This article originally appeared on 30 April in BalkanInsight
When a politician announces to unequivocally retire, an entire salt mine usually needs to be employed for that statement.
Nevertheless, in the case of Macedonia’s opposition leader Branko Crvenkovski this might even be a true announcement. Or rather, it better be.
Macedonia is finding itself at the end of an era. With Crvenkovski retiring, the last of the relevant transition politicians would leave the scene. There are a number of others still around, but they could not survive a second without their patrons.
Let us forget them for now, for the sakes of argumentation. Justice should not forget them. But that is another story.
The end of an era also means the possible beginning of another one. Alternatively, there is the opportunity of being stuck in Purgatory, a never-ending transition to itself.
The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) will undoubtedly undergo some changes, hopefully drastic and deep. It might live up to the task of becoming again a real social-democratic party, which takes its programme seriously and which puts itself into the service of the citizens. If not, it will fail.
And this might be seen as good or bad by different analysts, but it will change the political set-up of the country, it will upset the balance. And the first steps are being undertaken to fill that gap and reset the balance with more of the same, new parties led by the same old characters. This is not what Macedonia needs.
Today, Macedonia is paying the price for the crimes committed at the country’s very birth. From the onset, the system was based on fraud and on plain theft. That not only created fake politicians, but also a cast of more or less untouchable businessmen (the very few women among them included).
Today’s unprecedented power-grab and almost pathological need to control every corner of society is a direct consequence of the initial setting. It is not the methods that surprise most, it is just the almost religious commitment and cold-bloodedness that characterises today’s players. It is after all a younger generation, one that was formed in the dirty nineties.
Two sides of the same medal. And if we add the ethnic dimension to it, there is the third side to the same medal, i.e. a group that has perfected and developed the methods used by its predecessors in the nineties, thus making them politically irrelevant.
The question is where all this leads to. European integration has become a carrot too weak to be mentioned, and the stick has long withered away. And anyway, the EU’s approach is about institutions.
How these are supposed to work in a dysfunctional society and a highly distorted political environment is an answer that those standing behind the EU enlargement philosophy still owe us.
The socio-political cul-de-sac is more than obvious. Macedonia is stagnating or even regressing when it comes to a lot of democratic values, while progress on the EU enlargement agenda has been slowing down or cosmetically treated.
The current political setup is neither capable nor willing to address real strategic questions of importance to the internal cohesion of the society and ultimately the country.
On the contrary, the recent local elections saw the farce of ethnic coalitions between political enemies and instrumentalisation or rather misuse of diaspora voters in the name of ethnic ownership of territories.
What Macedonia’s society needs is a real alternative to the dominating politicianism that has kept it hostage for more than two decades now. What it needs is a shift in bias and an over-haul of metaphors, ultimately leading to a different political practice.
The bias needs to move away from those aiming at controlling society, away from patrons with delusions of immortality, from those who impose a continuity of diversions to disguise the fact that they need the institutionalised crisis to strive.
What is needed is a shift in bias towards the citizens, those whose individual rights are stepped upon in everyday practice, while their ethnic group rights are invoked as an excuse.
The tribe has to survive, the individual doesn’t really count is a logic that needs to be broken. And in both larger parallel societies in Macedonia, there is a lot of work to do to that end.
A shift in metaphors is equally important. This will mean moving away from an ethnically oriented, national understanding of culture and education to a more sophisticated vision based not on dreams and illusions, but on reality and on how this reality needs to be shaped.
It will have to take into account that life is happening more and more in somewhat urban conglomerations, and that the rural ideal propagated by much of traditional culture has little to do with it. Answers will have to be found to this hybrid live-style, not rural, but not yet urban, unless the turbo-folkisation of the entire society is that answer.
This shift will have to come from the very guts of society. A citizen-centred movement, real and honest, born from within society and borne by its citizens is the only answer.
A different way of addressing social and economic issues, a new discourse is needed, a discourse that is not limiting itself to replying and reacting to the power structures’ divertive creativity, but one that creates its own reality. There can be no greater provocation for power structures that to ignore them.
A state is not a company, citizens are not employees of that company. But exactly these citizens need to understand that. And this is the real role of civil society at this moment in Macedonia’s reality: to make this alternative discourse visible and understandable to the citizens. To take this discourse to them and let them develop it.
Clusters of civil awareness exist. But unfortunately the vast majority of civil society is participating in the all-over societal corruption and it will take some effort to move away from that situation. The more people start to define areas in which the dominating discourse is liberty, the more this can contribute to the shift needed.
A window of opportunity has opened, an opportunity to shift paradigms. Those who are standing in line to give their signatures for Branko Crvenkovski’s stay at the party’s leadership do not see it.
Those who think that a new party led by more of that same type of politicians will induce that change are misled. And those who need SDSM alive but in agony are cynical and powerful. It is up to the citizens to seize the opportunity.
Tomorrow is the 1st May, the day when the left lies at everybody and at itself. Wouldn’t it be great to unclutter this day of its ideological rubbish and have it mark the day when liberty started its come back to Macedonia? It would, and I am not naïve enough to think it will actually happen. But the opportunity is there. A pity if it were wasted.