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 have offered a multipart journal. The first three parts are here, here, and here. The journal concludes today.
I hear a joke from Communist days. It concerns the reality of things. I may have the joke a little off — my memory is cloudy on this — but the gist will be right.
The daughter of Zhivkov, the Bulgarian dictator, is pulled over for speeding. The officer issues the young woman a ticket. He punches a hole in the ticket, an official necessity. Then he realizes who the woman is. He writes beside the hole, “This is not a hole.”
So, “This is not a hole” is now a byword for the shakiness of truth in an unfree system.
‐In Skopje, there is a little Occupy set-up. A little tent city, occupied by high-school students. They are boycotting school, in protest of higher math standards.
I don’t think they’d put it quite this way. In fact, I know they wouldn’t. But I believe this is what it comes down to.
Two women walk by the tent city. One says to the other, “They really should be studying.”
I see a sign on a tree, a stack of sentences. I ask a friend what it means. “It’s a list of the rules. The rules of the ‘camp zone.’ For instance, ‘No vertical structures.’”
At first, I think my friend means physical structures: tents and huts and so on. Are they supposed to be low and horizontal, à la Frank Lloyd Wright? But the words mean “No hierarchy, no chiefs and Indians.” Ah.
It’s a beautiful sunny day. “Stand By Me” is playing on the stereo (or whatever now plays music). There is a Summer of Love vibe. I’m sure the kids are having a ball, cutting class, getting it on, etc.
Several of the kids are smoking. My friend says, “Yes, that happens here, and the Roma kids start as young as seven.”
The high-schoolers have been here for something like a week, and hygiene must be dodgy. But they’re young, and they look pretty good.
I talk to one of the students, an extremely articulate young man named Ognan. Whatever the rule on “vertical structures,” he seems to be the leader. In addition to English, he speaks German (as well as his own language, Macedonian, and its cousin, Serbian).
I ask him what he plans to do in the future. He says he’ll study math. He’ll probably go to a university here in Macedonia, then transfer to a university in Germany.
My bet is, he’ll look back on these Occupy days with fondness. And be a conservative businessman.
‐May 1 is May Day, therefore the Left’s day. People are singing “Bandiera Rossa,” the old Red anthem. And they are out on the streets, rallying.
Down a broad avenue they go. It is the usual Left crowd, recognizable anywhere. There are members of the education union, in blue T-shirts. They remind me of our “purple people,” the SEIU lovelies, in their purple T-shirts.
Also, there are SDSM officials — the “post-Communists” — and people who are simply professional protesters. As I said, the usual crowd.
Red flags are everywhere, and they are plain, unadorned. They look a little forlorn without their hammers and sickles, or even a star. But soon I see one or two stamped with the image of Che Guevara.
Skopje shakes with the noise of the Left. It is deafening, as always. People blow non-stop on whistles, for no apparent reason. Intimidation? And they bellow through bullhorns.
The crowd is now chanting something. I ask a friend, “What are they chanting?” He answers, “It’s ‘No justice, no peace.’” Really? Just like Sharpton & Co.? I feel right at home.
A sign depicts Gruevski, the prime minister, and says that he “takes from the poor and gives to the rich.” Of course. Virtually the whole Occupy tableau (with noise) is in place.
But this is a tableau that moves. It is marching down the avenue — down one side of it, that is.
On the other side — across the median — a small group marches, all by itself. Why? My friend explains, “They’re feuding with another group. They think that the other group is corrupting the workers’ movement, by accepting so much Soros money.”
At last, the crowd stops, and there are bellowed speeches. A speaker remembers the Haymarket affair in 1886, that event in Chicago that really began May Day. “It may be a day of rest and recreation and picnics for some people,” he says. “But for us it is a day to remember rioting and bloodshed. Long live May the First!”
You know how it goes . . .
Whether in my hometown of Ann Arbor or here in the Macedonian capital, the Left is the Left, noisy, threatening, and palpably undemocratic. These people would have us in camps in a heartbeat, trust me.
‐I take a ride through Kumanovo, a city about 25 miles from Skopje. Fun fact: This city and its people are mentioned in Gibbon. They figure in the Roman drama.
‐Fourteen years ago, in 2001, there was fighting in this country between Albanian militants and the country’s security forces. I am now nearing the Serbian border, where there are Albanian villages and Macedonian villages cheek by jowl. Those short years ago, people in these villages were killing one another.
We are about to enter an Albanian village. My friend says, “Once they find out you’re an American, they’ll probably slaughter a lamb in your honor.” Why? During the Kosovo War of 1998-99, we Americans bombed Serbs, protecting Albanians.
This day, the lambs are spared (though I could use me something tasty and grilled).
‐There are migrants in these villages, waiting to be smuggled across the Serbian border, with their ultimate destination being Germany. These people come from Afghanistan, Syria, black-African states, elsewhere. I see them with my own eyes. What lives they lead, journeying far from home, trying to better their lot.
‐I wish to quote from a news article published a few days ago:
At least 14 migrants were killed when they were hit by a train on a well-trodden route across Macedonia to Western Europe, according to police. . . .
Local media said migrants often used the rail track as a guide while heading north after landing in Greece.
‐In the Albanian village, there are monuments to their fallen leaders of 2001. These monuments aren’t entirely unlike Confederate monuments on American soil. Are they?
‐A curious fact about Macedonia: Not many people drive. This is not a driving country. Why? Gas costs twice as much as in America. And salaries are five times as low.
‐As I said earlier in this journal, my conservative friends here are deeply worried about the effect of the “Sorosoids” — the activists who are funded by George Soros, and also by the American taxpayer, who gives to Soros & Co. (through USAID). There is not equivalent activism on the conservative side. One man says, “We’re really having to do a self-taught conservatism. We need help. We need little platoons. We need expressions of civil society.”
Soros’s institute is called the Open Society. There ought to be a counter-institute — a conservative one, a classical-liberal one — called the “Truly Open Society.”
‐I have often been curious about “ancient hatreds” in the Balkans. We’re told that “ancient hatreds” exist here, ones that are ineradicable. My impression has long been: The “ancient hatreds” aren’t natural to people, or inherent in people, but are whipped up by demagogues and radicals, who are some of the most snake-like and damnable people on earth.
I ask a veteran journalist when people began to feel themselves Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, etc. He said, “In about 1986, 1987.”
Like many other people, surely, I feel a tension within me. I’m all for national identity and self-determination. But I’m also for universality. And Balkanization, to coin a term, can go too far . . .
‐Days after I leave, fighting breaks out in Kumanovo. Shots are traded between Albanian militants and Macedonian security forces. Over 20 are dead. The Left says that the government plotted all this, to distract from the wiretapping scandal.
Is this a kind of Macedonian trutherism? Did the VMRO government set this up the way George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condi Rice arranged for 9/11?
‐As you can see, Macedonia has its share of problems — more than its share. The Albanian question. The constant efforts by the Greek government to snuff the Macedonian republic before it can really get started. The fact that the Soros network shapes the world’s perception of Macedonia.
Next year, in September, Macedonia will celebrate its 25th anniversary. I guess one way to look at it is, 2016 is for Macedonia what 1801 was to America (if we start at 1776).
In Part II of this journal, I quoted “a man of the democratic Left.” I will quote him again. “Macedonia is not a perfect country, but you can’t go to bed in a Communist country and wake up in Denmark. You have to cultivate roots and develop institutions.”
Yup. I hope that Macedonians will be given the gift — the priceless gift — of time.