Editor’s Note: Jay Nordlinger traveled to Macedonia in late April and early May. A report on the country will appear in the next National Review. Here online, we offer a multipart journal. For yesterday’s installment, Part I, go here.
In Skopje, the capital, I meet Viktor Mizo, who is in charge of bringing foreign investment to Macedonia. A mutual friend describes Mizo as “the Jack Kemp of Macedonia,” pushing enterprise zones. Mizo strikes me as quite American. I ask him to tell me a little about himself.
When he was in high school (if I remember correctly), he finished second in an all-Yugoslavia physics competition. He was sent off to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Then he went to Harvard, where he got an MBA. He is the first Macedonian Harvard MBA.
We have a second mutual friend, as a matter of fact: Heidi Cruz, wife of Ted. She and Mizo were classmates.
I tell Mizo something in all sincerity: If he became the greatest economics or business whiz in the world, nothing would impress me more than his early prowess in physics. I say, “Do you ever think about physics, as when you drift off to sleep?” Oh, yes, he says. Very much so.
Man, I wish I could . . .
‐There are two major political parties in Macedonia. They are known by their initials. The governing party is the conservative party, the VMRO-DPMNE (abbreviated to “VMRO”). The other party is the post-Communist party, the SDSM. They prefer to be known as social democrats now. More about them in a moment.
VMRO-ers bill themselves as a reforming and liberalizing party. They boast of those enterprise zones, and of bringing the Internet to the humblest village. They also boast of the lowest taxes in Europe. There is a 10 percent flat tax on both individuals and corporations. If a corporation reinvests its earnings, that rate goes down to 0.
Furthermore, VMRO is a socially conservative party, interested in the family, traditional education, and so on.
The Left, of course, calls VMRO authoritarian and worse.
And what of SDSM, the “post-Communists”? In Eastern Europe, you have to question how post these post-Communists really are. A certain redness might linger. Some of it is symbolic. SDSM-ers call one another “comrade,” and their party flag includes a star and a clenched fist. Uh-huh.
Are they Communists at heart, these guys? They’re probably more like opportunists, interested in power, control, and perks. (Who’s not, right?) One conservative tells me, “No one has really believed in Communism since the 1960s.”
Conservatives have a name for the SDSM-ers, a rude name: komunjari. It translates to “Communoids,” roughly. The word suggests that these are semi-Communists who talk about social ideals and just want to be in charge. Conservatives also say that SDSM-ers are likely to feel more Yugoslavian than Macedonian.
‐VMRO enjoys a big advantage in parliament: 61 to 31. Since the elections of April 2014, SDSM has been boycotting parliament, claiming that VMRO cheated at the ballot box. Conservatives say that these boycotters are simply crybaby losers who aren’t used to being out of power.
My impression is, this critique is right.
‐Within each party, there are various camps and strains. VMRO includes some gung-ho, Reagan-style, America-loving conservatives. They tend to be very knowledgeable about the United States.
One politicians asks me where I’m from. I say that I live in New York but grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich. With a shocked expression, he says, “It’s the Soviet Union!” (Ann Arbor is a university town.) While I’m laughing, he adds, “Or northern Havana. Havana del norte!”
‐George Soros is a big name at home — meaning, in the United States. He is an even bigger name here. A much bigger name. He may be the most famous person in the country, after Alexander the Great. (I exaggerate a little.)
Let me remind you who he is: the Hungarian-born American billionaire who funds the Left in the U.S. He funds it in Macedonia, too. And his influence is far greater. Conservatives say that he is a toxic influence, dragging a country struggling to emerge from Communism back into darkness. Opponents of the conservatives — not all of them leftists — say that the Right has made a bogeyman out of Soros and should examine the errors of VMRO itself.
Anyway, the conservative line is roughly this:
In the early years after the collapse of Communism, Soros did many good things in Eastern Europe, with his Open Society Institute. He helped to liberalize and democratize. When the Greeks blockaded Macedonia, he loaned the new country money, a lifeline.
Lately, however, he has become a bald partisan, not interested in the democratic process but showering his millions on the Left — the hard Left. He pushes an ideological agenda. And he does this through a host of NGOs and activists.
These activists, in the conservative lexicon, are “Sorosoids.” It is not a flattering term.
One conservative remarks, “Soros came into Macedonia like a Trojan horse, and now he is an octopus.”
‐Nothing is more galling to conservatives than this: For more than 20 years, the head of Soros’s Open Society branch in Macedonia has been Vladimir Milcin. They say that he was proven by the country’s lustration process to have been a police informant in Communist days. They say, specifically, that he informed on a beloved and dissident actor, Risto Siskov, who was hounded to his death. (Milcin himself is a man of the theater.)
Milcin, for his part, has denied wrongdoing.
I have said that conservatives are galled. But others are, too. A man of the democratic Left tells me, “Milcin does not belong at something called ‘Open Society.’ That is laughable.”
‐Macedonia had a “soft lustration.” (Lustration, as you know, is the process whereby a post-Communist country accounts for the past. It is akin to denazification.) The process was essentially “name and shame.” Everyone was amnestied, as I understand it. No one went to jail.
‐In America for the past many years, we have had a plethora of Soros-funded groups: MoveOn.org, Media Matters, the Center for American Progress, etc. Macedonia has its rough equivalents.
But they mean more in Macedonia than the Soros-funded groups do in America. Back home, we have a zillion conservative groups to counter the Soros groups. The Left has its billionaires, we have ours. You hit me with Soros? Okay, I’ll hit you with a Koch or two.
In Macedonia, I’m told, there is no tradition of donating money to a cause. There aren’t think tanks and activist groups and the rest on the right. So, the “Sorosoids” own the field.
‐There is something that Macedonian conservatives are very keen for Americans to know. They are particularly keen that American conservatives know it. It’s this:
The American taxpayer is involved here in this country. We give to the Soros foundation, through USAID. Now, money to Soros may strike you as coals to Newcastle, as it does me. But there you have it.
Macedonian conservatives say that we have picked sides in the politics of their country: the SDSM or “post-Communist” side. They say this has happened during the presidency of Barack Obama. We have tilted sharply and shamefully to the left.
Others say, Nonsense. The United States does not choose sides — its only side is democracy. Americans are an honest broker in Macedonia, holding everyone to account. The Right should stop complaining and scapegoating, and get its own house in order.
Be that as it may, Macedonian conservatives are wounded — pained — I can tell you. They are distressed at American relations with Macedonia in the Age of Obama. “We’re the pro-American, pro-Western party!” they say. “The Left has always been with Moscow. And you’re driving us conservatives into the arms of the Russians!”
‐Would you like a tidbit? The Soros institute here has translated Rules for Radicals, that 1971 primer by Saul Alinsky. See it here. Perhaps the book’s most notorious “rule” is, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” The Left follows this rule faithfully.
For generations now, Rules for Radicals has guided Left activists. It is doing it still. I hope that we, the American taxpayer, aren’t paying for such translations. Let George do it.
‐Listen to another conservative complaint, and a legitimate one, I think: The “Sorosoids” have the advantage of informing the rest of the world about Macedonia. They are “well networked,” in the words of one conservative. And they portray a VMRO-governed Macedonia as a country sliding out of democracy and into a right-wing darkness. So, this is what the Westerner reads and hears.
‐I say to a conservative, “Look: You’ve won nine straight elections. You’re creaming the Left. How influential can Soros be? He’s evidently wasting his money.” The conservative gives me a most interesting answer: “These are our Reagan years. We’re riding high, yes. But the Left is planting seeds all over. They are burrowed in, everywhere: classrooms, newsrooms, you name it. At this rate, they will own the future. And our liberal-democratic progress will be lost.”
‐In this country, there are people who are nostalgic about the old Yugoslavia: a large, diverse country held together by one man, Tito, a relatively benign Communist. Life was pretty good back then.
Does the Left say this? Well, not only the Left, interestingly enough.
There’s a ton more to tell you, and I’ll continue tomorrow, dear readers. Thanks for journeying — and journaling? — with me.