AIM: start

SUN, 30 DEC 2001 00:56:34 GMT

The Years of Political Destruction

AIM Skopje, December 21, 2001

My reason for writing this article is quite simple: colleagues from the culture section of a local newspaper asked me to make a list of the most important cultural events in Macedonia in 2001. The war in Macedonia was certainly the most important event there, which made all others pale in comparison. But despite it, life goes on, and people are attending concerts, organizing various exhibitions, watching plays and publishing books.

But it takes an extremely uncultured and inhumane person to debate cultural and democratic attainments in a country such as Macedonia, in which ten years of efforts to build democracy ended in firefights and shelling, accompanied with the threat that Macedonia would become a graveyard of centuries of multiculturalism and coexistence of various ethnic groups. Simply speaking, the year 2001 has very convincingly shown that a decade long race between wisdom and petty and mad politicians was finally won by sowers of ethnic intolerance, advocates of ethnic stereotypes and promoters of the primitive view that any different ethnic, cultural and religious background is foreign and ought to be destroyed. This has shown once more that democracy in the Balkans is but a worn-out phrase, which, like the brotherhood and unity of the former, socialist period is but a cover for destruction, and that personal competence, morals and ethics are nothing compared to party loyalty, destruction and crime as a means to rise through the ranks, reaching political and financial power.

The 2001 cultural and political scene can be described in a few words: fire, blood, ruins and tears. February brought unrest in Tanusevci, a village of some 100 homes near Skopje, when groups of rebel ethnic Albanians clashed with Macedonian security forces. The clashes opened a media debate in which domestic political, cultural and other elites strived to prove that this was aggression, terrorism or pan-Albanian rebellion. And while some said the problem was linguistic in nature, some in the media praised the "defenders of the homeland," others still took to purchasing helicopters, fighter jets and other arms only to later determine that war was profitable for precisely this type of "patriot" -- arms dealers who made themselves and their families and friends rich, such as former defense minister Paunovski, who is charged with having embezzled over DM10 million. 2001 ended with the population being informed that the state coffers were empty, that whoever wanted to had taken from it, and that salvation was expected from a donors' conference, but which hinged on conditions set by international institutions that had not been met, among them the passage of legislation on local self-government.

The year 2001 also ended with Macedonia "overhauling" its constitution as a result of the Ohrid peace agreement signed in August by the leaders of four major parties under international pressure. That is to say that the year began with war and is ending with hope that a key to institutionalizing peace has been found, that a new legal framework is there, which should lead to a multiethnic future in conditions where the writing of two parallel histories -- one by ethnic Macedonians and the other by ethnic Albanians -- is already well underway. In glorifying their respective heroes, both of them forget that such parallel histories are making Macedonia's future more bleak. No one knows what Macedonian society will look like with this burden of duality in interpreting one and the same events, especially when they mostly have to do with ethnicity and religion.

Each singing about their respective glory, the media seem to have excluded every chance of living together, as if not capable of understanding that the country's fate depends on whether a formula for reconciling the "victors" and the "losers" will be found. The media, of course, do not even agree on the number of victims, because each side is counting only its fallen. Some even go as far as not to include among them the murdered children and elderly of the other group. Maybe the time has come for someone in Macedonia to put together this tragic and sorrowful list of people who will not see any future in their homeland. The list should include 63 dead Macedonian security forces members, 64 NLA fighters, over one hundred civilians: Latife Saliu and her two daughters, Jehona, 13, and Agrone, 16, who were killed in the Tetovo village of Poroj, and other four killed on July 23 alone, victims from the village of Slupcane, near Kumanovo, who died in bombing by Macedonian helicopters, and, among them, six members of the Zymberi family: Selvije, 35, Suzana, 22, Neale, 17, Jonuz, 18, Mersim, 8, Isnije, 4...

These diametrically opposed truths which are marking the end of 2001 raise little hope that the country will have enough political strength to establish multiethnic institutions to serve the people instead of political parties and their petty games from which only their leaders can profit. In this it should not be forgotten that over the past decade international institutions have invested over DM500,000 in Macedonia only to have all this assistance result in economic collapse, mono-ethnic institutions and -- war! The democratic world donated its taxpayers' money to support non-government organizations, "independent" media and government institutions only to have them ultimately reveal their true, chauvinist nature. Assistance served them so that during the several months of conflict they could spread intolerance and draw their maps of hatred, and after the first shots were fired could side with their respective "ethnic" interests, forgetting such things as facts, justice and humanity, as if a tear shed by a child is less sorrowful and worthy if the child belongs to the "other" ethnic or religious group.

After ten years in which the political elites kept feeding the people glorious history and trifling bickering, 2001 came as a tax collector to find out that Macedonia itself had fallen victim to political destruction. All that happened in 2001 was due to "turbo" capitalism in which the most profitable business earned the title of "Mr. 10 Percent." Such "businesspeople" used, and even fostered, ethnic and religious intolerance only to cover up their true "democratic activities."

At the beginning of 2001 there was a huge number of those who put on generals' uniforms and called on the government to use all the police and military and enter all ethnic Albanian villages to restore the Macedonian flag as soon as possible. At the end of 2001 NATO patrols are helping local police to return to villages where the Macedonian government had no control for a full year. Many have asked if the fighting could have been avoided and who failed in reaching the right conclusions in regard to the true ethnic conditions. In all this one thing is certain: this quite small territory has become a dump of political diletantism and annihilation, which could have laid waste to an entire empire let alone a state of Macedonia's size. And in such conditions the people could not perceive that this was not a clash of religions and different ethnicities, but of people who had found an excuse for their selfishness. For a whole decade they wouldn't let Macedonia lay foundations for a multiethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-confessional state, insisting instead that it should be shaped by only one, the most numerous ethnic group.

In short, the year 2001 for Macedonia began with the threat of bloody civil war, and ended in economic catastrophe, with hundreds of killed, several hundred wounded, dozens of missing, about 10,000 razed homes, many churches and mosques destroyed and burned to the ground, even in places where there was no fighting (such as the mosques in Prilep and Bitolj), broken friendships, disappearance of what little was left of ethnic trust, and almost no bridges to multi-cultural cooperation. So the country went back to square one, as if nothing had ever been built in the past, as if its people had never lived together and shared many things for centuries. And now the question is: what next?

But despite all the confusion and lack of hope, the burden of ethnic distrust and many fresh wounds the country must go forward. Even if different ethnic groups are not sufficiently motivated to cooperate, they have to share the same territory. And now when politicians have decided to apply the Ohrid peace agreement, cultural, scientific and other elites in Macedonia will have to decontaminate it of too strong doses of historic and national romanticism, and let the Internet Age prevail. The concept of an era in which the birth of nations was closely tied to the creation of states is obsolete in this time of globalization in which neither national sovereignty nor integrity are perceived as they used to be in the 19th century.

This is to say that dilemmas Macedonian citizens are facing at the end of 2001 are not as complex as it appears at first glance. It boils down to whether they would live in the past or would rather catch up with the future. And this would suffice for the time being, because the future of the entire Balkans, not only Macedonia, is quite uncertain. What will happen does not depend on the current political elites but on the coming generation of politicians that has yet to emerge, capable of building new bridges of cooperation over the ruins left in the wake of the ethnic, cultural and religious clashes and misunderstandings of our times. They need to be strong enough not to collapse immediately when challenged by frustration, misunderstanding, bias and intolerance, as happened in Macedonia in 2001.

Kim Mehmeti