I have the impression that our whole lives have passed in the meantime. Perhaps this is the curse of my generation, perhaps a lasting endemic phenomenon for this region. While we are stuck with what kind of napkins the stewardess serves us, this airplane makes a 180 degrees turn. So, focused on the petty inter-party “complaining”, I think we miss out on the big change that is happening around us.
This week we have several interesting phenomena, which seem to merge in a general impression, and it is that the formal breakthrough to normality is still transitory, seemingly, until we gather our strengths to make it permanent.
One interlocutor in the latest debate reminded me: after every major social change, which touches upon the “essence” of our overall state strategy and the direction in which we are moving, a kind of “reflux” appears, a retrograde force, especially in the period before that change becomes generally accepted and lasting. That is a characteristic of the opponents who opposed the Euro-Atlantic breakthrough of the country, and now they hope to still have time to spoil the party, that is, to prevent the route in which we are moving. For us that period will last until the final ratification of the NATO protocols and the start of negotiations with the EU, which will disperse such retrograde hopes and make the pro-Western direction irreversible. After that, no serious political force will be “carried away” with the illusions of quasi-patriotism as a substitute for progress, but the Western orientation will become a “mainstream”, a generally accepted reality. But the inter-period is critical: in it, populist-nationalist illusions are still strong, and the change has not yet “taken root.” At the same time, before the negotiations with the EU, the price for the Prespa Agreement is still high and alive in the memory of the citizens, while the benefits are still abstract and uncertain.
It would be ideal for the opposition when the next parliamentary elections would take place at that time, and for the government it would be ideal if they happened afterwards. So, it would be best for VMRO-DPMNE to wait for the next elections without the start of negotiations with the EU (considering that NATO is already certain), because they could argue that there is still a chance that the process could turn back, and for SDSM it would be ideally when the next election would take place on the final ground, as a NATO member and with the start of accession talks with the EU, because it would mean that their narrative has permanently won.
Altogether, I think it’s a game with time – a permanent pro-western orientation is imminent. Even the strongest statements of the opposition in the campaigns will turn into accepting reality if they ever come to power. The problem is the scars that they will leave on the voters with such messages. The voters which I think will remain divided.
Among other things, Alexis Tsipras’s visit is a good test for that division. He came to demonstrate (for his own reasons as well) that the story between him and Zaev was successful, that the project is permanent and that it will bring progress in the region. He also wants this narrative to dominate in an attempt to move the current opposition (and probably the future government) in Greece to more radical right-wing positions in an attempt to reduce their advantage or alternatively make the next mandate much more difficult. He, like Zaev, has a strategic assessment that regardless of the current “reflux” both here and in Greece, the global movement is irreversible, and that pushing the opposition in Greece and in North Macedonia to radicalism, they actually deprive sustainability in the medium term, making the right parties focus on a voting body that will eventually disappear, as the global story is increasingly rooting.
This assessment is correct – the nationalism that dominates in VMRO-DPMNE and the New Democracy in the medium term will make them unelectable marginals – provided the gambit with the EU succeeds in the near future. But this is a major condition.
: At the moment, Zaev and Tsipras are racing against time – whether they will be the ones to push us into accession talks as soon as possible, or the EU will become more Euro-skeptical in the meantime. Bearing in mind that the next composition of the European Parliament, and therefore the European Commission, will be much more cautious with the enlargement, it is like running behind the last train wagon that leaves the platform. If we miss this train, it is unlikely that we will soon have a new opportunity for such a breakthrough.
This is where we go back to the basic strategy of the opposition, which would prefer to meet the next elections in conditions of an uncertain future, a still unfinished EU project and an active political crisis. For them, there was another (for the country better) alternative: to rebrand in pro-Western, quietly accept the change, and base its campaign on economy and promise for faster and more efficient reforms, instead of nationalism. It would have been a real hit and a serious problem for SDSM, but if we see the narrative of their campaign, it seems that they will return to their comfort zone, that is, they will consolidate national romanticism instead of technocratic progress. Otherwise, how can we interpret these statements for the annulment of the Prespa Agreement, the abolition of the Law on Languages, to release the defendants on April 27th? It is a classic breakthrough to populism, painted over with romantic and retrograde nationalistic outings.
I think that this is the defeat of the current strategy – instead of Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova refreshing the platform of VMRO-DPMNE, and thus making a breakthrough to the undefined Europhiles, the party dragged her into their “darkness” – and thus permanently burned her bridge towards most of the voters in Macedonia. It is true that the “patriots” are consolidated and energized – but that category is already considered an endangered species, from which there is not much benefit in the long run.
Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik