Denko Maleski
Professor at Doctoral School of Political Science
Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje

Macedonia at a Crossroads

More than a decade ago, the disintegration of the federation faced the citizens of the small multiethnic republic with the historical task of governing themselves. The majority ethnic group, unable to find a common language with the minority ethnic groups, and pressed by its own nationalism, as well as by the turbulent domestic and international circumstances, marked the territory of the state as its own, proclaiming a corresponding political order. Discontented with their own constitutional position, the members of the minority ethnic groups rebel. The central government sends troops to suppress the mutiny. However, the members of the minority ethnic group call for help from their relatives on the other side of the border – a neighbouring state in which they are the dominant nation. The latter ones, in an agreement with one of the great powers, intervene militarily in the affairs of the small multiethnic republic. Disturbing thus the internal balance of forces, this coalition of domestic and international interests procures a different political arrangement of the state. This arrangement imposes a division of power between the divided, now already territorially as well, ethnic communities of the small multiethnic republic.

No, this is not the case of Macedonia. This, in short, is the story of Moldavia, a state on the other side of Europe. The majority population is Romanian; the minorities are Ukrainian, Russian, Gagaut and Bulgarian; and the great power is Russia. Of course, the similarity with Macedonia is purposeful. My purpose is to bring under suspicion the stereotype saying that nowhere and no one in the world goes through what Macedonia has been through. In fact, the practice of the other multiethnic societies, in Europe, Asia or Africa, shows the very opposite. Namely, that in different variants and with different political players, the anguishes of multiethnic societies in the world are astonishingly similar. The sooner we realize this, the faster we will escape the massive apathy that has engulfed ethnic Macedonians. This apathy is, to a great extent, a domestic product of a spiritual inability spread by politicians, intellectuals and journalists, who, in an attempt to win easy points and popularity among the people of their nation, transfer the guilt for the “situation” on some demonic forces that have infuriated on Macedonia. This state of the spirit, which, by the way, relieves its promoters from the obligation to consider difficult and unpopular solutions, is dangerous for our future. Namely, the intellectual paralysis that it spreads does not permit us to realistically face the difficult sides of political life of an ethnically fragmented society, such as the Macedonian one, to get ready and look for political solutions in the domain of the possible.

The realization of the Ohrid Framework Agreement is, above all, in the interests of ethnic Macedonians, because, with its implementation, Macedonia, as a state, is given the chance to survive. This non-perfect, quick solution to the crisis in the country, brought under international pressure, saved the country from wide-ranging civil war. What, shortly, does this document contain? For the purpose of successful ruling of a joint state, the Framework Agreement imposes the personnel composition of the state institutions to reflect the ethnic composition of the Macedonian society. This document includes consensual elements in the political system in decision-making for issues related to the cultural identity of the Albanians in Macedonia, together with numerous rights in the domain of local self-government. The traditional power spheres, that which is called “high politics” in theory, such as finance, defence or foreign affairs, remain in the domain of the majority decision-making. The essential idea of this whole political project, initiated by our future allies in EU and NATO, is to retain the unity and the territorial integrity of Macedonia. After the nationalistic madness that dominated in the country, in which such notorious things remained beyond the grasp of most minds, today, ever more frequently, people wonder whether there had to be a war in Macedonia for this?

The answer to the question whether a crisis was necessary in order to find solutions to the problems in a society is required by other nations as well. Unfortunately, it seems that in the evolution of societies, crises are very often inevitable. America, a state with a powerful democratic potential reflected in many free-minded people, could not avoid the crisis in the 1960s. Projects focused on the integration of the black population, through reforms proposed by the liberal minds of the country, had to wait for events to show how right they were, and society had to pay the price for its own ignorance before they were implemented in practice. Because only after America sank into the hatred of racial unrest, in which some distinguished leaders of the democratic movement lost their lives, and only after the people learned the bitter lesson of mutual intolerance, did the country reject the policy of segregation in favour of that of integration. It will be remembered that the non-integrated black population, composing not more than 10% of the total population, shook at its very foundations the most powerful state on this planet. Another big country – Russia – has been going through similar experiences in the last years. Understanding the message from the crisis in Chechnya, that there is no force that can get under control feelings linked to the identity of the different small nationalities of the Russian Federation, Jelcin suggested to the ethnic groups a solution of the problems: Take as much autonomy as you are able to bear without jeopardizing the territorial integrity of the state.

How can we in Macedonia get rid of the numerous stereotypes that block our mind and action? For a whole decade the SDSM, a political party which should lead Macedonia for the next four years, was a prisoner of its own dogmatism hidden behind the veil of the modern concept one man – one voice, or the so-called civil concept. Even more than that, this party was a prisoner of the classic Macedonian nationalism of the opposition VMRO articulated through the sentence directed towards Albanians: This is Macedonia, Albania is there. Since neither the one nor the other concept solved the problems of the identity and the political status of the largest ethnic minority, life took its own course – towards civil war. In the past decade VMRO imposed a political game, according to which unyielding to the Albanians was proof of who was a greater Macedonian. Since there is nothing easier in politics than playing with people’s emotions, politicians have difficulties resisting exploiting them for their own gain. And they did it abundantly throughout the whole Macedonian political spectrum. There are periods in the lives of states, such as the one we have being going through during the last decade, when the emotionally agitated population is not in a condition to peacefully and rationally lead a political debate from its beginning to its end. These are turbulent times, when people become prisoners of politicians, intellectuals and journalists, who give the impression that they even go to sleep with their boots on. The tax that we the ethnic Macedonians paid during such times is political sidelining of a whole generation of Albanians with whom we used to go to school or to the faculty. The process of deepening the interethnic divide in the last decade is symbolically manifested today in the fact that SDSM is forming a government with an Albanian political leader who doesn’t speak Macedonian.

Until when will the spirit of nationalism rule in Macedonia? Searching for an answer in others’ experiences, I noticed that the religious slaughters in Western Europe during previous centuries stopped when the people got tired of such nonsense and directed their energy toward brighter things. One gets the impression this is happening these days with the citizens in Macedonia. It is possible that the result of the elections in Macedonia shows that the political monopoly on the minds and souls of the people, who imposed nationalism ten years ago, has been eradicated. At the recent elections, the nationalists from both sides of the ethnic divide played once more on the well-known nationalistic card. On the one hand, VMRO were looking for the culprit for the peace (?), while on the other, DPA reached for the fallen flag of radicalism. The people, however, did not react this time. Because, as the saying goes, you can lie to some people all of the time, you can lie to all people for some of the time, but you cannot lie to all the people all of the time. So, where is the lie? In Macedonia, nationalism is a dangerous lie! In fact, it is a lie in all ethnically complex societies, in the sense that it is not in a position to talk for a member of the other nation. Nationalism thinks, works and talks only for itself. That, on the other hand, does not reflect the ethnically complex reality, which compels coexistence or non-existence. The people in Ireland can be as nationalistically inclined as much as they wish. Ireland is surrounded by fish, and it can discard them. We, in the Balkans, cannot permit ourselves that luxury. The geography and the ethnic composition warn that the nationalistic exclusiveness is the surest recipe for war. Hence the need for mutual understanding, tolerance and moderation. Those who have accommodated their behaviour to these indisputable facts of life are the true heroes of our time. They are people who have nothing at all against their nation, but have a lot against their nationalism. The people chose. Now it is the turn of the politicians from the authorities, but also from the opposition, to work in the direction of creating a normal European state. And to discover the secret of civilized political life, which will surmount the inevitable Macedonian crises of the future in a peaceful way – the secret of accommodation.