Partisanship and uncivilization

Ilo Trajkovski

Many events during this past year, and especially after April 27, 2017, raise the question of the relationship between partisanship and civilization. But let’s be completely honest with ourselves. This question is not exclusively ours. I did not find the immediate reason for this consideration of this question in an event in our country, but in the United States. So, this problem is present there as well. The event was hosted by Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s presidency, and candidate in the last presidential election in which she lost to Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton in a recent CNN interview, speaking about the relationship between Democrats and Republicans after Trump’s coming to office, said one could not be civilized (decent) with a political party that wants to ruin everything you stand for and fight for. According to her, civilized behavior of Democrats toward Republicans can only begin after the Democrats take over the US upper house, or the Senate. In order to justify her shocking and belligerent statement, Clinton said the reason for her position was that the only thing Republicans, as their opponents, understand and respect is – power!

And power, as our people say, does not pray to God. Power does not require admission or justification for its actions. Power does not recognize rules. It is uncivil. It allows itself to destroy everything that, as Clinton says, its enemy fights for. The call to fight with power is a call to abandon politics and to start a war. (Although according to some, war is politics, but with violent means.) Power is barbaric, destructive. For the indecent and the violent, nothing is sacred.

We saw this uncivil behavior on 27 April 2017 with the violent intrusion in the Parliament of Macedonia. And such a belligerent state of mind according to Petar Bogojeski, the recently dismissed deputy general secretary of VMRO-DPMNE, is still present at the top of his party! Hence, for example, the labels for the representatives of SDSM, but also for all who voted on September 30 as traitors. On the other hand, we hear numerous statements from the circles of SDSM, but also specific acts of contempt and humiliation not only for the VMRO members, but also for those who did not vote in the referendum or expressed critical opinions and estimates.

The violent intrusion into the premises of the home of democracy, as well as the constant mutual appalling labeling and threats, in social networks and in the direct, face to face communication, are strong warning indicators for the danger of damaging the dams in front of the overcoming rivers of barbarism. Both sides have promoted a hesitant partisanship which, surprisingly, has not yet resulted in deadly consequences. The depth of inter-party polarization reaches alarming proportions. Why are inter-party relations brought to this level?

The answer depends on who gives it. Players involved in inter-party wars have their own explanations. According to Hillary Clinton, for example, her call for indecency is merely a reaction to political incorrectness and uncivilization, promoted, first of all, by US President Donald Trump. A similar view of the problem in our country is represented by many exponents of the opposition party. According to them, the government is the one who despises the policies and representatives of the opposition and accepts treacherous and capitulating agreements, once with the Albanians, the other time with the Bulgarians, the third time with the Greeks, and so on. Conversely, according to our, but also all other rulers, the opposition has no right to talk about patriotism, immorality, corruption, etc. because while the opposition was in power, it robbed the country, destroyed Macedonia, that it was powerless, and that, if it wanted, it could even drop dead for not being in power!

Unlike such cheering explanations that only enhance mutual deterrence and hate, sociologists and political scientists find deeper reasons for the worrying polarization between political parties and the associated breakthrough of uncivil behavior in their interrelations, but also wider. Thus, for example, US political scientist Lilliana Mason shows that fierce inter-party polarization does not stem from the intensification of ideological and political differences between parties. In our case, this would mean that the current polarization between VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM is not a consequence of some changes in their ideological or political positions. Polarization and its associated non-civilization do not result from the changes in the attitudes of these parties in relation to the conflict with Greece and the Prespa agreement. On the contrary, they emerge from raising party identity over all other collective identities – including national identity.

In her latest book (Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, 2018), Mason shows how membership in a political party, that is, party affiliation or partyism becomes the main collective political identity. To denote this phenomenon, the term “partisanship” is used in English language, in Croatian and Serbian it is known as “foreign nationalism”, and for Macedonian I would suggest the term “partyism”.

This phenomenon is detected as a reason for the current escalation of polarization and for reaching uncivilized assets in the mutual political struggle. Transposing the validity of this thesis to our field, she argues that the polarization between VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM does not arise from the various answers (policies) of the two parties to the question of whether the Agreement with Greece is strengthens (SDSM) or weakens (VMRO-DPMNE) national interests and national identity. No!
The reason for the polarization is that the implementation of the Agreement undermines the political identity of VMRO-DPMNE on the one hand, and strengthens the identity of SDSM on the other. Accordingly, the crucial question is which of the two political parties will benefit, and which will lose with the signing and implementation of the agreement. And given the fact that the Macedonian parties are, basically, leadership and authoritarian profiling, that means which leadership will gain, and which will lose.
For the current leadership of VMRO-DPMNE, the action against the Agreement is not simply a matter of defense of the constitutional name of the country. More important than this is the defense of the endangered party identity. Namely, with the Agreement, in a number of ways, the wings of the Macedonianism on which it was formed and on which VMRO-DPMNE persists as a political party are “cut out”. Therefore, the rejection of the Agreement is in fact the rejection of the disassembly of the party and its leadership. Such a feeling of threatening its basic political identity not only opens the door for the various forms of uncivilized treatment of the political opponent but also a true Procrustean bed for the party. It does not only portray itself as an opponent of a specific political project, but also as an obstacle to the stabilization of the region and its integration into NATO and the EU. Conversely, SDSM in the acceptance and implementation of the Agreement saw the opportunity to strengthen its own political identity as a pro-state, pro-European and established party. For the current leadership of this party, this was and still is especially important given the constitutionally and politically controversial way of its own enthronement of power.

Hence, the way out of this dead-end street into which we have been stuck and in which claustrophobia becomes more and more intense, as well as many other phobias that will generate uncivil behavior, should be sought, first of all, in civilizing the parties and their leadership.

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