Todays Date
April 20, 2019

The fear of “balkanization”

Writes: Denko Maleski


Concerned participants in a CNN debate repeated several times that “Balkanization of the American society” must not be allowed. They wanted to say that the divisions, after the election of Donald Trump as president of America, are so prevalent and so deep, and the absence of unity is so pronounced that the country resembles the Balkans. Yes, in world terminology, “balkanization” means small, hostile parts of a whole, be it a region or society that are not able to build unity. I first got familiar with the term “balkanization” as a high school student in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Namely, it is there that in 1963, the seat of a new organization of states, the Organization of African Unity, was established, and at the founding conference, the leaders of Africa pledged not to allow “balkanization” on their continent and of their states.

Little did I know that, decades later, I would experience the balkanization of the Yugoslav society, and in its worst form: bloody ethnic conflicts in which more than 200,000 lives were lost, and the lives of millions were destroyed. Namely, instead of preserving some unity and working to rearrange relations in the federation in order to create an association of sovereign states, nationalist leaders have fueled a war, causing fierce balkanization. Later, the countries of Western Europe, in an effort to erase the word “Balkans” and give us a chance for a new beginning, began to use the notion of Southeast Europe. But let’s be honest: we need to walk on the road from “the Balkans” to “Southeast Europe” by changing our reality, because the new label, although it can cover our Balkan squabbling vices, it cannot remove them.

Therefore, it is worth paying attention to the tendencies that lead to balkanization of the Macedonian society. We are a multi-ethnic society that contains the most dangerous element of Balkanization: the ethnic conflict. The experience of the breakup of Yugoslavia, but also of the year 2001 in Macedonia, may be of benefit to us in order to avoid it. But we are poor learners. We keep failing to understand that the equality and equability of individuals and ethnic groups is of vital importance to our common state. Of course, the story does not end here. That equality and equitability should be the base of a unity which is complex and it takes a lot of effort to achieve. In one of his texts written in 1935, the American liberal thinker and journalist Walter Lippmann (I mention, here, in this text as well, the man who with his columns left lasting marks on my high school mind) will write: “American unity is plural, and can be preserved only by a continuing equilibrium among its many regions, classes, interests and faiths. American unity can never be absolute, rigid, or simple, it must always be a balance of many interests, each moderately and tolerantly pursued.” Replace the word “American” with “Macedonian” and add the term “ethnic groups” and the essence is the same. “If we want to insure a good life for our descendants, we must brace ourselves to a new nationalism,” Lippmann said in the above-mentioned text. So do we in Macedonia today: we must first brace ourselves to the new nationalism that obliges us to accept and love Macedonia as it is, multi-ethnic, and not like what nationalism dreams to see – ethnically pure. This should be done persistently and “with moderation and tolerance”. In everyday life, however, we need to be united by the principles of the democratic rule of law that will deserve the loyalty of all its parts. In doing so, we should be careful that, unlike America, we do not have a “melting pot” that creates Americans from different ethnic groups, so the Macedonian path to unity is equality and equability. Namely, equality and equability is the way, for the ethnic Albanian to become a “political Macedonian”.

Many Macedonians fear that the Law on Languages, as an expression of such equality, will crush, will balkanize Macedonia. Of course, just as the knife can be used to cut bread or kill someone, the principle of equality and equability can be used to strengthen the unity of our state or for its “balkanization”. Moderate political forces on both sides of the ethnic division, with their behavior, should remove that fear. How? By stretching our hand across the ethnic gap and by opposing to our own ultra-nationalists.


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