By Stojko Stojkov, Co-President of OMO Ilinden PIRIN
As a Macedonian from Pirin Macedonia, and an activist in the Macedonian movement in Bulgaria, I'm often bothered by the following issue: why is it that all countries in the Balkans care about their minorities living outside of their borders, all except Macedonia! Is this some kind of a unique feature of our state? Where does this absolute lack of desire - to care for and to at least verbally support your compatriots across the border - come from? Is the lack of compassion and solidarity a unique Macedonian character trait?
Since the independence of the Republic of Macedonia, no official request was issued regarding the Macedonian minorities in Bulgaria and Greece. And it's not that there is no need to do so - the need is in fact dire! Bulgaria officially denies the existence of the Macedonian minority, treats its members as potential enemies and traitors to the nation, discriminates and assimilates them... Greece is like a distorting mirror to Bulgaria. We wish at least some Macedonian government was shamed into raising the issue, or did it from common courtesy.
But let's put aside the Macedonians in Greece and Bulgaria for a moment - they are as good as invisible anyway, and any fight they join they have to fight alone. We would often hear that nobody owes them anything anyway. But, how could it be that a state which enters its third decade of independence, is still unable to locate this most direct challenge it faces, a challenge which affects its development, which is rudely and openly imposed on it?!? This challenge is represented by the nationalist state doctrines of Greece and Bulgaria, to which the Macedonian national state and the Macedonian nation, with all their attributes, are completely unacceptable! And that is not just a reflection of some rhetorical bluster (as the majority of Macedonian politicians apparently and incredibly believed for over a quarter of a century), or the product of empty fantasies of radical individuals, of domestic populism and cheap jingoism, not deserving of the exalted attention of Skopje. This is a national consensus and position which nobody in Greece or Bulgaria would ever consider deviating from; these doctrines are meant to create policies which have very direct consequences for Macedonia: the Greek embargo, the problems they raised during Macedonia's admission to the United Nations, the blockade in signing inter-state treaties with Bulgaria, the vetoes of the EU and NATO accession, the blackmails... These policies are backward, absurd, idiotic even - but that doesn't make them unrealistic in the slightest, and it doesn't excuse the Macedonian politicians who persistently fail to prepare counter-measures and counter-strategies. Geography is remorseless - a state can't get away from its neighbors, and so it must face the madness that some of them are producing.
The denial and the assimilation of the Macedonian minority is part of the same problem, the first rung of the ladder.
What did Macedonia do to counter this absurdity?
It kept silent at the discrimination and assimilation going on across its borders.
It strived not to anger (even further?!) its neighbors. Those who are angry ever since the Macedonian nation has existed and created its own state.
Burying your head in the sand and trusting that time, Europe, the Baba Yaga or someone else will solve our problems? Are we expected to believe they will stand up for themselves and their own once all the need for that is gone and when someone else resolves all the problems. How smart, noble and brave! Very realistic, too. Also, stupid: why would someone solve your problems and if he did, what gives you any reason to believe that the problem will be resolved in your favor, when you yourself wouldn't lift a finger to solve it? Have we forgotten the words of Jane Sandanski, that the Macedonians need to fight "for their own liberty, without relying to help from others, because those who would come to liberate us will in fact come to enslave us". Hundreds years of history and we've learned nothing.
Did they believe that their concessions to the neighbors will put them to shame and will stop them from asking additional concessions? Who has ever done that in recorded history! Or that if they give up on their minorities, the neighbors will have their fill? That they will tame the monster of the anti-Macedonianism among our neighbors by feeding it with pieces of their own body?
This was and still is the Macedonian "strategy" to counter the ideological and political aggression from the east and the south. That is how the Republic of Macedonia got to this point. Time works against you when you are not working for you! The more inaction, the more brazen the deniers of the Macedonian nation got; the more concessions Macedonia made, the more they whetted their appetites...
And it's only natural! What good is demonstrating good will, a desire to reach a mutually acceptable solution, to be cooperative and constructive with someone when he's trying to rape you? You are simply sending out a clear signal that you are prepared to accept anything just to preserve the peace. That there is nothing holy for you, nothing you'd be prepared to fight or suffer for. That you have no dignity. Why would someone protect you if you won't protect yourselves? Is it because of your naive faith in some just international mediator? European politicians never shied from acknowledging (at least in my contacts with them) that they operate on the principle: no conflict - no problem. Ultimately, if you agree to being raped, that is no rape at all, but a reciprocal relationship, good-neighborliness, an act of maturity, of love... What would the great powers care if Macedonians turn into a stateless nation or if Macedonia becomes a prostitute state? Nothing. Especially if the Macedonians themselves don't care.
Once you agree to negotiate about your rape, the issue is no longer whether you get raped but how much. If you accept to negotiate on the issue of whether you are a human being, any compromise would lead to your de-humanization.
And that is precisely what Athens and Sofia strive for: they want to break apart and ultimately completely demolish the Macedonian nation and denationalize the Macedonian state. First, Macedonia is left without minorities across its borders, then it becomes a non-nation state with a geographic qualifier, then Macedonians lose their institutions which must not be national, then we bring down the myth which binds the Macedonian nation. Finally, we reach to the realization of the Bulgarian plan - "Macedonia in Europe, but not Macedonianism". Time goes back as if in a hellish dream: the partition of Macedonia from the Balkan Wars and the First World War will be overcome in the European Union, but the price for this is to bring Macedonians back in time before 1912, when they were not yet constituted as a nation, in the time of the Exarchate, of competing propagandas from our neighbors, a time when brother fought brother and all the horrors that come with it. The horrors which initially MRO and then the partisans fought to end. The horror that the Republic of Macedonia was created to end, where a portion of Macedonians found peace and shelter from the nationalist madness of the Balkans. How easily we forget this and how carelessly we work to bring this horror back. There is no doubt that this plan is mad, but there is also no doubt that this is what Sofia and Athens are working toward - toward death for Macedonianism, the idea that the Macedonians are a separate nation and not Bulgarians, Serbs or Greeks. An end to Macedonians as a separate nation. They allegedly "don't want" to bring down the house, but will "merely" undermine its foundations.
In the course of 28 years the Macedonian political and intellectual elite was unable to prepare a national consensus to fight this, to define its national or state interest, or to base them on any kind of a strategy. To achieve something that would be accepted by all political parties and would be defended by them, regardless whether they are in the Government or the opposition. A set of five issues which nobody would deny or negotiate away. A planned and determined strategy against the nationalist aggression we face from outside and from within.
And where there is no sense for the national, state or any other common interest, all that is left is - personal interest. In such a situation it is clear we can't have a general strategy or a common defense of our shared interests. Only the personal interests remain. And it is logical that in the end such interests will be defeated, or maybe the only gain is individual. The people, who the general interest relates to - will lose - while some politicians will turn a profit. This is what we are seeing right now. Sofia and Athens are persistently pushing their grotesque agendas, which they have elevated into national interest. The Macedonian side does not parry with its own interest, and does not resist the absurd and unrealistic claims, but reveals its constant readiness to negotiate everything and everybody away. And, naturally, the madness of the neighbors is slowly transformed into issues which are seriously discussed, then negotiated, and ultimately turned into conditions of our EU and NATO accession.
For 28 years we allowed obvious and escalating provocations to remain unanswered. Macedonian politicians would "react" only when forced to, and the reactions boiled down to sitting at a table and negotiating over something that is yours with someone else. In between the circuses (excuse me, cycles) of such negotiations - nothing would change, just inertia and going with the flow. What may be, may be. Living one day to the next.
Nothing was able to pierce through this fantasy. Even the events of the last two years did not break this... apathy.
Reason didn't help! They never thought that, even if taking care of their own interest, they should remember that, once the state is lost, whose politicians will they be?
Not emotions either! You would think that, out of basic solidarity and humanity, they would care for their tortured compatriots who live as minorities across the border and that, by doing so, they would also protect themselves. Since we are all part of one nation. Some foreigners, coming from various international institutions, would show more care about the Macedonian minorities in Bulgaria and Greece over the past three decades than the Macedonian state and all its politicians did put together.
Neither did the self-preservation instinct help! The simplest poultry has it. It protects itself from the threat that is aimed at its existence.
Politics conducted without the reason or the heart. Created in the gut but without balls... It can have no future.
(I sometimes consider that Macedonian politicians need to be run through a test. Go to the Bitpazar market. A professor should be able to begin with an illiterate person selling peppers, who can explain that, once you are at the market, you should know what you are selling, and what is not for sale. That you determine the price in a way that you raise it to the max, then bargain your way down to the best acceptable price. So that your being there makes sense. At no stage in this process is the seller discussing the price for his own person or that of his family. No strategy involves pulling your pants down. Twerking butt naked with an empty brain and no goal is no strategy. Nobody has heard of such politics...).
If the Macedonian political class doesn't wake up, soon it will be reduced again to administrators of a territory owned by a foreign government. The more goodwill they show and the more concessions they make, the more the problems multiply. Our problems multiply!
By Stojko Stojkov, Co-President of OMO Ilinden PIRIN