Easy rise and terrible fall
By Denko Maleski
There is a price that our society will have to pay for the affairs that shake it. Namely, when all the public attention is focused on scandals and corruption, politics becomes a kind of a “soap opera” on TV screens. The consequence is a decline in voter confidence in politicians and political institutions, and a sort of banalization of politics, a term that denotes something so common and down-to-earth that it is not worth wasting words to explain. Macedonian politics?…Then there is the rise of cynicism as distrust in the motives of the other, above all the politicians, namely that they work in the interest of the people, but also distrust in the traditional understanding of politics as an act of participation. Then, the political scene of the state is set for easy penetration by populist politicians, “political entrepreneurs” who will give the people what they want, be it justice and freedom or material prosperity. In our country, especially after the series of horrific scandals, from unauthorized wiretapping of citizens and abuses of power in the released footage, to the Racket affair involving the special prosecutor chosen to clear up the previous affair, the political scene is set for a new penetration of Gruevski-type populism. That, of course, should not happen to us.
A few words about populism. There is populism on both the left and the right. At present, in the West, this phenomenon is mainly manifested as right-wing politics, targeting the fears, anxiety and desire of people for a better life and making Donald Trump the President of the United States. Fears and anxiety are directed at immigrants, Muslims, but also towards the “corrupt domestic political elite” as opposed to the “pure people”, that is, the nation. The populist leader always claims to represent the united “will of the people”. He and his party represent the people. He is portrayed as someone who opposes the enemy, more precisely the political system and the liberal elite. Politicians like Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Viktor Orban combine all this with authoritarianism by directly attacking liberal democracy and its values. It is noteworthy that one of the common features of populist politicians is bad manners. Namely, decency, characteristic of the traditional Anglo-Saxon politicians is replaced by indecency. The president of the Philippines, Duterte and the US president, Trump, for example, share such indecency. Populist politicians, as a rule, create and maintain a state of crisis through a permanent campaign showing that they are not part of the establishment. Political analysts believe the populist politician’s strength is in the “negative content” of his messages. He is constantly “against”, against liberals, against intellectuals, against immigrants, against the elite…A common denominator of right modern populists is that they have an aversion to the complicated democratic system, preferring direct democracy and a referendum. Therefore, often, the decision is not a product of a complicated system of democratic procedure but the decision is personal, of the populist leader. I am not an individual, I am the people, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez used to say. Such attitudes rearrange the country’s political sphere in a bad way. Namely, pluralism gives way to authoritarianism, and the leader enters into an “irresponsible bidding” on behalf of the people. And while normal politicians need time to figure out the possibilities for realizing a plan they would propose to the people, the populist is far faster at promising changes that people like, but which cannot always be realized. Venezuela’s fate is proof of where populism can lead: promises of a paradise on earth to take the people right to hell.
What is happening to us in the young Balkan country of North Macedonia, are we not part of this global trend? Yes, but with one notable difference in terms of the member states of the alliances we are striving for, NATO and the EU: populism in those countries occurs in conditions of a liberal democratic tradition and functioning democratic and legal systems. In our country populism occurs in the absence of a liberal democratic tradition and a dysfunctional democratic and legal system. In such conditions, the blow of populism does not meet with serious resistance from the underdeveloped democratic and legal system and gives the populist politician a direct and unhindered access to the minds and feelings of citizens, their fears, anxieties and desires for a better life. Therefore, when opposition leader Mickovski says his party will bring democracy and justice, it is pure populism, like that of the previous opposition whose leader Zaev promised that his party would bring life. For truth’s sake, the signing of the historic agreement with Greece has opened the door to the modern world of the West, which is truly vital to the people and the state, not immediately but in one perspective. But our game with populism is much more dangerous because there is no established democratic and legal system that will defend the people from the simplifications of populist leaders who are willing to promise and do whatever they want. Only that way, in an underdeveloped democratic system, Gruevski’s populism could, without serious resistance, cut through parties, associations and citizens’ minds in pursuing the leader’s will, from the redefinition of national identity to grandiose economic plans. The existence of a truly democratic system would be opposed. At least as long as such a system is opposed to the authoritarianism of the US President Donald Trump.
Thinking rationally, in our case, parties must first agree on how to lay the foundations of a liberal democratic and rule of law, and only then allow themselves to play with populism and nationalism. But in the real world of politics rationality is just one of the factors that is often not decisive. Such rational behavior in a country’s politicians requires high democratic consciousness ready to say “no thanks” to populism. But how to resist populism through which an average mind or even a human donkey can so easily rise into the highest echelons of power. That is why every next generation of politicians has to go through the bitter experience saying: the higher you launch into power with the help of populism, the worse your fall. And when we have already thought that everyone has finally learned the lesson, new candidates line up for easy rise and terrible fall. The greedy human nature for power, money, and fame is insatiable and fearless.
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