Many critics, few critiques

Ana Pavlovska-Daneva

I gladly read criticisms of certain current policies or behaviors of a politician (or politicians) when they are backed and supported by facts, and especially when offering solutions that are better than the existing one. I find affirmative criticism particularly interesting, those that offer arguments for certain actions or policies, and make me rethink when I build a negative attitude about a particular thing, sometimes perhaps due to subjective reasons.
In Macedonian digital vocabulary the word critique is defined as a detailed analysis and assessment of something, work, activity, procedure; sum of evaluations in a certain field.
When a public critique is really justified, it can only serve as a constructive element for managers and be a signpost and corrective to their behavior. We have become accustomed to the government not referring to any arguments, proposals, criticisms. But at the same time, we need to be honest and aware that our society is full of critics, but never see the arguments and rationales in their critiques. Both in the negative and in the affirmative ones.  With a few exceptions.
There is a common view among citizens that such criticism is ordered by party headquarters, that it is a partisan task for loyal membership that allegedly does not think on its own, and that is prepared to take a stand, write a comment and so on in exchange for very small sums of money. The modern term for these people is – party bots. Of course, they exist within each political party, both here and throughout the world. But I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about people who have achieved some success in their profession, who are well-educated, who enjoy some authority in a certain smaller or larger environment, about people who have charisma or simply have over the years acquired the power to influence people’s behavior or at least, other people’s way of thinking.
These people are not party bots. They are most often (or so prefer to be) nonpartisan or independent. They really do not receive party orders, nor is anyone trying to issue such orders (the more correct term is imposing or sharing party theses). And yet they take on political views (attitudes towards certain policies) that often vary, sometimes their attitudes happen to confront each other depending on the time period in which they are expressed, they address the public, seek space for promotion, try to create and shape public opinion.
Each of us can do a simple experiment and do our own mini research. Imagine five people whose positions you often or occasionally see, hear or read in the standard media or social media, not being politicians or party staff. You like how they speak, how they present their theses, how they attack / support the current government or situation. Can you remember when each of these five people when he/she began his/her public critical activity: the last decade, the last few years, the last few months? Does each one of the five adhere to the same position that he/she had many years ago? Do each of them talk about the same topic today (maybe even policy of behavior, situation) as they did many years ago?
Some readers may find more than five critics with consistent attitudes to certain social phenomena. I can barely remember a few who work in a particular profession and have been struggling for years to impose better solutions, policies, and procedures in their profession or field. And finding this out is devastating.
For instance, I cannot find joy in the loudly expressed position of the growing number of supporters of the thesis that the government must be pressured to raise the salaries of university professors, even though I am the first one to support this thesis. Why? Because the salary that my colleagues and I receive from the state has not changed for a denar for years. Maybe decades. The public should know that the salary the state allocates for a full-time university professor at its oldest and top-ranked university is on average about 36,000 denars. And it’s not from today, nor from yesterday. This is the way it has been for many years.
And for so many years, every faculty has been struggling and trying, through its applied, scientific, any other auxiliary activity to provide means that would at least provide a decent living for its staff of scientists, PhDs, MDs, researchers, lecturers, researchers, educators, trainers etc.
These days the talk of protest of the university staff is becoming louder and more frequent, to boycott classes, to publicly raise our salaries, to improve the miserable conditions in which we are studying and working, to continue the interrupted international cooperation with foreign universities due to lack of finances etc. That is good. It is a sign that we are starting (yet again) to become an open society.
But just a few years ago, a good deal of university professors were not even asked, for instance, whether they needed to use translations of textbooks in their work chosen by the executive power that were unusable for their teaching and would never get to the students’ hands, and by translating and printing them a number of petty party businessmen and activists will make good money. Even though they disagreed with such “policies”, many professors remained silent and did not speak out loud. We were portrayed in public as intruders, remnants of the past, elitists distanced of the rest of the people, while celebrating mediocrity, people studying and never graduating because of the difficult economic situation of their parents, politicians who got their degrees after coming to power and political posts! And this was all accepted in our society.
It was accepted because it was based on propaganda that anyone could be a university professor, a doctor of science, every young person had to graduate, the cost of studies was devalued, and the respect for intellectuals was ridiculed. The greatest sin was to come from a successful family, mothers or fathers who left marks in society with their intellectual work. For a decade, the party in power had been building a party machinery within many faculties and universities, turning it into a university staff overnight, from political and public office holders to their secretaries who became scientists and university teachers. At that time, no one was loudly speaking of the quality of higher education, no protests were mentioned (with the exception of hundreds of notable assistants, docents and professors who gathered in the UKIM Plateau in 2011 to express their concern for the university’s autonomy), nor did inspectors make decisions to annul the elections in the teaching and scientific titles of politicians. That same inspector who has found no political influence and illegality in hiring politicians as professors for 11 years, is a media star today and entertains the public with his legally-invalid solutions.
Today we are loudly talking about the unreformed judiciary. About the rule of politics over law. About selective justice. About creating laws behind closed doors. Anyone who has a lawyer friend gives opinions and criticisms of the SPO’s status, the government’s likely involvement in corrupt affairs, the conflict of interest of public office holders, the nepotism in the administration, the spending of budget money necessary or unnecessary, justified or unjustified, expert or unskilled advisors in the Prime Minister’s office. Among these modern-day Facebook critics (whose backed critiques I support) I cannot point to at least half who also said or wrote this on their accounts when the law that invented a countless number of advisers for the prime minister was passed. I can’t remember a media outlet publishing the names of former prime minister’s advisers and their incomes. There was no anti-corruption commission dealing with nepotism in the Government, nor with the conflict of interest and the fees of influential individuals who were members of three, four, five or more governing bodies of various public and private institutions. None, or perhaps a few of today’s critics of the Special Prosecutor who feel frustrated and betrayed, have even said a word when she hid the special prosecution’s budget, her salary and the salaries and fees of the other prosecutors and associates. And that was public money, our money. But wasn’t the critical blade sharp enough for them back then?
So, I wonder, what does freedom of criticism in our country depend on? Obviously on the way the ruling majority exercises power. And that is sad, because in any normal country the degree of freedom of thought depends on the degree of development of social consciousness, independently of who manages the state.
We need a serious analysis that will tell us what motivates the views of the Macedonian so-called “opinion makers”. Whether it’s ideology, party affiliation, the educational background of each of them, or the “market orientation” (deal-oriented according to our former prime minister’s terminology). If the results show that the majority of our thinkers, analysts, and fighters for democracy are the main motivating force, then there’s no hope for us.

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