The Republic of Macedonia at 30 — it’s about honor
Happy Independence Day, Macedonia!
While very old as a nation and as a people, you’ve just turned 30 years young as a modern-day nation-state. Congratulations!
I’ve been with you for 25 of those 30 years, following you, living with you, cheering you on, supporting and encouraging you. Why? Because way back in 1996 when I first arrived in Macedonia, Macedonians opened their homes and hearts to me and I fell in love with Macedonia and the Macedonians.
Today, I want to talk about honor, but first, I think it is important to put your 30th birthday in perspective. As a student of history and Southeastern Europe, I think it vital to remember that when Yugoslavia broke apart, many pundits and talking heads said that Macedonia would not survive, that it would be pulled apart. You proved the naysayers wrong. You not only survived, but you have thrived.
Now, as you go into your 31st year, what lies ahead? There are many challenges you face; granted, all nations face challenges all the time. But you face some unique ones based on the fact that some of your neighbors — and some of your own citizens — don’t really respect you. Oh, they say they are your best friend forever, that your success is their success, that they love you. But their actions and behavior betray that, starting with your very name and identity.
Regarding the challenges you face, the late author and sociologist Samuel Huntington (1927–2008) said “All societies face recurring threats to their existence, to which they eventually succumb. Yet some societies, even when so threatened, are also capable of postponing their demise by halting and reversing the processes of decline and renewing their vitality and identity.”
Your current government says that under their regime, Macedonia’s identity has been strengthened. Has it? Because of your current government and their actions, much of the world’s media, many elected officials, many unelected diplomats and bureaucrats, think tanks, and others call you “North Macedonians” or use pretzel linguistics to avoid saying “Macedonian” instead saying things like “the North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev…” (a real example and real horrible use of language when simply “Macedonian” would be sufficient — and correct).
And it’s not just the language. Macedonia’s history, culture, academic curriculum, arts, business names and trademarks, even sports are under attack by those who would have you believe you are something other than Macedonian.
This leads me to the act of lying. English author and historian Douglas Murray writes “Totalitarian regimes throughout history knew: If people can be forced to agree to lies, they can be forced to do anything.”
Your current leaders in government may not yet be considered a totalitarian regime, but they do want to force you to agree to their lies. You know you are Macedonians. But what does your new ID or passport say?
And all of this leads me to the issue of honor. And honor is a first principle.
What do I mean by that?
First principles are both universal and foundational and apply to all peoples and nations. They are necessary for the proper flourishing of mankind and are vital for pursuing and protecting human freedom and prosperity. Without an understanding of first principles, the center cannot hold and everything falls apart. Or as English writer, poet, and philosopher G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) put it, “The man who begins to think without the proper first principles goes mad.” If you doubt the veracity of that statement, just look around you today.
Having established why I think honor is important, and, indeed, a first principle, let’s dig further into what honor is.
American author Jonah Goldberg writes, “A nation without a sense of honor is a nation begging to get pushed around. Contrary to all of the treacle we hear about the “international community,” the international realm isn’t a community. It’s a contested sphere of power where individual actors and coalitions of actors exert their will. And honor is a major currency of this realm. It’s what binds allies together when other forms of self-interest militate against loyalty.”
He continues: “What is national honor? Well, a thorough answer to that requires a lot more space than is available here. But part of it is self-respect. Part of it involves the ability to tell the story of ourselves with pride. Another part of it is to communicate to the world — and especially our allies and enemies — that we are willing to defend our honor, not just our interests.” And why does honor even matter? “Honor is in many respects just another word for reputation, integrity, or credibility. These forms of geopolitical capital buy goodwill, cooperation, and deference in the international realm. Fritter them away and you’ll get less of all three over time — and you may need them later.”
Macedonia’s current regime gave away Macedonia’s honor — it’s reputation, integrity, and credibility — when the leadership said “Our chosen name, the name we called ourselves upon independence on September 8, 1991 and indeed, the name we have always used, is not really important to us. And we’re happy trading it away for a little seat at the big tables of NATO and the EU.” And so they traded it away. And you got a little seat at the big NATO table while you wait — for how much longer? — for another little seat at the other table of the EU. But in doing so Macedonia’s leaders demonstrated that they lack honor — they lack self-respect and integrity. A man or woman willing to trade away their name for something as fleeting and temporary as membership in clubs who come and go is a man or woman willing to do anything.
Let me return to that quote by Huntington: some societies, when threatened, are capable of postponing demise by reversing the processes of decline and renewing their vitality and identity. And I would add in doing so, restoring their honor.
Macedonia’s current regime — and their cheering squad in the US State Department, EU, and NATO — continue to tell you that in trading away your name, your identity, your honor, you did the right thing. After all, you’re in NATO and NATO today is (checks notes), well, let’s move on. You did the right thing because you are (checks notes) almost in the EU. Just one more country’s demand that you need to give in to and you can start the ten-year process that will bring you to that table. Really. “Trust us,” they practically plead.
The vast majority of Macedonians — in the Republic, in the region, and in the Diaspora and around the world — will always and only say “Macedonia” loudly and proudly. And they will do whatever they can to reverse the dishonorable deeds of the current Macedonian government. Whether they can achieve that is another question, but it is certainly a good goal worth working toward no matter what the current government (and their cheerleaders in the West) say.
So move forward with honor, Macedonia, and remember, there are many more important things in life than membership in the temporal things of this earth.
Long live the Republic of Macedonia!
Long live Macedonia!