Things became clearer one week before the referendum. Macedonia, at least its political establishment, was publicly divided into two hemispheres, as expected, although some tried to claim that things were not as they appear. First, the VMRO Kremlinologists missed the analysis, believing that a carefully cited statement from the president’s office after the meeting with the US Defense Secretary was an announcement of Gjorge Ivanov’s shift of stance. It was well known that Ivanov, after the disgraceful abolition and the even more disgraceful withdrawing of the abolition, would not let himself be publicly humiliated yet again, especially not with agreements that affect the most sensitive Macedonian nationalist nerve. So it was with the law of languages, so is now with the Prespa agreement.
In the style of “Little Caesar” from the world cinematography after the American invasion of politicians in Skopje, after the meeting of the prime minister in the White House and Donald Trump’s letter to support the deal, Ivanov decided to utter No from American soil across the ocean, more related to calculations, rather than with historic determination. Ivanov chose to attack with only one man behind the first lines of American politics in Washington DC, and start to undermine the US geopolitical credo for the Balkans from within. It is not the first time for Ivanov to take another step towards his radicalization with national-patriotic pathos in the past two or three years since his presidency.
When the person, who brought him to the office, had control over the state, Ivanov stayed aside, fulfilling the role of an adjutant. When his creator lost power, Ivanov’s volcano of great ambitions erupted, and his rhetoric was besieged by Erdogan’s postulates. Thus, from Detroit, in front of the elected representatives of the Diaspora, he uttered these royal words: “The majority of Macedonian citizens have not voted for a programme that includes constitutional revision for the purpose of changing the country’s name. Therefore, I will not accept ideas and proposals that would jeopardize the Macedonian national identity, the particularity of the Macedonian nation, the Macedonian language and the Macedonian model of coexistence. I will not deviate from my promise. Therefore, I will not vote on September 30.”
Ivanov thinks that, as some kind of a medieval ruler, he is the only guarantor of the order of Macedonia, that the Assembly is two levels below him (the same Assembly before which he was sworn in) and that his supposedly heroic martyrdom is worth the respect. In a linguistic equilibristics, he, as the leader of a camp that is opposed to the agreement, says the same thing as those who glorify it: “Everyone is wondering what will happen if the final settlement from Prespa is not accepted. But a more important question is – what will the consequences be, if the agreement is accepted?” Indeed, it is pointless for the president of the state to answer questions on what will happen to the country if this agreement that opens the European perspectives is unsuccessful. These perspectives don’t seem to be part of his projections.
A day earlier, in Banja Luka, the center of Republika Srpska, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov promoted Moscow’s strategy for the Balkans. So, among other things, he stated this: “An ambiguous situation has been created in Macedonia, after the signing of the Prespa Agreement, which was actually illegal. We are not saying anything that could be interpreted as interfering in Macedonia’s internal affairs. And, look at how many visits there have been recently by leaders of Western countries. If this is not interfering with internal affairs, then I don’t know what is.”
It’s a classic twisting of things – these politicians come from countries that are members of the EU and NATO, which are our ultimate goal. Ivanov also used a similar argument in Detroit: “In the past few weeks in the Republic of Macedonia, senior foreign officials came to convince Macedonian citizens to vote in the referendum and accept the Greek agreement,” which will create “a new state that will be transient”. Accidental identification or something else? Ivanov, of course, does not want to talk about the direction in which Macedonia will move if the agreement is not accepted, what kind of chaos could happen and who could take advantage of all that confusion. Nor the well in which Macedonian projections for the future could drown.
Opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski, at a rally in Ohrid on Sunday, clarified to a large extent everything that was seemingly blurred. After his speech, it was already clear that the party leadership called for a boycott. “This agreement is against Macedonia’s national interests and against the Macedonian state, because it is a foreign object that has been inserted into a healthy organism, which is choking us and will still drag us further down if we do not oppose it.” Although he tried to claim that the lack of position was indeed the right position. Plus, even in the first sentence in his address, he differentiated from the legal order in the country: “I take this opportunity to ask you to give a loud applause to Ljuben, Saso, Bobi and Krsto, the modern dukes and rebels, who are harassed and tortured by the SDSM and Zoran Zaev government on daily basis.” The opening of the doors of Parliament on April 27 was the missing thread – the modern rebellion.
This is the decades-long misconception – that VMRO was the “guardian of Macedonia”. As Ivanov wants to present himself as the one and only guardian of Macedonia. It’s that coin with two identical sides. VMRO could have opposed the agreement in a more elegant way, politically more sophisticated. This way, the leadership took the party towards the radical side of politics. Towards nationalism. And, just two years ago in a big speech, the previous president announced the restructuring of the party as a civil right. That announcement collapsed as quickly as it was intended to seduce voters, so now it is best to stay in the crib where it feels most comfortable – in nationalism disguised as patriotism.
The referendum will determine Macedonian politics in the coming decades. Basically, that’s what the country needed – to take that step into post-transitional society, to define what should be advocated – liberal democratic values or populist pamphlets of constant threat.