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 the previous parts, go here and here.
Needless to say, there are Roma (Gypsies) on the street, begging. Do my words sound a little harsh? Probably.
I first saw these beggars when I was a student in Italy. The children begged on their own, and picked pockets on their own. Also, women sat with their babies, or other women’s babies. The women were masters of the mournful, importunate expression.
Now I am seeing the babies, I think, all grown up, with babies of their own, as props and sidekicks. Please forgive my cynicism. Must this go on, generation after generation, unto forever?
I see a Roma neighborhood here in Skopje. Trash everywhere. Filth. There is no one prohibiting them from picking up the trash and tidying up their streets and homes. No one. The matter is simply cultural.
This country has seen persistent welfare dependency. The more kids a woman has, the more dough she gets from the government. When I listen to a conservative friend here talk about the Roma and social ills, I feel I am reading the articles I’ve read in Commentary, The Public Interest, City Journal, and other publications for nearly the whole of my life.
Same story, different countries.
I have a funny thought: What if Roma were given a country of their own? A little Israel, somewhere in Europe? For ages, they have been spread out among many countries. If they had their own, would they have to straighten up and fly right? Would it break the culture of begging? They wouldn’t beg from one another, would they?
The thing about an online journal: Your tongue can be awfully loose.
‐No one inhibits Milenko Nedelkovski’s tongue. He is a big radio and television personality here. Kind of a Macedonian Glenn Beck. A media dynamo. I am on his radio show, briefly, and his television show, for two long episodes. He questions me, as does our mutual friend Cvetin Chilimanov, a prominent journalist and intellectual. We talk about a range of things, especially politics and foreign policy (U.S. foreign policy). I find it a most interesting and gratifying experience. A privilege.
‐This country is now in the midst of a huge wiretapping scandal — not the first in its brief history (24 years). The charges and countercharges are Byzantine — dizzying — but I will write a few lines about them. Pardon my brevity. A proper reporter would write tens of thousands of words.
The governing party, remember, is VMRO, the conservative party. Its leader is the prime minister, Nikola Gruevski. The opposition party is SDSM, the “post-Communist” party. Its leader is Zoran Zaev.
According to SDSM, Gruevski wiretapped more than 20,000 people, a who’s who of Macedonia. He did this in order to steal elections, undermine a free press, suborn the judiciary, and so on. Zaev says that he was given recordings by “patriots” within the UBK, the nation’s secret police. They were appalled by the prime minister’s undemocratic machinations, and wanted to blow the whistle.
VMRO says this is bunk. The UBK “patriots” and “whistleblowers” are actually old Communists and “traitors,” wanting to bring down a democratic government with their tried-and-true tricks. Zaev tried to blackmail Gruevski with the recordings, and Gruevski wouldn’t submit — instead exposing Zaev.
The crux of the matter, say conservatives, is that the post-Communists feel entitled to run the country, the way they or their forerunners did for so long. They are not used to having to compete for power, and, when they lose elections, lash out or connive.
‐Smiling at all this are the Greeks, who are blocking Macedonia’s accession to the EU and its membership of NATO. What they really object to is the name — the name “Macedonia.” But now they say, “Just as we told you: These fake Macedonians aren’t fit for international organizations” (not that the Greeks should really talk at this point).
‐May I quote Scripture? That’s still permitted in America, right?
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.
And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.
If you got through that, have some more:
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.
And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
This Lydia is thought to be the first Christian in Europe.
‐As I’ve said, the government here is conservative, and interested in what we sometimes call “traditional values.” I’m told that Skopje has the biggest cross in Europe — the Millennium Cross. It was erected to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity in Macedonia and beyond. It is 66 meters high (or 217 feet). That’s two meters for every year of the life of Jesus.
‐The currency — at least one note of it — has the image of the Virgin Mary. This is very uncommon in the world, so far as I’m aware.
‐The government has moved to curb abortion — although there is still abortion-on-demand here (I believe). There is now compulsory ultra-sound. And a 72-hour waiting period. And compulsory counseling.
Women are “now making informed decisions,” says a VMRO legislator, “and we’re saving lives every day.”
‐The government has cut ads in support of the family — ads that say, in essence, “There’s nothing wrong with marrying and having children. In fact, you’ll find it quite satisfying.”
‐A sign at the entrance of parliament says, “Declare Your Weapons.” Not “Weapons Forbidden,” but “declare them.”
‐I meet a conservative politico who says some very moving things. I will paraphrase him — which will not quite do him justice.
“It’s getting harder and harder to be a conservative in Europe. Not an ‘economic conservative,’ favoring lower tax rates. That’s relatively easy to be. But a social conservative. Someone who wants to uphold the family, religion, and decency.
“In America, you complain about a culture war. And no one wants a culture war. But that’s better than cultural surrender. At least you’re still in the game, with your mega-churches and so on.
“In our area, the churches contain a few grannies. Soon they will be gone.” (Not the churches — not the physical structures — but the grannies.)
“Let me tell you about lifestyle: Here, you drive a Mini Cooper for you and your ‘partner.’ In parts of America, at least, you drive a big SUV, for you, your wife, and your multiple children.”
The politico is a big fan of Mark Steyn — smart man (both the politico and Steyn) — and he says that the “demography thesis” is absolutely true. (Mark has for years called himself a “demography bore.”) Demography is destiny. My Macedonian friend sees it playing out before his eyes.
“Our girls watch Sex in the City and live by its mores. They wear mini-skirts, have random sex, don’t get married, don’t have children. The Muslims, meanwhile, get married and have many children. The women wear the veil. The veil will beat the mini-skirt, easily and quickly. We don’t have that long.”
I have made my new friend seem like a real doom-and-gloomer — and it’s true he has these pessimistic, or alarmed, views. But he is a very, very happy warrior.
You too? Glad to hear! I’ll see you tomorrow, for the finale of this journal.