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Vol 2, No 14
10 April 2000
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Sam Vaknin After Tito, Techno!
Where Macedonia is and where it's going
Sam Vaknin

In the last millennium, Europe was caught in a pendulum movement between integration and disintegration. Only 200 years ago, Europe was composed of more than 600 political entities (380 of them in the area of today's Germany alone!). People like Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler all had visions of a unified Europe.

The European Union is a much more benign version of the same dream. The modern nation state was an equidistant compromise between the two poles. It integrated many political units within a political union called the "nation" – but the nation was also an exercise in segregation and separatism – a "we" against "they." This has become abundantly evident now that self-determination has gone amok and every village aspires to be a state and a nation and yet also be a member of the EU.

Wasted chances

The collapse of Communism afforded a unique opportunity in that, for the first time in European history, there was a viable and functioning truly European alternative in the form of the European Union. Non-violent, prosperous and enlightened – it was the envy of the belligerent and dilapidated remnants of the old nation-states system. The countries of CEE and the Balkan were willing to shed some of their sovereignty in order to join these exclusive clubs: NATO and the EU. For the first time in history, a unified, integrated, peaceful Europe was within reach.

But, instead of grasping at this fantastic opportunity – the West recoiled, procrastinated, bluffed and hesitated. The opportunity was missed. The tide turned. Public opinion on both sides of the fence changed. The dream transmogrified into a nightmare of bureaucracy, hostility and warfare.

The recent initiatives of the Pact of Stability, or the Stability and Association agreement between Macedonia and EU were too little and too late. The nations of Europe do not support integration now. The post-Communist delirium has waned. The Wessies (West Germans and, by extension, West Europeans) – are repelled by the Ossies (East Germans and, by extension, East Europeans). The Ossies distrust the Wessies. The former detest the corruption, the venality, the inefficiency, the lack of ethics and the crime.

An embarrassing relative

They are terrified by the spectre of waves of destitute immigrants drowning their national accounts in welfare costs and competing for scarce jobs. Haider is a typical reaction – there are similar movements everywhere in Europe, from France to Scandinavia. These are xenophobic allergic reactions to immigrants from CEE and Southeastern Europe (also known as the Balkans).

The Stability, Growth and Association Pacts and Agreements are stop-gap measures - aspirin to cancer patients. The "civilized" Europeans simply don't know what to do with the Barbarians at the gates. They stall. They invent agreements they have no intention to fill with content. They peddle dreams and fantasies. They wait.

They hope that time will heal all wounds, that somehow the situation will resolve itself. But it won't, and sooner or later the peoples of the Balkans will try to cash the check. When the hollowness of the promises, the emptiness of the visions, the insincerity of the ceremonies is exposed – there is bound to be a great upheaval and a backlash. The seeds of future conflict – between rich and poor, south and north, Slav and Latin or Anglo-Saxon – are being sown. They who sow the wind shall surely reap the whirlwind.

What split East and West

Two historical influences are directly responsible for the schism between East and West: the Ottoman Empire and Communism. Both empires acquired Byzantine hues in the Balkans and Germanic/Austrian leanings in CEE. The Ottoman Empire influenced Europe both by directly ruling its Southeast and by threatening and adumbrating its heartland.

Communism and its more benign variant, Socialism, engulfed even more of Europe though for a fraction of the time. Still, the two shared a few characteristics: authoritarianism; bloated, stifling and senseless bureaucracy; venality; ruthlessness; hypocrisy;indoctrination; and suppression of minorities and their national aspirations.

I do not understand the term "mentality." I think it is too vague to be conducive to a meaningful and constructive discussion. But I do believe that centuries of trauma, abuse, wrong role models, vile education and anti-social socialization – led to the emergence of a personality disorder on a massive scale among the populations subjected to such treatment.

Capitalism is not a panacea, nor is it a unifying principle. To start with, there are at least three competing models of capitalism. Additionally, capitalism is first of all a state of mind, a social and cultural biosphere, all-pervasive and all-encompassing. One cannot study (or teach) capitalism from books, it is not a recipe.

Its – now triumphant – Anglo-Saxon version (as practised mainly in the USA and the UK) is not fully compatible with the "East". Major modifications are called for, especially as concerns the supremacy of money as a value and social cohesion and solidarity as inevitable costs.

I would hate to see a continent united on the basis of a pale imitation of America. The uniting principle should be the very plurality and diversity of this magnificent part of the world. The secret is in assimilating the good qualities of each of the constituent members – East and West alike – and not in homogenization.

Carving out a role

Macedonia, the country I live in, work in and act as adviser to, is closer to certain parts of Europe than to others. It is reminiscent of Naples, southern France and Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Turkey. It has very little in common with Austrian Waltzes and Buckingham Palace.

Yet, in a curious reversal of an unjustified – I emphasize: absolutely unjustified - sense of inferiority, the Macedonians narcissistically regard themselves as being a part of the "other" Europe. This is common behaviour in all "bridging" countries. Israel, Slovenia and Croatia are other examples of countries, which pretend to be what they are not and get horribly offended if reminded of what they are.

Macedonia can fulfil the role of an intermediary and go between the diverse civilizations only if it maintains its authenticity and genuineness. Only by being what it really is can it contribute to a world, which thirsts for the different and the unique. Becoming a cheap and preposterous imitation of others – is a guaranteed cul de sac.

The one or the many?

The main tension in Macedonia is not between East and West. The West has failed to penetrate Macedonia meaningfully and it has remained pretty well insulated. Macedonia is still a bastion of the East.

The tension is between the principles of the nation state and the tenets of liberalism. Is Macedonia primarily the state of the Macedonians or is it a state of its citizens (including the Albanians)? What should be preferred – the individual or the state (the common good)? The individual, or the family? In a way, it is a clash between modernity and the very foundations of a still-rural and tribal society.

There is also a crisis of identity – or, rather, the emergence of one. To some Macedonians, the distinction between being Bulgarian and being Macedonian is vague. To others, Macedonia is still a part of Serbia. The majority tries to grapple with the history, the language, the territory. It is all in very disorienting flux: borders, dialects, loyalties, national aspirations.

Older men in Macedonia used to say "After the rain..." comes the sun. The younger generations have another motto: a few years ago, one Macedonian band recorded an album called And After Tito - Techno! - a new generation is born.

It is not only a question of musical preferences. It is a more independent, less brainwashed breed. They respect nothing by decree. They question everything. They doubt everyone. They taste life early on – from sex to travel abroad. They are tuned in. They are open to the world and, in return, the world is open to them. They are the rainbow after the rain: colourful, overarching, promising.

Sam Vaknin, 10 April 2000

Based on an interview of Sam Vaknin by Sasho Tolevski published in Delo, 31 March 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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