To be or not to be

To be or not to be
Aleksandar Krzalovski

The title is "borrowed" from Shakespeare's Hamlet, and its most famous phrase "To be or not to be", which reflects a great dilemma and a moment of decision that must be brought. The inspiration for the title is, of course, the situation in which our entire country is this week, especially the 120 MPs in the Assembly, who are responsible for deciding on the adoption of constitutional changes. The dilemma lying before them is very clear and can be reduced to a vote to change the name of the country (in the Republic of North Macedonia) in addition to several other more or less important things in the Constitution - or not. The main argument for such a vote is opening the way to the expected membership in NATO and the European Union, as was stated in the referendum question.

From the current developments (from the negotiations on the Prespa Agreement itself, its signing, referendum, voting on October 19 to start the procedure for constitutional changes), it can be concluded that the decision should be adopted today, that is, the constitutional changes with voting "in favour" by probably exactly 80 MPs, or one or two votes more.  It is expected that this will not be left to chance, that is, as on October 19, the vote itself will be postponed until it is certain that at least 80 lawmakers will vote "in favour". In that sense, for me there is no dilemma that the constitutional amendments will be passed and the name changed, it is only a matter of whether it will be immediately or it will take another day, with an additional drama, which, for example, is being done by the lawmakers from Besa these days.

I think that there is no dilemma among the majority of the lawmakers as well. About seventy of the ruling majority have long been determined to vote "in favour", and 40 of the opposition are against all this and as we have seen in the past few days - they will not vote (nor participate in the parliament session). But I would not want to be in the shoes of the 10 lawmakers who still hesitate and are struggling whether, when the time comes for voting, they will push the green button or they will shy away and find an argument that their commitments or demands werenot (fully) fulfilled and contained in the final formulations of the constitutional amendments. At the moment, the lawmakers from Besa argue that they may not have voted for the agenda of the session (to demonstrate that there are not 80 sure votes, until they are satisfied with the text). On the other hand, the disapproval towards their demands may change the mind of some (or all) of the eight opposition MPs, who nevertheless supported this process in the first vote on October 19.

For some of them, as we have seen from the process and the law on amnesty, voting itself is not a dilemma and they are going to do it. Their dilemma was on October 19th, and it can be reduced to the statement "I love Macedonia, but I love my freedom more." And this is understandable, among other things, because, after the right to life, freedom is among the most important basic human rights set forth in the corresponding declaration of the United Nations. And I believe that most of the citizens of Macedonia would do the same if they found themselves in a similar situation.

We also hesitated on September 30 in the voting in the referendum on this issue. We know the results and approximately 1/3 of the citizens voted in favour of the referendum question, 1/3 voted "against", filed an invalid ballot or boycotted the referendum, and 1/3 of the voters did not vote in any election (were abroad or simply were not interested in voting). But I am convinced that from these 2/3 determined citizens (in favour or against the referendum) both groups in their personal dilemma thought they were on the "to be" side, that is, they justified their choice by being the right stance. The former (who voted "in favour") thought that if we do not use this chance and accept the agreement, we will never become members of the EU and NATO, and therefore, for some time, we will not even exist as a country, ie we will not be!

The latter (who voted "against", inserted an invalid ballot or boycotted the referendum) were guided by the fact that changing the name (and thus the identity, and later other things) we will not be - that is, it will be some other (north) country.

But this calls for more of a philosophical debate and the answer may be clearer in about ten years from now, when history, after the vote this week, will get a certain course.

The dilemma "to be or not to be" existed (and still seems to exist) in the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE. After the announcement of the agreement, the party leader said he was against the agreement and would vote "against" in the referendum. Then the position against the agreement remained, but during the referendum vote the leader recommended that everyone should vote according to their personal belief and most of the party’s membership and supporters boycotted it.

They also opposed the opening of the process of constitutional changes on October 19, but the eight MPs who enabled the process came from their ranks (7 of the party and 1 of their coalition). Yes, they were later excluded from membership, but they still did not prevent the process. And they do not prevent it even now, even though they are still against the agreement and do not participate in the work of the Parliament (but they do not use anything from the repertoire that we have seen many times before, to prevent or at least postpone the adoption of the constitutional changes: from proposing their own amendments, to applying for long discussions – as they delayed the election of the new speaker of parliament last year for two months before April 27, until the obstruction of the work of the Parliament - as, for instance, SDSM did at the budget session in December 2012) . Perhaps they would more easily solve their dilemmas if the government "got them on board", that is, reached a consensus at the leadership meetings before the conclusion of the agreement, or at least in the debates in July when the referendum question was “cooking”, but so far this will remain in the domain of assumptions, and we may get the answer in the upcoming spring presidential election.

Prime Minister Zaev, Minister Dimitrov and the negotiating team around them, were in the first to have this dilemma in May, when they were struggling whether this agreement was good and whether they would convince the majority of citizens in that, and whether they would succeed to push the process to the end. I believe that there were also disagreements and fierce arguments between them, but we should admit that once they have agreed and accepted the agreement as it is now, they stood behind the decision consistently and to the end and brought the process to its final stages (especially if the constitutional changes are really adopted and thus all the obligations of Macedonia are completed at this stage). After all, Nikola Dimitrov was also the first to use these words in his own Facebook status from the title "we will be", in defense of the agreement. For now, this is only a wishful thinking… whether we will be (even with NATO membership, and possibly also as member state of the EU), will remain to be seen and reassessed in about ten years.

I would not like to prolong this any further, but it is worth mentioning that the dilemma of whether "we will be" is not something new. Let's not go back further, in 1903, and the dilemma "to start a rebellion or not", but also in the 1991 referendum on independence, there were reservations about it, so the part of the referendum question was added "... with the right of entry from a future alliance of sovereign states of Yugoslavia." I also believe that a large part of the current polarization in the society, especially between the two largest parties, VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM lies in that basic dilemma, whether we will be or not, in particular "whether we can do it on our own or not." While the first, since the founding and the then charismatic leader Ljubco Georgievski, talked about autonomy, independence and, basically, that we can do it ourselves (although they were for membership in the Euro-Atlantic structures on a legal basis), for SDSM as the successor to the Union of Communists (then SKM-PDM) seem (today through the columns of their former members and / or senior state officials) that they replaced Belgrade with Brussels (of course, with the justifiable logic that if we want to get to the EU and NATO, we have to listen and do what they tell us to do). But this is a much bigger topic and maybe I’ll write more about it in one of my next columns.

At the end of this column, I am convinced that we will certainly be - with or without the Prespa Agreement and the constitutional changes. Of course, it will not be the same (I do not have any doubts that we will be better off with NATO and EU membership), but I also do not believe that it will be very different, at least in the first couple of years. More precisely, in order for us ‘to be’ - we should do it ourselves and enable it (as Slovenians have done in the first decade of their independence and become members of both the EU and NATO by 2004). In fact, the EU will not want us to join if we are not worth it, or in other words - we will be, therefore we will become a member state of the EU!

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik

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