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08 May 15

Macedonia’s Politics of Victimhood Cheat Citizens

Lura Pollozhani

If the latest protests mark an end to the old politics of ethnic victimhood, we can all finally become citizens.

Two new statues have joined the vicinity of my apartment, adding to the existing one. All three of them are significant men, mounted on horseback, the two new ones looking towards the third.

Coincidentally perhaps, although I do not usually believe in coinci-dences, the two new ones are Macedonian heroes, while the one at the opposite side is the Albanian hero, Skenderbeg. They stand on oppo-site sides of the road, the two newer ones in the Municipality of Cen-tar, and Skenderbeg in the Municipality of Cair, which is mainly popu-lated by Albanians. I like to call the three of them my neighbours be-cause statues, sadly, have become an integral part of Skopje.

The juxtaposition of these statues is indicative. For a long time in Mac-edonia, Albanians and Macedonians have stood facing each other, each having a narrative whereby the other means them constant harm, so that we must be ready to fend off any of their advances.

In election campaigns, one rarely hears of policies. Instead, both gov-erning parties run campaigns that are so replete with ethnic rhetoric and nationalism that voters ran to the polling stations to save them-selves from the elusive enemy. This political framework has done even more damage to Macedonia then one might imagine. Obviously, it cre-ates rifts between ethnic groups but what is arguably worse is that it has imposed identities that are inherently victimised.

Victimised identities have developed through narratives whereby each of the bigger communities of Macedonia sees the other as always to blame for its problems. Identities are constantly seen as under threat, either from our immediate neighbours or from others across the border.  We thus have to use any means to maintain our rightful identity. All is fair in love and war, and my country seems to have been in a state of constant war where everything was fair although not just.

It has been shown that nationalism is a powerful card to play in Mace-donia since the parties have been able to win elections by using it. Through narratives that suit a victimised identity, all our politicians, in or outside the current government, have developed a taste for it. Due to our fear of extinction, many of us have accepted it, until the only cri-teria for winning elections has become who is the greater nationalist, not who might be the most visionary or democratic leader.

By acquiescing passively or actively in our victimised identities, we have all become victims as citizens. If the recent scandals in Macedo-nia have revealed anything, it is contempt for the dignity of the indi-vidual, a dignity to which we are all entitled.

On May 5, large protests were started after the leader of the opposi-tion, Zoran Zaev, published wiretapped conversations that point to a cover-up of over death of the young man, Martin Neshovski. Among other things, the protesters came out carrying the Macedonian and Al-banian flag tied together, signifying to me that citizens had come out, not groups. I hope that this signals a change in Macedonia whereby we can show that we have matured enough to transcend our ethnicity and embrace our common citizenship.

If this is the case, the government and all the political parties hoping to govern one day, should pay attention. To any political party wanting to appropriate the protests, I would advise them not to do so because they are not theirs. To any political party criticising them, I would re-mind them that true patriotism lies in criticising one’s own govern-ment when it is in the wrong.

For the sake of our future, I hope that the winner in the troubling situ-ation that Macedonia is currently facing will be the citizen in the long run. I hope our politicians will learn to address citizens as such and, in the next election, convince me to vote for them by offering me a digni-fied life - and not the shielded, ethnic life so clearly defined by my neighbouring statues.

If no such alternative is offered in the future, I might decide that the statues, which have become stand-ins for the many people who have left this country, will become stand-ins for me as well.

Talk about it!

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