumping on the train headed for Populism City, hurried to agree, stating their support for the same values.

On the respective holiday, the president of one of one opposition party went as far as to state: “We are all VMRO”. The following acts of violence are merely a footnote, merely the logical consequence.

It is up to women and the LGBT community in Macedonia to make sure their rights are not run over by the Populism City Express. And it is the duty of us all to observe, monitor and support.

It is a matter of choice for Macedonian citizens whether to take this train or not. But it is the duty of its thinkers to create alternative models and discourses to the dominant one imposed by a ruling group. It is the essence of being in opposition to create a counter-concept, and present it as an alternative to people, so they have a real choice.

But then again, reality forms itself over and over. Regardless of the word put out about a “nation in recession”, people continue to make their choices.

And for many more than we all might have thought, the choice is to leave. Patriotism is a beautiful virtue, especially looked at from afar. This has been the real plebiscite – go to where the pieces of the pie are.

Speeches full of ideological booby traps might work with a disoriented opposition, but the people usually know better what is morally best for them. They do not need politicians to tell them. What they need is an intellectual debate about values – a debate as in dialogue. As in talking to each other. Not as in trying to impose. It is simply more democratic and more sustainable.

Rather than trying to sell cheap scapegoat theories, the political, intellectual and economic elite of this country would be much better advised to find solutions to the ailing economy. “Positive recession”, as it was called, is not a solution. It is nonsense.

Vision? Go back to your kitchen…

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