Photo: Martin Anastasovski (left) with a man he bumped into in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, who turned out to be a penniless Syrian refugee on his way to Vienna. Martin gave the man some money to pay for his bus ticket to the Serbian border.
VIEW FROM THE SKOPJE STREET - Protestor tells
by Sasha Uzunov
TEAM UZUNOV, in trying to offer a wide variety of voices over the political crisis in Macedonia, speaks to a Macedonian man, Martin Anastasovski, and ask why is he protesting.
Question 1: Why are you protesting?
Martin Anastasovski: I went out to protest because i feel that this government can't bring the kind of change our country needs to prosper. This government had a historic chance to improve the image of Macedonia for its own people and to take the country to the next level, but it fell into the trappings that come with power and popularity. The government had plenty of resources at its disposal to bring the Macedonian society up to speed with the European norm in terms of healthcare, education, culture, civic life, social development, business, etc. There are too many examples which demonstrate that the people who run the country never had the right idea how things should be done. Nepotism and political cronyism played a big role in that. You can't have good results across the board unless you have the best people in each area of governance. All these years the government thought it can maintain good public support through public relation stunts, but Macedonians have learned to tell apart substance from triviality. The taped conversations simply enabled the public to hear some politicians think and why the country has sunk this low.
Question 2: What is your prognosis for the future if SDSM came to power? What advice would you give to either SDSM or VMRO-DPMNE was given another mandate?
Martin Anastasovski: This is the most complicated political situation in Macedonian history. If or when SDSM comes to power, they will spend lots of time and energy on purging government bodies and ministries of VMRO-DPMNE party cadre. That is almost a given, but because the administration now employs more people than ever before, that process will be painstaking and tiresome and will put the country into a gridlock for months. After being in opposition for more than a decade, SDSM will need time to get a grip on things. But the burning question is what is going to happen to the people who are implicated in the recorded conversations? The civic opposition wants them prosecuted so that something like this can never happen to Macedonia again, but it will set a precedent. There are many people who suffered under SDSM when state companies were being privatized, so they will seek their own justice, they will want to prosecute other public figures who are now faded in the background.
The only advice is for us to have a process of national reconciliation. This disruption is a rare chance to start with a clean slate. The public has to come to a deeper, broader understanding of what has been going on. We have to leave out all speculations about some purported dark forces from outside controlling everything that is going on in the country. We have to realize that it has been us all along. Macedonians in the ethnic and national sense have brought and acted on decisions which have landed the country in a ditch. I am not saying that we exist in a geopolitical vacuum, but we have our own state which enables people to make good decisions. In great part, we are where we are because people have made very poor decisions at the local and national levels, at every imaginable level of the hierarchy of decision-making. This is the result of having weak institutions. No Macedonian government has ever encouraged independent thinking and doing in the institutions of the Government. We as a society have enabled a culture that allows politicians to be off limits, virtually untouchable. To reconcile means to understand and to accept that our collective mentality is the product of fear, greed and impunity and that public servants and decision-makers never had any better examples to follow. This is not going to erase from our collective memory what we already know about this government, but we have to start somewhere. Please don’t get me wrong, there is and there will be chaos in the period to come, but at the same time we have to generate an opposite polarity that will be rational and that will pull the nation towards a safer place from where we can contemplate a better future for Macedonia. In the meantime, people should ask themselves, “can we forgive them in order to save ourselves?”
Question 3: Your thoughts on Macedonia’s name and possible federalisation?
Martin Anastasovski: The dignity of the Macedonian people rests on the name Macedonia and this is deeply rooted to the suffering of its people, the fight for freedom and human rights. This is the main argument in defense of us preserving our name. The European Union, however, doesn’t like to hear about the suffering of any nation because their countries have either caused suffering to others or their own nations have suffered under various circumstances. We are not going to get any sympathy and to an extent that is good, because sympathy will cause the nation to become entrenched in a victim’s mentality as it has been the case especially since 2008. We shouldn’t want to see the world from the position of a victim. Instead we should make steps in proving that this is a country worth in and of itself. We should build up our human capacity and be proactive in the ways in which we interact with other countries. Unfortunately, the protracted political situation doesn’t give me too much hope to think that we will change in a way that is going to bring out the best of us. But let’s keep an open mind. In the meantime, the “name issue” and Macedonia becoming part of NATO rests on the scope of understanding and the amount of patience among decision-makers abroad. This is contingent on the currents of geopolitics and for that very reason Macedonia needs to look beyond party politics. The topic of federalization demands broader analysis. The Albanian factor pressing for federalization is tied to Macedonia becoming part of the EU and NATO and the state of politics within the country. The general impression is that people are “stuck” within a political context that puts limits on development and prosperity. On the other hand Macedonians have to have a country that is wholesome and the state must preserve its sovereignty, while at the same time adapting to the changing realities.
Question 4: There was some vandalism of Macedonian monuments by protestors. Were you alarmed? (see link)
Martin Anastasovski: On the second day of the protest a rather large mass of people gathered in front of the Sobranie [Parliament]. You could tell that people came on their own will because there was a positive atmosphere, you could feel the excitement in the air. I was feeling optimistic that the protest will gain momentum, increase in numbers and raise the awareness of the Macedonian public. When people began to throw eggs and paint at the triumphal arch my mood soured. But I kept an open mind, thinking this is going to be the only building or monument that takes some heat, simply because it is a sore spot, completely out of place, despised by too many people. The next day the protesters were pelting the arch again, threw paint, scribbled graffiti on it and this is where I knew that some people are hell-bent on vandalizing the Skopje 2014 project, which includes monuments that are of sentimental value to me personally and to many people in Macedonia and abroad. Because of a group of selfish people, the protest sent all the wrong messages to the general public in Macedonia and the world. I visited the protest few times since, as an observer, and I didn’t feel the same enthusiasm from within. I imagined it would become a vehicle that will take Macedonia to the next level, but it didn’t because there is too much aggression in it and too little genuine care for the country as a whole. If the protest becomes more inclusive I will be happy to join again.
Question 5: Macedonian society is a divided along strong political party lines now, how can the people be unified?
Martin Anastasovski: Unity is an abstract idea. A nation cannot be “united” because that would imply that people don’t have an opinion on critical issues which their lives depend on within the shared living space. Macedonians think that the nation is disunited and that depresses a lot of people. But it shouldn’t be so. The histories of many nations are marked by competing factions. Competition yields the best ideas that resolute individuals pick up on and bring into practice. This is where we need to reflect on Goce Delchev’s famous thought in which he gives the attribute “cultured” (with which he means fair) to the word “competition”: Kulturen natprevar. He had figured out one of the preconditions for a better society. That being said, at their best, nations can enjoy a period of time in which most of the people agree on an important issue or on a certain way of life. In Macedonia, we need to have a cultured competition between perceptions, opinions and ideas.
However, I am not convinced that the political class of the day is capable for that level of discourse. It seems that politicians are not politically practical and don’t compete for the sake of competition. In the current political divide they have to disgrace their opponent and annul their views as either outlandish (in respect to society) or venomous (to the state). In my view Macedonia may come to enjoy a period in which most people agree with one another on important issues, when there will appear dissenters within the political parties who are going to criticize the perceptions, opinions, ideas and actions in their own party. This has to be done publically through the media, by writing op-ed pieces or by appearing in talk shows so that the people emerge out of the black or white world of party politics. Respectable social and political commentators will need to take the responsibility of putting into perspective the essential points that may arise out of this criticism, that are relevant to the country’s wellbeing and progress. I think the National public radio and television service need to take the lead and to finally start serving the public’s interest.
If there isn’t dissent within the parties it would mean that that neither party has the internal democratic capacity that should be publically recognized as a prerequisite that is needed for competing in national politics. Political parties must present their core beliefs to the constituents. Otherwise, how would we know on what ideological and theoretical basis they will organize and manage the development of our society? What are the economic/existential principles in whose light they will present solutions to the problems that challenge the livelihoods of people?
Question 6: Was Macedonian President George Ivanov correct in giving an unprecedented 56 pre-emptive pardons?
Martin Anastasovski: The opposition claims this was VMRO’s move and was intended to ignite a crisis that will prolong a looming moment of truth for them. Others think Ivanov’s objective was to “even-out” the playing field so that SDSM participates in the elections, to supposedly appease the opposition by pardoning its leader. There are many legal issues that render the pardons unconstitutional. The President never stated what charges the individuals are relieved of. Macedonian politics have become a gladiator arena, a fight to the death. This is not about the people anymore, it is about the ambitions and fears of political factions and their clients/partners. Macedonia doesn’t have an influential political practitioner, precisely the one who is in the role of President, who will use his or her authority to arbitrate between good and bad decisions in the political arena. The pardons didn’t resolve the political crisis, but deepened it even further. The planned talks in Vienna did not take place and the elections are not going to happen. In light of how complicated the situation is, Macedonia needs a national dialogue and a healthy, non-violent protest in which all Macedonians will participate.