Ratings, arrests and a church on fire
By Aleksandar Krzhalovski
The campaign for the presidential election entered its final week, and final ratings of candidates were announced yesterday. The central rallies of VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM in Skopje were held, but the attendance of both did not meet the expectations, and the question of achieving the 40% census in the second round is becoming more and more important. This means that the leading parties hardly manage to mobilize support outside the party circles (membership and supporters), and slowly the “myth” of the candidates’ non-party is slowly breaking down. And finally, that the campaign seems to be not so interesting for the citizens.
There were also some other impressive things last week. In Belgrade, the International Civil Society Week was held – the biggest global event in this field. There, among other things, it was concluded that CSOs hardly manage to reach out to the citizens with their messages, that is, to overcome the engraved stereotypes for this sector (manipulators, money launderers, “sorosoids”). It seems that I did not succeed in doing so with the last column (“Civil Society”), given the comments that without exception fit into those same stereotypes, including the one about “brainwashing”.
In Belgrade, the biggest protest from the series “1 of 5 million” took place. Well, I do not know if it was the biggest, but it was so announced. Since I was present, I can confirm that there were a lot of people at the protest in front of the Parliament of Serbia, certainly much more than the authorities’ assessment that there were only 7,500 present there, but certainly much less than the expectations of the organizers and the opposition. Very far below 100 thousand, let alone 1 or 5 million. Probably the rallies of both VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM had more citizens than the protest in Belgrade. Hardly to the “Macedonian scenario” (although here it somehow began like that)!
However, two other events in the world were more striking – the arrest of Julian Assange and the fire at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Still under impressions of the recent destruction of the cathedral in the center of France (and literally the zero point from which all the distances in that country are measured at the door of this monumental building), I will start from that story.
It is not known (yet) how the fire started, but for now, the variant that it is a terrorist act is rejected, and it indicates a possible omission in the restoration work that had been in progress for a long time. The good thing about the whole accident is that there were no human casualties (only one more seriously injured firefighter). The next days (and in the investigation) will be discussed why no more radical measures to extinguish the fire (airplanes or helicopters with water) were not applied, and the fire was left to crush the roof and the central tower, and probably all that was worth inside, and only the structure (outer construction) remained.
But these are basic and mainly technical information about the event, and the impression of media coverage from the spot is a massive shock to the French (and all others), disbelief that something like this could have happened, strong emotions, sorrow, and weeping. It is understandable, when it comes to knowing the importance of the church in the collective memory of France, as a place of many of the hectic events throughout its history. Beginning in 1163 (in 2013 its 850th birthday was celebrated, although it was considered completed only in 1345), it is the place where Napoleon was (self)proclaimed an emperor, where several French presidents were buried, where the liberation from fascism was celebrated in 1944.
In news articles about the fire it is often stated that Notre Dame (or in translation – Our Lady) is a symbol of Paris and France. And today it is experienced mainly in a positive connotation (and for the above-mentioned examples), and I also experienced it that way when I visited it many years ago. But I will quote a colleague from Bulgaria who reminds that through history, people differently experienced what it actually symbolizes. Thus, the French Protestants (Huguenots) in 1584 destroyed much of the original statues (considering them to be “idolatry”). Then, at the time of the French Revolution of 1870, it was barely rescued from complete destruction, because it was considered by the revolutionaries a symbol of the monarchy. 28 statues were “cut off” their heads because they reminded of the French kings (their heads were found during excavations in the area in 1977). Even the statue of the Mother of God (the church was named after it) is then replaced (in the spirit of the revolution) with the Goddess of Liberty. Neglected after that, after Victor Hugo’s novel about its bell-ringer Quasimodo a massive restoration in 1844 began, and after about 20 years it was given the present look. All this, the colleague says, speaks of a dark side of the French religious (and other) (non)tolerance.
However, today, as I have pointed out, the symbolism is mainly positive, and probably there are no Frenchmen who have not visited, or have even stronger emotional moments (not just baptisms and weddings), and this was visible in the reactions of the citizens and their powerless testimony for yesterday’s tragedy. President Macron, addressing the entire French nation said that “with this we lost part of all of us”. And this is a completely understandable feeling – when a part of the personal or national identity is lost!
I usually refer to events outside of Macedonia in order to drag some parallels to the events in our country or lessons from more advanced countries. In this case, I am reminded of the fires in the Treskavec Monasteries near Prilep and St. Jovan Bigorski, in the Reka region, under Galichnik. But I also remember the scene on the day after the explosion that collapsed the Leshok monastery, or the burning of the mosque in Prilep, both in the 2001 conflict. The sentence with the identity above is not a coincidence, but I would not comment on it now.
I would go back briefly to another important event this week – the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London, after the Ecuadorian Embassy, after 7 years of his residence there, lifted the asylum. Apart from the fact that no world media other than the Russian Television (Russia Today) noticed the arrest, that is, Assange taking out of the embassy, opened (in my impression – relatively modest) a dispute whether he would be extradited to the United States, under accusation of “publishing illegally acquired electronic communications”? Does it sound familiar? It is about e-mail communications from US embassies around the world, as well as a special section with such communications in the Pentagon (the US military command). And while it is clear that this is a punishable offense (as with us), it is also something that every (investigative) journalist and media does daily in the world and is a matter of balance – whether and when it can be announced. And this is an open debate – whether it is information of public interest, who assesses it, whether a criminal activity or corrupt behavior is revealed etc. While throughout the world they are celebrated as heroes of media freedom and information, defense of the public interest and the discovery of crime and corruption of the authorities, the three most significant characters of this struggle in the last decade are either still in jail, exile or under asylum: Julian Assange – asylum to the Ecuadorian Embassy, now in a British prison); Edward Snowden – exile in Russia; and Bradley Manning (now Chelsea, after changing the sex while serving the prison sentence) – was jailed for several years in prison for the Pentagon files he supplied to WikiLeaks, and pardoned by President Obama a few days before he left office. The dilemma remains – heroes or criminals?
In the end, a word or two about the thing from the beginning – the ratings. According to the Electoral Code (and its peculiar provision for banning the publication of polls less than 5 days prior to election day), the last polls for the upcoming elections, from the Rating agency, were published yesterday, and we also published a second poll at the MCIC. Thus, the leading public opinion polling agencies: M-prospect, Rating and IPIS announced their forecasts for the election result and it is good (as the last two to three elections some were missing).
The second good thing is that the results between them are fairly equal. With a fence for different methodologies (one outline versus two phone surveys) and an insignificantly different sample (including its representativeness), Pendarovski has a slight lead, within or just above the statistical error, so if there are no surprises in the last week, we can expect his lead after the first round.
There were no predictions of turnout in the second round (this will remain for any new polls next week), so the uncertainty about the census remains. Many factors point to a possible problem with the turnout on May 5…the most significant is the behavior of the Albanians and especially the opposition parties from that bloc; further – the level of boycotts of within supporters of VMRO-DPMNE; as well as the number of disappointed supporters of this Government (both SDSM and DUI) due to the amnesty, but also the lack of reforms.
However, turnout will not be a problem in the first round, and due to the large number of respondents who say that they will not vote, or have not yet decided, or do not want to say who they would vote for, there are some analyses that predict Siljanovska’s leadership after the first round.
In any case, it will be an interesting campaign week and not (so) certain voting on Sunday!
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