Fast and clumsily or slowly and thoroughly?

Zdravko Saveski

In the past few years before the fall of Gruevski, what was particularly pleasing was that national issues were not finally on the agenda. For the first time since independence. All, regardless of their ethnicity, were concentrated on the abuse of power and the protesting power united Macedonians, Albanians, Turks against corrupt power made up of Macedonians, Albanians, and Turks. A change was demanded, not a replacement of power, a change that would break with abuse of power and the robbing of the people. In order to finally revive humanity.

This was the context in which the new government assumed power. But suddenly, it imposed different priorities. It has brought national issues to the big door, as if we were in a post-conflict situation, so we had no choice but solve national issues first, and everything else had to wait. And as for the change of Gruevski’s economic politics and the change in the attitude towards abuse of power -dreariness! Where would have we ended up, if they invested this enormous amount of energy in resolving national issues in solving the real problems of the ordinary people’s standard of living!

For such a prioritization of national issues over the other issues, the new government did not receive the mandate from the citizens. But it was received by the Big Brother, who obviously wants to boast, faced with devastating politics in many areas, that another country, the 30th, became a NATO member. Given our strong membership in the Western sphere of influence, this fact will not change anything from the point of view of its centers of power or from the point of view of Macedonia, but wants to sell it as some exceptional success through PR activity, both to the Macedonian public and to the public in the Western countries.

But, at least people will say that maybe they don’t solve the economic and social problems, at least they solve the national problems. At least some problems will be overcome. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. National issues are resistant, they cannot be solved overnight with swish of a magic wand. For a real and long-term solution, it requires extensive, persistent and long-lasting work. If you want to skip it, the problems reoccur and what you thought you had solved, will need solving again.

Regarding the name dispute. It is a “frozen conflict” in which the citizens of both countries are firmly convinced that they are right, but also a conflict that has significantly lost its relevance in recent years. Citizens in Macedonia and Greece in recent years had far more important problems for nationalists to be able to distract them successfully. So the name dispute for the vast majority of Macedonian and Greek citizens has become something their neighbors disagree upon on the other side of the border, yet an issue that is far from being a priority for solving.

And in such a situation, amidst preoccupation with existential issues both in Macedonia and Greece, in the midst of a non-existent previous work against temporarily suppressed nationalism, the dispute was suddenly revived, and suddenly it was necessary to close in the shortest time possible! In doing so, it is completely ignored that the reviving of a dispute does not necessarily lead to its permanent settlement, but to negative repercussions. Will the level of nationalism in Macedonia and Greece be reduced if the dispute is resolved quickly? Will mutual trust between Macedonian and Greek citizens improve? Will the life of the ordinary Macedonian and Greek citizen improve with the resolution of the dispute? If the answers to these questions are negative, then why do Zaev and Tsipras skip steps at all costs and why don’t  you concentrate on solving the more important problems of your citizens?

It is possible to permanently and efficiently resolve the name dispute which will involve retaining the existing constitutional name of the state. But it requires previous work against nationalism in both Macedonia and Greece. The people here and over the border are poisoned with nationalism for many years. And people do not possess sufficient skill to recognize their nationalism, they only recognize foreign nationalism. They ask for a refuge from the unacceptable present that they live in the idealized image of the past. They want to forget the reality in which a suppressed, exploited and alienated human being is suppressed, replacing it with the “greatness” of Alexander, who, of course, is “only ours”.

Each nation has the right to self-determination, which includes the right to establish the name by which it is called, and the name by which it calls its country. It is a human right, which, like any human right, the rest have an obligation to obey. Based on this right, the people of Macedonia have the right to call their country the Republic of Macedonia. Gruevski’s propaganda pushed the defense of the constitutional name on the background of the human rights discourse. And put the defense focused on the nationalist discourse of the historical right to the name Macedonia upfront. Such a “defense” has never had a real chance of success and its purpose was not to resolve the dispute, but rather to disrupt the Macedonian public. In Greece, through the fight against nationalism, its citizens will be able to accept the right of their northern neighbors to be named as they want. Whether they agree with it or not. Ultimately, you do not have to agree with someone to respect their human rights. In this fight against nationalism in Greece, it must be helped by the Macedonian side, questioning many historical “truths” that underlie what Greeks perceive as irredentism on our side.

All this takes time. Time in which things can mature, the time in which mutual trust will be built. Zaev and Tsipras do not want to give that time to their peoples. They want to quickly “settle” the dispute. As they were ordered from “the higher powers”. And the fact that some else will have to deal with the consequences of the intense nationalism in Macedonian and Greek society – they are not interested in this. Like all average politicians, they are only interested in the short term and offering Potemkin villages to their peoples.

(The author is a political scientist and member of Levica)