Bureaucracy will eat the state

Erol Rizaov

These past few days, when I read that Macedonia has about 100,000 people in the state administration, more than twice since the beginning of independence, the first person that came to my mind was Professor Dimce Koco, who taught me about art history 50 years ago, and then Janez Jansa, the former Slovenian prime minister. I think that the two of them best explained to the ordinary mortals the difference between the state bureaucracy and the modern European administration. I will share with you these beautiful and instructive stories.

The legendary Professor Dimce Koco, who spoke to us about the great world painters with an unrepeatable language, atypical for our university professors, for example, portrayed us wonderfully why Sandro Botticelli painted beautiful women, and not the bald head of his friend and colleague Ljuben Lape. So, one day after showing us a painting of an obviously crazy man in hospital pajamas, he asked us to think about whose that painting is, but to respond later. It was the introduction to the teaching how the realistic transformed into abstract art, but also in life.

“I’m went to get a passport, I could barely find the counter”, the professor started the story. “Even though I am a small man, I had to bend a bit and glimpse through a small window, those who are taller must bend a lot more. Suddenly, there was a card behind this glass, and I couldn’t ask anything. I wandered around, and in the end, I decided to move that paper. And, I saw a mouth chewing, and a hand holding burek. Excuse me, I said, are passport documents being submitted here? Hey, you idiot, said the man behind the paper sign, whose mouth I could see chewing and spitting while talking, can’t you see that the sign says ‘Break between 9:30-10h”, I cannot have my breakfast in peace because of you, and bam! – He put the paper back up. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I was so ashamed that I left very quickly. However, I had to travel, so I used a little slyness and asked for some help from a good man, a colleague who has connections to the city committee of the communists. They called me right away, telling me to go back to the passport service the next morning at 9:30. Please, I said, don’t make me go back at 9:30 during their break, people are having breakfast. Don’t worry, professor, you just go and introduce yourself. And there I was, back before the small window, before my morning class. The paper is still there, the window is covered. I didn’t remove it this time, I just knocked and I saw the same chewing mouth. Excuse me, I said, my name is Dimce Koco, they said that… I didn’t finish my sentence, when the man came out a door, still chewing and said: Please professor, why are you waiting at the window, go straight to the head of the department, he is waiting for you, and then he send me to the head’s office. By the time we finished our coffees, and by the time he told me about the great difficulties and problems his employees in the department have, him especially – I got my new passport. Hurray.

And now, let’s see who knows the author of this work of art. No one knows. Well, it’s normal not to know. This is a painting by Pablo Picasso. He all yelled “Nooo, professor, he can’t be… “Why not?”, asked Koco… Well, this has nothing to do with Picasso’s paintings, this is pure realism, it’s like a photograph. Yes, yes, realism, but young Picasso made paintings that were not Cubist. You see the difference now, don’t you, but I want to tell you one thing, with which many painters and sculptors don’t agree. Only the artist that succeeded in transforming the realistic into abstract has the right to abstract art. If not, the abstract then would be just a lie, a fraud. The man chewing on burek was a real bureaucrat the first day, and the next day he was the same person, but scared, after he heard who I was and who sent me, his transformation became pure abstract, which he could not stand. Remember kids, the professor said, the big changes and reforms that are constantly mentioned by politicians will begin when you won’t bend down to the small window at the counters, and there will be no breaks, just proper service. If bureaucracy doesn’t eat the state like the female mantis eats the male.

Forty years later, the Slovenian Prime Minister explained to me the importance of the modern administration for relations with Brussels, and how difficult it is to build a good administrative state apparatus that will satisfy the needs of both citizens and state. Slovenia, with two million citizens, must not have more than 70,000 people in the state administration, but the misfortune is not so much in the number, but in the qualifications of the employees, the knowledge of the issues, the knowledge of the world languages, better manners in communication with the citizens and with the institutions of EU. This means that the rather radical structure of the existing administration needs to be changed, and that new staff should be educated, trained, and to be well paid. It burdens the budget by I don’t know how many millions of euros, and when it comes to citizens’ money, things are becoming very sensitive in Slovenia, where there is great resistance to the administration because nine times more people work outside the state administration, which is supported by their money.

Dozens, sometimes hundreds of notices and messages arrive from Brussels each day, various questions and obligations that need to be answered quickly. They all arrive at the website and are then distributed to the authorized sectors and officers. This intensive communication is not possible without a well-trained and expert administration, on which the EU very seriously and strongly insists.

Now, my dear ones, can anyone tell the formula how Macedonia will manage to first preserve the good and trained few staff members in the administration when each government replaces and degrades them. Secondly, at least 50,000 people of those employed in the state administration will be dismissed, and then hire new, well-trained 20,000 experts in their place. This, seen from today’s angle, is an impossible mission in Macedonia. But if we take into consideration the fact that without a good and professional administration which, among other things, is a product of the rule of law, and is not politicized and servile towards the guilty and political officials, then, it becomes clear how right professor Koco and Mr. Jansa were actually. Only the budget hole made from the wasted money of the pension funds and salaries of the administration is two thirds of the state treasury. Ah, that Europe that tortures us and forces us to be better, if we ever be.