The crisis of legitimacy and the antidote of devotion
The Government of Zoran Zaev and Ali Ahmeti is drowning in a number of storms, all at the same time. To lightly paraphrase 19th-century poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the storms: there is the ongoing corruption, well-documented domestically and by outside international organizations. There is the failure to provide better economic conditions which would lead to a better life for all of Macedonia’s citizens. There is the rise in crime, both petty and far more dangerous. There are ongoing basic infrastructure issues having to do with water, sanitation, and transportation, among others, that are unmet, often due to that corruption. There is the ongoing health crisis of the pandemic and the government’s total lack of preparedness. There are the many interethnic problems that percolate up on a rotating basis, many caused by actions — or inactions — of the government. There is the failure to deliver on major campaign promises — the start of EU membership talks — which the government has promised over and over again. There is the open humiliation brought on by Bulgaria, and the government’s kowtowing to the government of Bulgaria. And there is the in-your-face arrogance and contempt for most Macedonians and the very legitimate concern of most Macedonians for what makes Macedonia, Macedonia — its own unique name, identity, history, culture and much more.
You can probably add your own list of storms that the government is facing.
In all of this, the Macedonian Government is responsible for bringing them on.
All of these storms, taken together and at the same time, work together to continually erode the legitimacy of the government. As the legitimacy of the government erodes, it invites further storms of varying kinds which continue to erode that legitimacy, creating a type of positive feedback loop — it will end, at some point, with a new government consisting of the opposition. That is the way politics works.
But this government really never had legitimacy in the first place, even before it could begin the task of governing. Here’s why: Zoran Zaev and Ali Ahmeti came into power, first in 2017 and then again in mid-2020, without a real mandate. The way they obtained power in the 2016 elections (they formed their government in 2017) was seen, by most Macedonians (even some who voted for them) as illegitimate. They way they clung on to power in 2020 was also seen as illegitimate (elections during the middle of a pandemic, etc.). So, even before they started governing, they were seen, again by most Macedonians, as not being legitimate in their new positions.
Now, coupled with the above-mentioned ongoing storms and the government being seen as illegitimate in the 2016 and 2020 elections, the government also faces declining legitimacy because of its total inability to persuade. Clearly, the biggest indicator of this is the September 30, 2018 referendum to change Macedonia’s name. A major issue like that — and yes, changing the name of a country is a major issue — should have at least half of the country’s support. And yet it did not even achieve that. The government failed to persuade.
And not just the Macedonian Government. Those foreigners who supported them in the first place.
I believe that part of this crisis of legitimacy belongs to the Western elites who so desperately supported the current government and played their roles in helping the government get into power and in furthering the myths that the government tried to foist on the Macedonian public — myths about the sunny uplands of peace, prosperity, and light eternal obtained through NATO and EU membership. The government failed to persuade because their attempted persuasion was based on half-truths and outright lies. Present conditions in Macedonia prove this point.
These same Western elites are therefore responsible for the immiserated state of affairs that the majority of Macedonians find themselves living in.
Clearly, the government and the elites that support them have not only not delivered a better life to the vast majority of Macedonians, they have delivered a Macedonia that is going in the wrong direction.
Because this current government, which is an institution, lacks legitimacy, it is imperative that Macedonia’s many other institutions be bolstered, built up, and, if need be, brought back to life because institutions are formative, and vital, to the health of any society. Whether that is the basic building block of any society — the institution of the family — or institutions of faith, civil society, education, culture, and business — all of these institutions which exist apart from the institutions of government need tending because they are the foundations — again, starting with the family — of Macedonian society.
This is the task ahead, then: for Macedonians to adopt an attitude of devotion. Devotion to each other, devotion to families, friends, neighborhoods, and the institutions which are needed to build Macedonia back up from its current state of affairs. That devotion will take personal responsibility, commitment, sacrifice, and trust on an individual level. It will take a daily attitude of consciously working to do the right thing. It will not be easy — nothing worthwhile is easy — and there will be setbacks along the way. But I firmly believe that if Macedonians adopt that attitude of devotion and develop good habits and attitudes of personal responsibility, commitment, sacrifice, and trust, then Macedonia can do more than simply survive — Macedonia can succeed.