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Of Values and Stones

March 5, 2013

Stones were flying through the streets of Skopje, people were molested and beaten to bits because they are what they are, a wave of destruction was left behind by hooligans. It must be election time again in Macedonia.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit one of the centre-pieces of the “Skopje 2014” project, the “Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Statehood and Self-Determination/Museum of VMRO and Museum for the Victims of the Communist Regime”, as the official and exhausting name goes.

I knew I was in for a ride, but what I witnessed surpassed my worst expectations: the content is just as exhausting and uninspired as the name.

The architectural display of a nouveau-riche dream of lushness is in stark and inappropriate contrast to the actual thematic focus of the museum, which dwells on issues of oppression, poverty, sacrifice, struggle, and the likes. Entering the museum one feels as out of place as a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah.

An entrance hall looking cheap in attempting to imitate a palace hall is dominated by a glass cupola in vivid colours symbolising the unfinished [sic!] Macedonian struggle.

It harbours hand-written copies of the declaration of independence and the constitution in Macedonian and English, trying to create that “We, the People…” feeling, but with only one percent of the American pathos. Even ignoring that the copies are not in the same hand-writing, the entire display looks pretty modest. Yet another small nation trying to create circumstances to earn the qualificative “grand” is giving itself a shrine. So be it.

The Museum of Macedonian Struggle

The first experience is that of shackles. No individual visits are possible, only groups and only with a guide. God forbid anyone would want to move along individually and draw their own conclusions! The individual is nothing. It is the group that has to digest the collective information transferred by an authorised medium.

And indeed, the entire setting complies with this logic. At no moment in the entire museum is there an explanatory note, other than title and author of the paintings and the characters depicted by the more than one hundred wax figures.

All information has to come censored through the guide’s filter. Critical approach? Wrong place for that. The history of the national struggle is presented in a linear way, one phase leading logically to the next, until statehood and democracy are established.

And of course the struggle of VMRO is the national struggle. Period. Alternative views? Not in here.

It would have been interesting to find sentences like this in the museum: “IMRO exhibited a particularly odd twist on the age-old tendency of revolutionary commitment to devolve into nihilistic violence for the sake of violence when its agents became terrorists for hire” (Randall D. Law: Terrorism. A History, p. 157). It would have been interesting to see space dedicated to debate, to interpretation, to a critical view on facts.

Instead, all one sees in the museum are heroes. And sometimes the odd anti-hero, depending on the guide’s mood and political orientation. The wax figures look like the offspring of Madame Tussaud and a Viennese horror cabinet, and the mass-scene paintings produced by Russian and Ukrainian painters have the aura of Soviet-style socialist realism without the socialism.

And there are more than eighty of them, about seventy nine more than someone with a feeling for aesthetics can bear. It was interesting to see how many Macedonian contemporary painters, many of which would describe themselves as avant-gardist, contributed to the museum with paintings of modest value. And that is putting it mildly.

Leaving the museum onto the centre of the “Skopje 2014” project left the entire group baffled and harmoniously expressing the wish for vast amounts of alcohol to wash down the experience.

Only few days later, the next bomb goes down. The national, public television is hit by a furor of epic proportions. A video for the Macedonian contribution for the most outdated of all contests, the “Grand Prix de l’Eurovision” provokes massive criticism, especially on social networks, to the point that the video is withdrawn.

Esma and Lozano

The video to the song called “Imperija” (empire) was conceived around the key buildings of the “Skopje 2014” project, giving the impression that the title refers to them and that we are witnessing the revival or creation or reanimation or whatever of an empire.

Even though the connotation is not correct, since the empire is supposed to be music itself, the impression remains. The criticism was ruthless and left the Macedonian Television look like the proverbial pizza in the rain.

The third event I want to mention is the hacking of the website of the governing VMRO-DPME by a group calling itself “Anonymous”, but which in their explanation provided religious hatred and extreme nationalist views as motives, as a retaliation for the appointment of a former commander of the ethnic Albanian insurgent NLA as Macedonian minister of defence.

As far as I know, Macedonia is the only place where the “Anonymous” label is misused for fascist propaganda. And this was not the first time.

Ok, and what does all this have to do with the instances of hooliganism on the streets of Skopje? It is about values. The Macedonian society has plummeted well out of compass and humanist values do not seem to count much anymore.

In the museum for the national cause all one is presented is a one-sided, ready-digested view of history, which en passant glorifies the use of violence for political motives, well in the terrorist tradition of VMRO. No critical space, no deviation.

The Byzantine approach – it comes from the top, so it is right. This approach is perpetuated in the entire education system, which fails bitterly in promoting critical thinking, but excels in the industrial production of diplomas.

Streamlined and uncritical citizens are the result, people who easily fall for myths, for manipulation and for the wish to be part of something meaningful – the petit-bourgeois essence of the “Skopje 2014” project, the reason for some fascist idiots using the label of “Anonymous”.

The riots in Skopje | Photo by: Ognen Teofilovski

Manipulation and ruthless fight for power are behind the events on the last weekend, too. Pre-election violence is the rule rather than the exception in recent years.

Political-economic power groups entertain their own private militias of hooligans, who are activated whenever needed. And there is always a mass of young people ready to join in, ready to be fooled, because they have never learned to think independently.

All you need is to invoke an imminent danger to the tribe, and these fake patriots will come running, often sent or accompanied by their parents. It is the material martyrs are made of. And they will create other martyrs and so on and on and on.

For as long as violence is not banned as a legitimate means of reaching political goals. I say legitimate and not legal. And by violence I mean the structural violence exercised to force people and their families to guarantee their vote for the patron as well as the violence exercised in the name of religious phantasms, or the violence exercised by a father beating his child into buying a beer for him, or a husband locking away his wife in the name of tradition.

The “Imperija” video was a perfect depiction of how far this hollow and fake patriotism can go. In fact it is merely unreflected, cheap populism, a gullibly uninspired attempt at internationally legitimising the aberrations of “Skopje 2014”. Fortunately, there seem to be limits to the idiocy people are ready to buy. Hence this:

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