Government billboard before the September 30, 2018 failed referendum in Macedonia. The Government said that “North” is just a geographical designation, not ethnic. The rest of the world, increasingly, disagrees. (Photo: the author)

Gradualism’s slippery slope

Last week I wrote about identity as national security for Macedonia and how when identity is attacked and weakened, the very existence of the state of Macedonia is at risk. I’ll delve deeper into this issue in the future because I think it is vital for the continued existence of the state of Macedonia and Macedonians, wherever they live.

This week, let’s begin by first defining who is attacking the identity of Macedonians and Macedonia. Macedonia’s immediate neighbors — Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Albania all have reasons to see Macedonian identity weakened for what should be extremely obvious reasons that I won’t go into here. Their attacks and the reasons for it should be plain for all to see.

Others, too, are attacking Macedonian identity and it is this group that I want to focus on. It consists, mostly, of transnational elites who don’t hold their own identities very closely but consider themselves as “citizens of the world,” “cosmopolitans,” and other words or descriptions that signal an attitude that makes them both the transnationals and the elites that I call them. This group consists of politicians, bureaucrats, media, think tanks, academia, civil society, cultural institutions, big business, and big tech — most of them being citizens in Western countries, though again, they would be loath to call themselves loyal to a single country.

The first group, Macedonia’s neighbors, is easy to enter into rhetorical combat with — they are upfront and obvious about their aims and in denying Macedonian identity. Combatting the second group, however, is more difficult.

This second group increasingly uses terms such as “North Macedonians” and “citizens of North Macedonia” in their descriptions of the Macedonians and all things that should be labeled simply as Macedonian. Why they do it is a different matter. Some probably do it naturally. We talk about the “North Koreans” and the “South Koreans” though all of the Koreans are just that — Koreans. So some find it natural to say or write “North Macedonians.” But others, I believe, do it with malign intent in an effort to deliberately weaken Macedonian identity as part of their ongoing push — in every country but especially in Europe and the West — to undermine identity and the cultural institutions that go with it in making up nation-states because ultimately, that is what is under attack from these people — the nation-state. Some states are more successful than others at fighting this and some states have citizens whose identity is more precious to them, making them more resistant to this attack.

As regards Macedonia, what must we do about this? It must be called out. Most recently the United Macedonian Diaspora called out the New York Times for writing “North Macedonian” in an article about the award-winning Macedonian film Honeyland. To the Times’ credit, they changed it to what is correct: Macedonian. And there are other instances of this; Tim Judah (he writes for The Economist, among other publications), when called out on this issue a few months ago, said he would have the publication’s stylebook updated to reflect that the proper adjective is Macedonian.

True, these organizations and individuals are merely using the name that the Government of Macedonia, under outgoing Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, has told them to use, no matter the fact that it was changed without the consent of the governed and through using bribes, threats, intimidation and arrests to ram it through parliament. But having now changed the name of the country, the identity is now changing, out of mere habit or deliberately.

In all of this, the Government of Zoran Zaev, including his ministers, his party, SDSM, his partner, DUI, and others must take full blame for the situation that Macedonia, and the Macedonians, find themselves in. Zaev and his Government have not only done great damage to Macedonia and the Macedonian identity in their actions, but they continue to do so: Zaev has now taken to talking about the “multi-ethnic character” of Macedonia, which is true, but he does so in a manner meant to convey a disregard for and the belittling of the majority Macedonians in Macedonia. I also believe he does this at the behest of those transnational elites who despise nation-states and identity. But since Zaev has already given them what they have asked for, they believe, rightly as it turns out, that they can continue making demands of him. It is akin to the relationship between a drug user and the drug: having received the “high” of praise and accolades from the transnational elites (the drug) who he tends to worship, they can now issue ever-increasing demands to him so that he will continue receiving their praises. To put it shorter, he is addicted to them. Macedonians, of course, have a choice next year in whether or not they want to continue putting up with his malignant governance and its effect on Macedonian identity.

This leads me to the title of this column: what if you don’t fight back? What if you simply accept that these people will call you, will label you, will write you up as “North Macedonians” and everything attached to or from Macedonia as “North Macedonian?” What if you allow Zaev and his party, government, and junior partner to continue eating away at Macedonian identity? What if you allow the slippery slope of gradualism to take hold?

Then one day your children will wake up and will call themselves “North Macedonians.” And then one day your grandchildren will wake up and find themselves in another country.

Your choice.

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Jason Miko

Proud American & Arizonan w/Hungarian ethnicity & passion for Macedonia, Hungary & Estonia. Traveler, PR man, history buff & wine, craft beer & cigar enthusiast