March 26, 2009

Neodluchnost 2009*

Following foreign elections is kind of fun to do every now and then, especially when they're far removed from the American political tradition. Canadian and British elections have a sort of through-the-looking-glass quality to them, true, but for weirdly fascinating campaigns, you have go to Macedonia, where my mother's side of my family is from. Or rather, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, because its neighbor Greece refuses to recognize the country so long as it has the same name as one of its provinces. This is actually a big deal, because Macedonia has been unable to join the EU or NATO largely because of Greek intransigence on this matter. At the same time, the Macedonians haven't been doing themselves many favors lately: An election last year was plagued with violence and fraud (though that seems not to be the case this time). Meanwhile, the ruling conservative party is whipping up the country into a nationalistic fervor, going so far as to invent a mythology connecting Macedonians to Alexander the Great:
Two years ago, the national airport was renamed after Alexander, infuriating Greece.

In January, despite a recent Greek nixing of Macedonia's NATO bid over the airport name, the ruling nationalists here changed the name of its main roadway to Alexander of Macedon Highway.

In Macedonia, it is becoming all Alexander the Great, all the time. Ahead of Sunday's presidential elections, the ruling party's Alexander ideology is seen as fantastic, even by Balkan standards.

In an intense media campaign, locals are told that ethnic Macedonians are the proud direct descendants of Alexander, and thus a people responsible for spawning the white race of planet Earth, from the Caucasus "to the seas off Japan," according to a public service spot on national TV.
Macedonia was fortunate to have been mostly free of violence and dictatorship during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but I fear that the ruling party, called VMRO, is leading the country down a dangerous path -- one of the people quoted in the CSM article compares the situation to that of Serbia under Milosevic. And Macedonia has a large, and restive, ethnic Albanian minority.

I also fear demagoguery such as this will have an easier time taking hold in the midst of the global economic crisis, which has hit Eastern Europe in particular quite hard. Many obervers have worried about the financial crisis provoking violence or protectionist trade policies; we should probably also add illiberal or reactionary governments to the list.

* Indecision 2009, in Macedonian. Try to imagine a Balkan Jon Stewart while you're reading this post.

(h/t to my cousin Johnny for the CSM link.)

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