Vol 2, No 13
3 April 2000
A B A L K A N E N C O U N T E R:
The Titanic Waltz
The Balkan elites dance as the ship sinks
It was as surrealistic as they get: a Viennese ball organised by the Austrian Embassy in a decaying Balkan city, Skopje. Organized in January by the nation of former Nazis and current Nazi sympathizers in a land of former Communist thieves turned capitalist robbers. It was held in a newly opened hotel, a gleaming temple of kitsch and tackiness, an abode of golden brass and polished mirrors amidst urban waste and uncollected mounds of festering trash.
Hundreds of middle aged, burly diplomats and locals, all in ill fitting smoking jackets, the women wearing sweaty, smeared make-up. A grotesque medley of decadence, a glimpse of zombie Habsburg schmaltz, the foreigners' deluded way of pretending they are in Europe, an outlet for smug Balkan swaggering braggarts.
Outside, fly-infested child beggars extended ulcerated soiled hands in silent plea. Others peddled rusted razor blades and leaking batteries to passers-by. Young men smiled rotting teeth in the smoking humidity of dingy coffee-houses. The middle aged, bent, sparkless eyes, consumed by unemployment and disease, a confluence of wrinkled toothlessness and dwindling hair.
The women grey and flabby, wise, weary eyes in penumbral sockets. They glided, huddled, fending off the windy chill that ricocheted from cracking, mouldy walls. Dark clouds weighed on denuded trees in littered boulevards.
The dance must go on
Inside, the orchestra cast notes at heated chandeliers. Elastic TV cameramen engaged in a public pantomime of angles and photo-opportunities. Scarlet-cheeked singers hurled their arias at the wooden eurythmics of the hop. Flushed waiters in perspiring attire held trays of bubbling champagne aloft. Men in skewed bow ties smiled genteelly at each other, leading the women in gauche steps across the wide arena. The lights were bright, the atmosphere excited.
Not far from there, children were dying for want of medicine or of excess drugs. Needled hookers solicited the haunted streets. Rat packs erupted from fermented rubbish, ignored by men and women poking through the piles. A red, polluted moon irradiated drunkards in tattered, puky heaps near black Mercedes in ostentatious parking.
The light - the darkness. The sybaritic fest - the dying populace. The glitter and decrepitude. The haves and the have-nots. The growing abyss between the leaders and the led, the elite and the masses - the masses soon to turn into a mob. A writing on the crumbling walls, the distant thunder of reality denied, of social justice spurned.
It had its faults, but Communism did guarantee a modicum of common misery. Society was never polarized and theft was a national pursuit. The spoils were shared and so was the inane bureaucracy, the paranoia and the fear, the xenophobia, the immobility, the stilted speech. All had the same disintegrating residence, suffered the same maltreatment, enjoyed the same dilapidated services. The schools, the clinics, the gulag were all accessible in equal measure. These were societies maintained by zealous envy and lack of privacy and private property. There was no middle class, there were no classes, only nomenklatura to which one could belong at will.
The haves had more, the luckless were shipwrecked on an isle of destitution. The former lived with abandon, the latter abandoned life. A yawning, lava-spewing gap, a pit without bottom, a biblical damnation.
They who have nothing to lose shall lose all others have.
Dr Sam Vaknin, 3 April 2000
The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He is an Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.
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