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

The politician, the diplomat and the people: Macedonian foreign policy experiences

The optimism, and even the euphoria with which the peoples of Eastern Europe marked the end of the Cold War and the fall of one-party dictatorships, has vanished. It was thought that it will be difficult for communism to fall and very easy to create a democratic society, but it all turned the other way round. The international and the domestic challenges facing the countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans were huge. At the level of international society, the tide that sucked Russian power behind its borders, created a vacuum in which some thirty new states, many without state tradition, found themselves. At the level of domestic society, all these states are passing through the difficult process of change, guided by the unfamiliar principles of democracy and market economy. The challenge facing these newly created states was transition to another political and economic system with a foreign policy that would integrate them with Western democracies.

The Republic of Macedonia, one of these states that came into existence after the breakdown of the world power structure and the bloody disintegration of the Yugoslav federation, managed to achieve its independence peacefully. But, what only a few understood at that moment of national pride is the fact that independence is not the end of the struggle for freedom, but the very beginning. Namely, an honest view of ones internal order and the position of ones state in international politics, is an imperative of which stability if not survival of the state depends. The Republic of Macedonia has refused for too long to face the realities of its independent existence, which resulted in the big crisis that we are experiencing today. The crisis today forces us to make a re-evaluation of our democracy and our foreign policy.

The decade long experience was enough to assure us that the one-party system in Macedonia was not substituted by a system of institutionalised democracy, but with something that resembles many one party systems. What, in fact, are we talking about? We are talking about an order that in political theory has been named as the phenomenon of praetorianism. Understood in its wider meaning as immature modernity, this system is characterized by elements that can easily be distinguished in Macedonian politics:

  • Lack of effective political institutions capable of mediating, refining and moderating the conflicting interests of groups;
  • Direct form of confrontation of social forces;
  • Absence of a political leaders and political institutions recognized or accepted as the legitimate intermediaries to moderate group conflict;
  • Lack of agreement among groups as to the legitimate and authoritative methods for resolving conflicts.

In institutionalised democracies, as well as in the Communist system that existed in Macedonia, there is an agreement between political actors concerning procedures for resolving political disputes. Praetorianism as a political system, on the other hand, institutionalises chaos. Namely, in the absence of accepted procedures, the political scene is occupied from different forms of direct action in which political groups use those means that are available to them.

The experience of Third World countries upon which Huntington coined the phrase praetorianism back in 1968, finds its confirmation in Macedonian politics. It could be summed up as follows:

  • The praetorian way of political participation that creates chaos, is the result of the institutionalised weakness of the political system;
  • At the core of this weakness is the weak party system;
  • The weakness of the party system manifests itself in the lack of parties dedicated to the advancement of the interests of ordinary citizens;
  • Politics takes the form of a scramble for the advancement of narrow interests through control of the state, by politicising of every single issue.

As an enemy of dictatorship as well as of democracy, praetorianism

draws its strength from the weakness of the political system especially the parliamentary structures that are easy to manipulate. In addition to that, the system selects the type of personalities that are capable of coping with the chaos, in which clashes of heads, often, substitutes clashes of ideas. These, as the Macedonian praetorian experience shows are, often, persons whose loyalty has to be bought, thus corruption in the form of handing lucrative positions to the participants of the political process and their relatives is regarded as normal. In a way it is normal, since many of the party soldiers are motivated by lucrative aims when joining the party. The leaders, on the other hand, in order to keep them in the field of political battle, have to buy their loyalty.

I am trying to link the foreign policy of the Republic of Macedonia to the domestic drama of transition. Because we are not dealing with a normal democratic state that has a stable political structure based on widely accepted basic rules of the political game among the political actors and the institutions, but a praetorian system that produces chaos and decay. In the institutions of such a system, a normal dialogue on serious issues, including foreign policy ones, is absent. For example, no one has debated the fact that Macedonia as an independent state is in the category of so called quasi-states, whose sovereignty rests exclusively on the protection it gets from international law. No one has debated that Macedonia, together with Moldova, Bosnia and several states of the former Soviet Union, in Central Asia, for example, could itself go through a process of dissolution or could disappear. No one debates the fact that so long as the advantages of independence are for narrow political, intellectual or economic elites, while the citizen is worst off than prior to independence, Macedonian sovereignty is normative but not empirical. That we, in fact, are a state that has negative sovereignty and must aim its foreign policy towards aid from states with positive sovereignty. Last, but not least, that we are a state with serious problems in interethnic relations, with repercussions in the process of formulation of our foreign policy and the relations of foreigners towards us. In a word, absent is serious debate on serious issues, as is our situation.

The organic tie between the domestic and the foreign policy of the Republic of Macedonia is demonstrated in the fact that success in the process of transition legitimises the state in international relations. Thus, it is not a phrase to say that domestic policy is our best foreign policy. But, viewed with politicians eyes, that is the harder road linked to unpopular measures, while foreign policy could be a source of popularity among the people. This contradiction became visible in the first years of independence, as it is today. Namely, the foreign policy of a small state, deficient in power, demands patience, cautiousness, and efforts to understand the position of the other side. Foreign policy, viewed by a politician fighting to survive in the ruthless praetorian system of political outbidding , is a chance for quick and simple victories. Namely, foreign policy can be a compensator for difficult and politically unpopular decisions in the field of domestic economy, for example. Thus analyses in the process of making foreign policy decisions is substituted with a scramble, at a difficult period when the state is going through the arduous process of international recognition, and when it is more than ever essential that the state speaks with one voice. For the state to speak in one voice is practically impossible in a praetorian system which is characterized by a cacophony of voices that cannot be tuned through the normal process of democratic decision-making. Even in the most difficult moments of our contemporary history, in the first years after the proclamation of independence, the government and the opposition on the international scene were enemies. In the absence of consensus for the basic rules of the political game, when politics becomes an arena for a merciless fight for power and influence, foreign policy becomes a very attractive political domain. This helps explain the fact that in 1991 there was a lot of pushing on the Macedonian foreign policy scene among the seven centres of foreign policy decision making: the president of the state, the president of parliament, the president of government, the member of the presidency of the SFR of Yugoslavia, the minister of foreign affairs, the opposition and the Albanian parties. Domestic fights for power were transferred in the sphere of foreign policy, resulting in debates that transformed the parliament into a gladiator's arena where those that endured the most won. The steno grams of parliamentary secions witness foreign policy debates in a parliament of an unconsolidated state, as was and, alas, still is Macedonia.

Difficulties were, in part, objective. The weakness of the institutions was due to the fact that the state was creating its foreign ministry and its diplomacy. As a curiosity one could mention that the ministry did not have its own fax machine, while on the ministers desk came all the correspondence addressed to the ministry, including bills for electricity, water and central heating. The necessity to reorganize the executive was imposed by the tempo of events: letters had to be sent, foreign representatives had to be met, international contacts had to be made. The legislative body, on the other hand, was not exposed to such a pressure, so no change occurred in the foreign relations committee, with a staff of one employed. There was also a lack of consciousness among representatives, members of the committee, for the need to work full time on foreign policy issues in order to competently oppose or support foreign policy moves originating from the executive. Thus, practically all debates were conducted in plenary sessions, that were dominated not by those with greatest capacities of mind but of lungs. Sessions became real battlefields were enemy parties searched for problems in the solutions instead of solutions for the problems.

The praetorian state of mind, to a large extent, is characteristic of the powerful creators of public opinion in Macedonia - the intellectuals and the journalists. It is a state of mind that does not view democracy as an open process of political accommodation among numerous conflicting groups, but as a process in which ones truth has to me imposed. They, thus, become soldiers for their truth, instead of promoters of political expression and mutual respect of the different political truths that through a democratic procedure of accommodation become state policy. The lack of understanding that in a society that has proclaimed the free competition among different groups and their truths, there is no alternative to a policy of accommodation often resulted in support of old schemes of domination with the help of repression and law. This spiritual mixture of totalitarianism and nationalism, cannot absolve or affirm the new democratic processes, but helped sharpen conflicts to the point of civil war.

Absence of understanding for the new domestic realities affirmed by the system of pluralist democracy, has moved hand in hand with the absence of understanding for foreign policy realities. Macedonian understanding of international politics has not, in many cases, evolved past the positions expressed in the resolutions of the non-aligned in Belgarde (1961) and Cairo (1964), for example, that demanded that use of political and economic pressure among states be forbidden. This lesson of international politics should have been absolved in the ten years of independence - that influence of one state over another through pressure in order to create demanded behaviour means implementation of power, and that is the essence of international politics. Before speaking of legal equality of states we must have absolved the lesson that there is no way to eliminate the differences among members of international society, nor the consequences that these differences produce in their relations, while the attempt to place everything in the frame of the law is equal to the attempt to forbid reality. Yet again, the absence of the necessity to accommodate, this time in the realm of international politics, known also by the name power politics, added to the confusion over Macedonia's position in world politics. This confusion can well be illustrated by the shock among Macedonian intellectuals, journalists and politicians over the fact that a certain state or group of states condition their cooperation and aid to Macedonia with a demanded behaviour of the Macedonian state. From such misunderstanding of world politics to full-blown cynicism is only a step.

The ethnic gap in Macedonian society, politically manifested through the absence of consensus over the constitutional organization of the state, induced additional drama in domestic and international politics, these past ten years. After a failed attempt in 1991 to come to an agreement with the Albanians on a mutually acceptable constitution, Macedonian representatives in Parliament voted for the new constitution.. The model of civil society that is based exclusively on the rights of individuals, was not accepted by the largest ethnic minority group that insisted on certain collective rights. The citizen's concept made Albanians dependent on votes from Macedonians when enacting laws, including those related to their cultural identity. Due to lack of greater understanding on the side of the Macedonians for the needs of the largest minority ethnic group, this model produced conflict instead of consensus. This ten-year continuing conflict has been transferred outside the borders of the state, taking the form of a parallel foreign policy of the Albanians in Macedonia. Aiming at informing the world about their demands, it is manifested in different ways. From not participating in important state delegations or excluding the Albanian position from a joint delegation, to joining delegations of the Republic of Albania. Going to political consultations in Tirana or Prishtina, or to foreign embassies in Skopje, fills the picture of behaviour that does not happen in normal states. Namely, there is nothing worse for the foreign policy of a state then when it does not speak with one voice and in the name of all the important segments of society. Yet again, this negative feature of the foreign policy of Macedonia is the result of faults in the domestic system of democracy. Thus, the elimination of this defect in Macedonian foreign policy can be achieved through the elimination of the domestic sources of misunderstanding. The political agreement reached in Ohrid, for example, introducing consensual elements in the political system, creates preconditions for the creation of mutually accepted internal politics. This is a precondition for Macedonian foreign policy to speak in one voice. But, constitutional changes will not by themselves eliminate praetorianism and the defect it produces in the process of decision - making in Macedonia - total dedication of the political actors on mutual discreditation according to the principle who will get whom. This, together with the absence of sense that different political positions must be accommodated in state policy through an efficient democratic procedure through compromises, will continue to be a source of conflict. In fact, knowing the dominant state of mind in Macedonia, the introduction of consensual elements, will, definitely lead to new problems: problems stemming from the incapability of political representatives to yield, that will lead to paralysis of the decision-making process. Democracy, in its deepest sense, is a state of mind of people, while tolerance in the Balkans will be achieved through a long and slow process of learning.

Conditions in the sphere of foreign policy decision making is in a direct link to the development of democracy in Macedonia. Yet, two examples, one from the beginning of our independence, the other of a newer date, manifest the inability of institutions to behave in a democratic manner these past ten years. The first example is Macedonia's membership to the UN and the second is the establishment of diplomatic ties to Taiwan. In both cases, the process of decision making lacked democratic procedure, through the cooperation of the executive and the legislative and in front of the people. Even though the motives of the politicians in these two cases might be different, the fact remains that important decisions have been made behind the back of numerous participants in the political process, especially behind the back of the people, which undermines democracy. The praetorian behaviour in the process of decision-making will be abandoned in the measure that the political system democratises.

For sure, the democratisation of the political system of the Republic of Macedonia is a collective effort, with a role to play by those in the foreign policy sphere. What is their behaviour? The dominant model in theory of international politics is the rational actor model. It is a model that starts from the preposition that political representatives work on the promotion of their countries national interests. But the politician is always tempted to place his personal interest ahead of the interest of the state. The dilemma personal interest-state interests are also manifested in the foreign policy sphere, in the behaviour of the politician and the diplomat. It can be explained with the help of the dramatic actor model, pointing to the dangers that originate from the understanding of the foreign policy sphere as a scene for public performance. The decisions made in that sphere, according to the model, are not primarily to achieve something, but to improve the image of the actor in front of his audience. This model questions the validity of the concept of the rational actor in foreign policy, understood as an effort for real results in favour of the state. Instead, we have an attempt on the side of the diplomat to pretend usefulness that in the end results in personal gain for the politician or the diplomat. In its diplomatic practice, the Republic of Macedonia, among many small examples of daily greedy behaviour of politicians and diplomats, presented as a struggle for the national interests of the state, there is one outstanding example - our candidature for membership in the Security Council of the UN.

A few words in conclusion. After the dramatic months of civil war that cost us unnecessary lives and destruction of property, we have a duty to place under serious scrutiny the institutions that allowed this to happen. Civil war occurs when the normal democratic process has failed to impose order through political accommodation. Macedonian political representatives should stop wasting all their energy proving who is right, but turn to practical aims of political accommodation. In their exaltation with the state as an instrument for imposing law upon individuals, they should no forget that it is also a centre in which a process of accommodation among the participants of the political process occurs. So far as the state's diplomatic activities are concerned it must be remembered that diplomacy is not an art of proving how right one's position is, but of winning the support of the foreign counterpart. It has been said that fanatics and lawyers are the worst diplomats, and we have quite a few of them in Macedonia. Macedonia's domestic and foreign policy needs human beings with common sense, a little sceptical but ready to compromise. Above all, Macedonia needs politicians dedicated to democracy, which, even though can not guarantee good policy, is the best of all the decision making mechanisms that humanity has experienced.