I.Third Macedonian Republic – from skepticism through euphoria to depression
The square was then empty of buildings but crowded with people. Thousands of people rushed to the stage to closely hear that on that clear and warm September night their country was born.
By Zoran Ivanov
This will be a subjective story of objective Macedonian reality. Under the same title in three sequels. No pretensions to any chronological order of events, but more an impression of the Macedonian independent walk. In this first Friday column only a brief factual reminder of the very 8 September 1991.
Truth to be told, just a year before the tumultuous events, the majority of Macedonian citizens did not even think about the independence of the country. But the disintegration of the federation was inevitable, and the political leadership of the time could not sense the mood of the citizens. Louder considerations of possible alternatives occurred after more frequent and armed international incidents began to happen. The caution was over-emphasized and overflowing with fear of hasty decisions. But the evident events of the successive inertial collapse of the socialist order in Europe at the time and of the ruling communist parties in the eastern bloc imposed an ambience of expectation of major changes in our country as well. In those turbulent times caused by the tide of unrest that crushed the Berlin Wall and crumbled the communist ideological matrix, the surge of chauvinism within the Yugoslav borders was a strong additional impetus.
Other factors such as the economic crisis, Serbian hegemony and Croatian egocentrism, with nationalism as their primary tool of discord, plunged the Yugoslav community into a bloody conflict, and it was already clear in that 1991 that the common state was falling apart. Fortunately for us and our Macedonian position, only on the seams of the republic’s borders. Under such circumstances in which the arms were used, both within the federal army and among the newly formed republican and regional paramilitaries, Macedonia, regardless of its citizens’ divided wishes for independence or to fight to return to the federation, was virtually without choice before its own decision. And then the state and party leaderships and the citizens, of course, chose the only possible way out – independence.
There was a visible fear of a referendum, but there was no other choice. The event, scheduled for September 8, was the only historic opportunity. A possible solution that sublimated two then-opposing options: the state to break away peacefully without bloodshed, a signal that was intended to be sent with the referendum, and, second, for which the question gave the possibility, that if the federation eventually overcame misunderstandings between members, the republic to return to the federal framework. Of course, the latter was merely a populist design that sought to appease the fears for security and existence of the country as an independent international entity, but also to tame the already disenchanted federal army that had powerful military installations in Macedonia as well. But in all variants, it was very clear that the federal centers were already so weak at that time, and the republics so strong and hostile to each other, that the only real option was the referendum to succeed and with all the risks the country to go its own way.
Despite the evident fears and political upheavals on the way to independence and the initial resistance to the referendum, its results clearly expressed the citizens’ will for an independent country. The referendum was inevitably successful. The people said what they wanted to say and the assembly and other institutions more or less successfully modeled the attributes of the new international entity. From this distance it is easy to conclude that in those, now historical circumstances, both euphoria and skepticism were exaggerated. But the fact is that few of those generations who pushed for independence are now satisfied with the achievements.
And it is exactly that fact that should be a challenge for the present generations. Twenty-eight years ago that time was both a motive and a challenge. And desire and provocation. In the then immersive pluralistic environment several media outlets took their part of responsibility. To inform, but also to communicate with the citizens about all events, dilemmas, fears, uncertainties. And about the expectations, the enthusiasm and the joy for the opportunity for Macedonia to become independent.
In that historic breakthrough, Macedonian Radio, Radio Skopje, took the lead in the process and wrote a significant part of that national history. This medium was the leader of those processes and the animator of the public day and night. In the radio studios day and night there were politicians from the growing number of new political parties, but also professors, artists, moderate and rebellious intellectuals, public figures of all provinces. The radio was the true pluralist battlefield, organizer of numerous debates. It was the only medium open to the citizens, their fears and their hopes. In the live programs, through the open and uncensored telephone lines, three hundred, four hundred listeners were directly in the air. That symbiosis between the citizens and the radio, unnoticed but naturally, imposed an obligation on both technicians and journalists. Especially for the middle-aged and young journalists, along with their radio as a medium, to be part of the referendum organization and not just in the part of their program commitments.
Thus, this is probably already written somewhere as a historical fact, in the radio clusters and studios the idea of this medium was spontaneously born, and on behalf of the citizens, to ask the city, to insist on making a stage, a wooden platform on the Skopje square. Allegedly for its own technical program needs for live radio broadcasting. And it was actually a call to the citizens for a mass rally to celebrate the evident success of the referendum on September 8. And the fireworks display that came after the current top state official announced the epilogue of the citizens’ will was also the work of Radio Skopje. It was in addition to the overflowing joy which was becoming more euphoric as the percentages of turnout and confirmation of the referendum question was growing. Radio Skopje then moved its mobile studio to the square, next to the stage. With a live minute-by-minute broadcast, it reported on the results of the referendum. Every minute it announced the numbers and percentages of the referendum and the counting of votes that shaped Macedonian independence. The square was then empty of buildings but crowded. Thousands of people rushed to the stage to closely hear that on that clear and warm September night their country was born. To be witnesses and direct participants in the act.
Now, after nearly three decades, the country both has and does not have results. Macedonia, North Republic of Macedonia is with all institutional and international attributes of independent and sovereign. But with even initial democratic capacities. With minor results in all areas. With low state awareness, no political culture, no resilience to political deviations, dominant clientelist mentality, corrupt habits, party nepotism. With politicized and subversive institutions and no legal order. With mass exodus of young, smart and educated people. In a word, two, Macedonian society is in serious atrophy that endangers the country in its elementary state-building substance.
In such an environment, where we have already reached many bottoms, the future is not very certain. The political crisis has been going on for too long and apathy has become a dominant situation. However, let’s be a bit more optimistic as this situation is unsustainable. It must fall and it will start to happen. There is a new release ahead of us, a new transition that will be as painful and painful as ever. But it is important that the direction, the course and the determination persist in the direction of sustainable democratic development prospects.
In the next second of the three Friday sequels of this mini-columnist series, a little closer and a little more about the Macedonian actualities. In this first, however, a dose of optimism – new generations have the potential to tear down the facades. To break down the masks that cover the country.
And to project the European civic values that have been stolen by the unscrupulous domestic politics in the past two, three decades.
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