This article originally appeared on 15 April in BalkanInsight
I would for once love to be able to write about the late, but hopefully final arrival of spring in Skopje, about the city’s Japanese cherry trees being in full bloom, about the magnolia promising all the delight that comes with the awakening of the body and spirit.
But then again, this is Skopje. You cannot have an unpolluted look at the Japanese cherry trees – construction fences and the humming noise of trucks and excavators are the overlaying and acoustically dominant elements. You cannot really enjoy magnolia flowers when they are covered in thick layers of construction dust.
The city is and has been for a while now subjected to a construction frenzy only comparable to post-cataclysmic places, where speed is needed to create housing for those affected. Not so here. The cataclysm is created by the construction frenzy. It is an architectonic and environmental cataclysm. Both have already been described at length, so I won’t bother here.
What is astonishing in this possibly most surreal situation I have ever lived in is the mental cataclysm that has hit the Macedonian society. It looks to me like sitting in a cinema watching the deer that is stunned by the pair of head-lights approaching it. Deep down inside it must know that this is bad, but it cannot move. We, the authoritative audience, know that the deer will die, but we are in a cinema. There is no possible way to warn the deer, other than becoming part of the narration. And that is not something that the script writer has foreseen. But the director might still want to – no, no. It is not possible. Full stop.
Last week, Macedonia prepared a triumphal and triumphant welcome to its returning hero. No, it was not someone who earned glory in athletics, or in some science competition. It was not one of the hundreds, if not thousands of highly qualified Macedonian citizens, who achieve big things in their fields of work and research all over the world. It was not one of the many Macedonian artists living, working and succeeding abroad because the conditions at home are substandard.
None of that. Of all possible categories of people it had to be a war criminal. The only person convicted by the ICTY, a person found guilty of the summary execution of people was welcomed home like a hero, after having served eight years of prison. He was given state honours, he was picked up at the airport by half the government, was received by the president of the state, was offered a concert on the city square. 250 buses were made available throughout the country, paid from tax payers’ money, to transport people for free to the airport and to the concert.
To make it even more surreal, his man was received by the same people who agreed in a political coup and in blatant disregard of international conventions not to open the five cases of alleged war crimes that had been returned to them by the ICTY, thus allowing the alleged perpetrators of atrocities committed by the UCK in 2001 to continue to enjoy their political privileges.
And the reaction? A newspaper column here and there, virtual eyebrows going up. Silence. A society has stopped acting. A society has stopped. A society?
This act of cynical disregard of basic human values can just happen without creating an uproar, few days after the end of a local election, which in internationally accepted euphemisms were called “highly competitive”. Is it possible that all energy was swallowed up by the “competitiveness” in the electoral process?
Or is it rather that there is no real political win in opposing this act, in holding up human values? It is not related to the control of any specific municipality, it is not related to securing a clientele. No profit, no action, right?
Macedonia’s opposition has again stopped to exist, after the recent devastating defeat in the local elections. Maybe, just maybe this is the real situation it is in. And maybe, just maybe it is time to give it a wake-up call. Just maybe.
But then again, maybe it is much more comfortable to sit back in the cinema seat, dive into the XXL package of popcorn, tale a slurp of soda, and watch the car hit the deer. After, the film critic will detect a major hole in the script: instead of being actors or at least extras in the deer and car drama, Macedonia’s actual and potential opposition leaders were sitting in the cinema, writing text messages. When the lights went on and the doors opened, I felt the frowsty breeze of history. A history of missed opportunities.
Vision? You smell…