Apart from the coronavirus, one of the most important topics in Europe at the time is the fight against fake news and countering Russian (dis)information offensives.
Meanwhile, the municipality of Skopje Centre and the Russian embassy jointly unveil a monument to the Soviet Army, which liberated the world from fascism. No doubt it did, at least temporarily; but in doing so it didn’t even come close to Macedonian territory. So one is compelled to ask: cui bono? What bothers me even more is the lack of any reaction by any political party or civil society.
It is not my intention here to tell anecdotes, although the list of half-witted projects based on spontaneous ideas could go on forever. Frustrating, sometimes infuriating, rarely funny, almost never sustainable or useful.
They merely illustrate that the whole country seems to be run by a headless machinery out of control, making uncoordinated, often counterproductive moves. Often these are neutralised by other moves, just as uncontrolled and counterproductive.
After the last decade, one might argue that this is not necessarily such a bad thing – at least no major damage is being done. But that would be cynical, wouldn’t it?
The reality is that the government – and I am speaking in the broadest sense here, including the opposition, whose self-destructive behaviour would deserve its own story – has missed the opportunity created by the coronavirus crisis to reflect and evaluate. A period of little activity would have been an excellent opportunity to make some strategic decisions to bring about some real change in society.
Instead, there is a never-ending line-up of minor scandals, leading to a corrosive banalisation of politics and even worse, of the justice system. Complacent media are happily contributing to this daily show of incompetence and crime, keeping the public’s attention well away from the real issues, and offering a stage for all kinds of B-movie-type actors. This and the machinery of fake news and conspiracy theories create a cocktail dangerous enough to do long-term damage.
To be fair, the EU and its coherently poor political performance in the Balkans is the actual reason for this current political mess.
What followed the French-led refusal to name a date for the start of negotiations last autumn is a charade named ‘reform of the enlargement process’. This and the murmurs coming from many member states are painfully clear signals that enlargement is not on the EU’s agenda.
This doesn’t go unnoticed in Skopje, but also in Moscow, Beijing, and even more importantly for North Macedonia, in Ankara. Given the lack of a real alternative, anti-European forces are not strong yet. But as this game of delays and lame excuses will continue, we will have to be very alert.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria has taken on the role of the bully, threatening to derail negotiations if there is no agreement on joint history, which, in Sofia’s reading, means that everything and everyone was Bulgarian before. No space for nuances, Balkan style.
The Macedonian reaction is to rely on friends in the EU, hoping they wouldn’t let this happen. Well, good luck with that…
In this whole mess, the only political figure looking quite well is President Stevo Pendarovski.
This is not because it really doesn’t take much, given the performance of the rest of the political class, but because there is finally – maybe for the first time – someone in that office, who has the intellectual capacity to fill that position with meaning.
Given the inability of political parties and their main figures to chart out a realistic course for the country in the foreseeable future, given the fact that the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts is in permanent hibernation, given that academia and civil society seem to be busy with landing donor-funded and donor-driven projects, maybe this role should be played by Pendarovski.
There is nothing that would stop him from calling for some kind of strategic council and show some badly-needed political and moral leadership. It could be the silver lining that is sorely missing now.
Harald Schenker is a freelance consultant and political analyst.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.