Skip to content

Macedonian Salad Needs a Fresh Start

March 13, 2012

By Igor Stefanovski, Balkan Insight, 12.03.2012


Our response to the recent rise in ethnic tensions must involve rediscovering part of what we really are.


Macedonia salad | Photo by: Wikimedia Commons/misbehave

In certain parts of the world, particularly in the Mediterranean and in South America, the name Macedonia conjures up images of a mixed fruit salad (Macedonia de frutas), not of our region, or of Alexander the Great, or the problems regarding the name of our country.

Thus, when I tell an Italian, Frenchman or Mexican that I am from Macedonia, within 10 seconds they tell me what the word means in their language. I then explain that this is so because many different nations/cultures lived/live relatively successfully in the region called Macedonia. They smile and say “You learn something new every day, right?”

Right. Life would be very tedious without some form of new information every day. But unfortunately, in Macedonia, we’ve been hearing the same old things in recent years; a broken record, as the English would say: “You have to change your name before anything else”… “Tomorrow there will be inter-ethnic war”… “Growing misery”… “This is not going to end well”…

Meanwhile, the political parties, who are well aware that this situation of a frightened, repressed people suits their purposes, blame one another, using the exact same vocabulary. In so doing they only serve to strengthen their own power and image as the only saviours.

Where has it brought us, the citizens of Macedonia? To a situation of good guys and bad guys, patriots and traitors, war and peace – of everything being black or white. A blood feud lasting ad infinitum. Worse, it appears that there is no escape, no light at the end of the tunnel, while the darkness continues to deepen, even though we always say that it cannot get worse.

So, where is salvation and does it exist? Yes it does. As the saying goes, it’s darkest before dawn. Then where should we look for this salvation? Within ourselves, of course. But whose example should we follow?

Seeing that we are striving to enter the European Union, perhaps we should start there. Unfortunately, however, we have been looking for salvation in a model on the other side of the Atlantic. In fact, one of Macedonia’s biggest problems is the fact that it is following this model even though it is one of the oldest parts of Europe. Consequently, it is now a country where workers are treated like tools rather than human beings; a country that until recently had no law on minimum wage (like the US until two years ago), and has become a so-called demo-Christian state [as VMRO-DPMNE describe themselves] in a multi-religious/cultural/ethnic land. Herein, arguably, lie the roots of the many internal problems.

On the other hand, here on the old continent, things are different. If we take a look at some countries in the European Union, we have Finland and Denmark, where over 85 per cent of workers are members of unions (as opposed to 12 per cent in the US). Then there is Sweden, a country with one of the best administrative and health systems on the planet. In fact, 19 European countries are ranked higher than the US on the global list of life expectancy. We also find the example of Belgium, which, due to inter-ethnic problems between the Flemish and the Waloons, preferred to spend 541 days without a government rather than bowing to extremist calls for disintegration.

Furthermore, in one EU country prostitution is legal, and this is not in some grey and dubious Eastern European member states, but in The Netherlands, one of the six founders of the European Union! The Dutch police also do not enforce the laws against marijuana (thus resulting in de facto legalisation), and all varieties of the “herb” are sold in so-called “coffee shops” right next to police stations, while prostitutes work wall to wall with expensive law firms. But visitors to The Netherlands do not find a land full of junkies and syringes lying on the street. It is a civilised country where the authorities have simply concluded that criminalising certain human “needs” does more harm than good.

So, why not accept these open and liberal sides of Europe? Why did we not embrace the European form of capitalism, which we had to some extent under Yugoslavia (with a strong national health system, unions, protected workers’ rights), instead of allowing this merciless US version to take over?

We should look to Europe, not across the ocean, for inspiration. Have we not had enough of Hollywood-style choreographed inter-ethnic fights on Skopje’s Kale Fortress, or broadcasts modelling themselves on America’s Fox News, which set out to maintain fear and convince us that our neighbour is to blame for our situation?

We need a fresh start. We need a new future in which we will not be held hostage by the current impasse, a future in which we will say, “Let’s try something new, something different!” Let us adopt some of the liberal, humane policies that are working well in the states of the club that we want to join, because clearly the ones we have employed thus far have not worked.

And there is so much to choose from in the European Union: From the United Kingdom, which has the highest number of interracial marriages, we can take the example of interethnic coexistence; from Sweden, we can borrow the model of the welfare state; from France, the conviction that the people are stronger than the government; and from Portugal, the de-criminalisation of all drugs (which Time and Forbes magazines assessed as a success since it halved the number of drug addicts and gave the police more time to chase real criminals instead of beating up teenagers in parks).

We need something radical but positive. We need something unifying, but not the kind of unity that arises from tragedy. We need civic action that will prove to our politicians that we are stronger than they are and will make it clear that they have gone too far with their games and manipulation. Something to show them that we hold the power. That they are nothing without us.

One of the most inspiring acts of people power that I am aware of is the Baltic Human Chain that was made between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on 23 August 1989, when 2 million people, organising themselves without the use of the Internet and mobile phones, held hands over 600 kilometres. In doing so, they let the government in Moscow know that they wanted freedom, democracy and a peaceful split from the Soviet Union, while at the same time they attracted global attention. Perhaps most importantly, they showed an unshakable solidarity existed between the peoples of the three countries.

Just imagine a column made up of Albanians, Vlachs, Macedonians, Roma, Serbs, Turks, all holding hands from St Naum to Kriva Palanka, via Skopje, in the middle of a working day. It worked in the Baltics, so why not the Balkans? After something like that, I doubt we would believe in the choreographed, farcical politics we have here, or in those who orchestrate them.

I look forward to the day when we accept that living in this country requires interethnic coexistence. The day when we realise that the fact that Macedonia also means a mixed fruit salad is something that we should be proud of, because there is nothing better than a freshly made fruit salad. Unfortunately, the fruit salad that is currently on offer is far from appealing. We do not want to see it, let alone eat it. Fortunately for us, the best fruit grows right here, on Macedonian soil! We just need to choose the best and ripest crop, wash it and slice it, and then mix it together by following an old country recipe.

According to Wikipedia (Macedonia-food), our name was popularised as a reference to fruit salad in the late 18th century, alluding to the various peoples who lived in Alexander the Great’s empire (as well as the Ottoman one). If we really want that name for our country, why not try to maintain one of the meanings that it has worldwide? I await the day when we bring out our best fresh fruit and present to the world the spectacular brand that is Macedonia!

Igor Stefanovski is a graduate of the Master’s programme at the Institut Européen des Hautes Etudes Internationales. Balkan Insight is BIRN’s online publication.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: