by: Xhabir Deralla
[dropcap font=”arial” fontsize=”45″]I[/dropcap]t is necessary to understand the events and processes in order to form an opinion and to plan an action, both at the individual and collective level, both within the society sphere and the domains implied under the terms of institutions and state. This project is a response to that need. Starting from personal experiences and standpoints related to identity issues, and ending with the outstanding analysis of the global trends and of the important historic and socio-political processes that are inevitably interlinked, this project is a unique public resource with answers to essential questions about the Macedonian, regional and world reality in which we live in.
The accelerated process of overcoming the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece, which has been ongoing for almost three decades, has caused an avalanche of nationalist rhetoric and tensions in both countries. The tensions began particularly with the Davos Summit in January 2018, when the leaders of the two countries, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, started the long-awaited process of solving the dispute that later resulted with the Prespa Agreement for overcoming the name dispute.
Nationalists, gathered around the former ruling party of VMRO-DPMNE and the smaller parties, which are openly supported by Russia, have started a campaign with an unprecedented hate speech and radical nationalist rhetoric, accompanied by inflammatory public appearances throughout the country. Even from the very beginning of the process, and especially after the signing of the Prespa Agreement on June 17, 2018, the radicals organized several violent protests with the purpose of obstruct the Government’s efforts of overcoming the dispute.
The agreement reached was welcomed by the entire world, and also by the majority of citizens in Macedonia, aware that it is necessary to make changes in the name of the country, internationally known as FYROM, into the Republic of North Macedonia, with the purpose of accelerating the Euro-Atlantic integrations that were entirely blocked during the 11-year ruling of an autocratic, nationalist and criminal regime. The nationalist opposition called the Prespa Agreement a “capitulation”, claiming that it will endanger the ethnic, national, cultural, historical and linguistic heritage of ethnic Macedonians. They led their campaign with an ultra-nationalist and exclusive rhetoric, and used explicit speech and hate speech against all ethnic communities that live in Macedonia, especially against Albanians and Roma communities, and also created an atmosphere of public lynch against the Macedonians who supported the historic agreement between the two countries. The nationalist narrative was accompanied with a well-thought-out and obviously richly sponsored production of fake news that were distributed through the social networks and some of the electronic media in the country.
This situation in the country has worsened even more during the referendum process, which was held on September 30, 2018. As a result of the insanely dirty campaign that had the aim to scare and passivize moderate and pro-Western majority of citizens in the country, the referendum had only partial success (37% turnout, of which 91% voted positively). On top of everything, the partial success of the referendum was a consequence of a series of omissions of the state institutions.
The tensions and nationalist rhetoric continued after the referendum, whereas the country is still facing instability and tensions.
Because of this all, the Macedonian society remains deeply divided along ethnic, religious and political lines, where the anti-Western sentiment is spreading through hate speech and fake news, and often with direct violence.
Justification I mmediately after the referendum was held, at which voters had the opportunity to vote for or against the Prespa Agreement for overcoming the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece, CIVIL and the Heinrich-Böll Foundation recognized the need for a comprehensive view of the processes related to identity issues.
The social and political circumstances in Macedonia have not been by far reassuring for a long time. Gruevski’s regime leaves deep traces within the societal fabric and deforms the manners of political action in relation to – and perception of – the basic values of civilization, devastated culture, education and science. The destructive policy of the regime has carried out aggressive social engineering where fabricated myths were built about the origin and identity of ethnic Macedonians.
Then, we had the “gloomy conspiracies” of the “rotten” West, and especially of the neighboring countries, primarily, Greece, Albania and Bulgaria which, in different ways, are “involved” in the “theft” of everything that is Macedonian, as well as the danger of “dirtying” the “ancient and sacred Macedonian blood and soil” with the extremely “ungrateful and predatory”, and so less valuable, ethnic minorities in the country.
A perfect formula for ruling for a long time: to make up, if such do not exist, internal and external enemies, and to keep the society under constant pressure and fear of danger, and to portray the regime as a protector sent from heaven.
The next generations of political leaders will have to invest great efforts to overcome the consequences and the situations that are not always visible, but are part of the social, cultural and political existence. That implies a decisive and long-term fight against the growing nationalism and ethnic, religious and political divisions. The Macedonian society needs to recognize the fact that the growing anti-Western and pro-Russian sentiments and political actions will cause heavy damages to the concept of multiculturalism, for which, on the other side, the society and the political establishment in this period have shown strong will and declared commitment to carry out in practice.
Further divisions in the society will threaten the stability of the country and its national and regional security. These are areas of social and political action that must not remain on the margins, and even more, it needs to become part of the top priorities when it comes to creation of a concept for the society in which we live in. That all demands an essential need for deliverance and looking ahead, a genuine aspiration for progress that is never restricted to only material needs and economic wellbeing, but is, nevertheless, a precondition for such progress.
Concept and project
It is necessary to understand the events and processes in order to form an opinion and to plan an action, both at the individual and collective level, both within the society sphere and the domains implied under the terms of institutions and state. This project is a response to that need. Starting from personal experiences and standpoints related to identity issues, and ending with the outstanding analysis of the global trends and of the important historic and socio-political processes that are inevitably interlinked, this project is a unique public resource with answers to essential questions about the Macedonian, regional and world reality in which we live in.
Starting from the deep need to define, think and rethink the terms, perceptions and practices related to the identity issues that are in the essence of the dispute between Macedonia and Greece, but also much wider, CIVIL has set the concept of a comprehensive and multilayered project that is an open platform for further actions, at the same time.
The main goal of the project is to confront hate speech and fake news that were the main tools attacking the Prespa Agreement process, and to raise awareness about the true dimensions and benefits for the entire country. And more than that. This project is a decisive call for overcoming the culture of hostile and destructive action in the public discourse, and an attempt to promote culture of dialogue and promotion of contemporary, progressive ideas and values.
Therefore, this project invited prominent intellectuals and public opinion makers to talk and write articles about their standpoints and experiences, with which this project will oppose the fake news and destructive dimensions of the nationalist rhetoric and anti-Western action. Here, the public will find well-known names from the spheres of science, politics, media and civil society. They have publicly shared their findings and views in terms of the identity issues from many interesting aspects.
CIVIL’s entire team participated in the project, some of which are also authors at the panel discussion and in the book that emerges from it, while the others are authors in the media production of the organization and creators of activities for public awareness raising and civic education.
The article is part of the project “Identity Loss or …?” implemented by CIVIL in cooperation with the Heirich Böll Foundation.