Macedonia at 31
What do you think of it, so far?
Do you wonder if there might be something better?
Do you think about where you are?
Do you wonder where you’re going?
The above are lines from a song by Nik Kershaw in the 1990s, but relevant to my thoughts on this, Macedonia’s 31st birthday as an independent nation-state; yes, a very old nation and people, but since you threw off the yoke of Yugoslavia and Communism and took on the mantle of independence, you are a state with the same age, relatively speaking, as many modern-day nation-states in Europe and the world.
So, Happy Independence Day, Macedonia!
I’m going to ask you to answer the above questions, but let me offer my own answers to those questions:
What do I think of Macedonia’s implementation of that independence, so far? I’d say “good,” but it can be and it needs to be much better. Macedonia lost a lot of ground in the early years of independence due to the hangover of communism and some very bad policy decisions. NATO’s war on what was then Yugoslavia hurt Macedonia as did the subsequent 2001 near-civil war by some very bad and yet-to-be punished criminals (punished soon, hopefully). In 2006 and the subsequent years, things were looking better. But by 2017, things started to turn sour. Much of this is the fault of bad actors on the international scene, but also among some Macedonians. And some of these problems have to do with events – mainly global economic events – out of the hands of any Macedonians. If I had to give Macedonia a grade, one to five, one being highest, five being lowest, I would go with a three. But, please, keep reading, it gets better….
Do I think there might be something better? Well, of course I do and must, and it should be the goal of adults, and especially parents, to leave something better for their children and grandchildren. To the extent that you are able, as adults and parents, it is up to you to build something better for them. And there many areas where you can do this, and this begins with voting into office elected representatives (which is what they should be) who will do what is right. Don’t think anyone will do what is right? OK, fair enough. But somebody is going to be elected. Vote for the least rotten man or woman, if you need to look at it that way. And while you can’t really do anything about what the internationals here are doing, you can at least laugh at them and use humor to try to humble them a bit (and they really do need to be humbled).
Beyond voting and the internationals, you can work hard at what you do, keep a smile on your face (even when you don’t want do), be positive around your children (even when you don’t want to), teach them at home what is not being taught at school (like Macedonia’s true history), try to be kinder towards others (and no, don’t tell me that being good and kind is for suckers – it is not; and it is the right thing to do). And try to change the things you can change, one little bit at a time. Trust me on this: I have been doing this in my own life (trying to change little things that I do have some control over) and it works. Stop complaining and try it! (I do know a handful of Macedonians who have adopted this attitude and they are among the most positive – and content – individuals I know on the face of the earth. They are a breath of fresh air to those around them and to me).
I do a lot of thinking about where Macedonia is these days. When I visit Macedonia, which is not often enough, I talk to a lot of people. Much of that talk revolves around politics, both domestic and international, but the best chats I have with my Macedonian family and friends is entirely absent of politics. And on a recent visit to Macedonia, I engaged in some of the most wonderful and yet ordinary things that Macedonians do every week or month – I attended a boy’s football game (soccer to my American readers) with a friend whose sons were playing (my ears were also treated to the happy sounds of a wedding nearby). I hiked Vodno with friends, from the south side, and had a little mastika at the Millennium Cross, itself and the surrounding world shrouded in fog giving it all a beautiful and ethereal, visage. I attended the birthday of a friend and visited a sheep farmer in a small village in southern Macedonia in between grilling skara. I watched Macedonians – of all ages – singing old songs about Macedonia at a restaurant as they celebrated the christening of a young child. I took a boat ride in Matka Canyon to the Vrelo cave and found myself again in awe of Macedonia’s beauty (it had been years since I had been to Matka). And of course I had far too much good Macedonian food and drink, all enjoyed and consumed with my Macedonian family and friends while talking, laughing, and pondering life. And it is these simple, yet ordinary, acts of life that is all about where Macedonia is and should be these days because it is these things that give us meaning in our lives. Not politics. So when I see Macedonians engaging – mostly happily! – in these ordinary things, I have hope.
And finally, not only do I wonder where Macedonia is going, but I know that where Macedonia is going depends almost entirely on what Macedonians do and say. Put bluntly, the future is up to you. Yes, I know, the internationals, led by the US State Department, have a great deal of say, and sway in Macedonia (and frankly, not just Macedonia, but likely the majority of countries in the world), and the EU has some say and sway, as do other international organizations, but it is up to you to determine your own future. So do yourselves a favor: take control of your own future. The way to do this comes in many ways, too numerous to count here. But I know that you know this to be true because you have told me.
One thing I would really like to see in Macedonia is a bit more self-respect. Tell the story of Macedonia with pride and honor. Stop talking down and talking trash about Macedonia. Look all around you and find the good things in and about Macedonia and talk about them – especially to your children. Remember, there are more good things in Macedonia than you can possibly imagine. And tell that story to the world, starting with the international meddlers living in Macedonia. Take a little bit of pride in Macedonia – and in Macedonians – and, if the occasion presents itself, tell those international meddlers who often run roughshod over Macedonia something like this: “I am a Macedonian and I take pride in my country, my people, my history, my culture, and much more. We are a European people and we have earned the respect of you and others. I would like for you to take a step back, reflect a bit on who we are and what we have contributed, and stop talking down to us from on high. Thank you.” Of course, you can’t say that if you don’t believe it, and if you don’t believe it, then, well, perhaps I should retire my proverbial pen.
But if you do believe it – and I know you do, deep down, because you tell me, in so many words and ways – then not only say it, but act like it.
Congratulations, Macedonia, on making it to 31, when so many international pundits said, in the past (and some today), that you would fall apart. You proved them wrong. You survived. Now, take a little more responsibility, have a little bit more self-respect, try to be a bit more cheerful, pray often (even if you are an atheist), teach your little ones about truth and righteousness, do what is right, don’t live by lies, and then go out there and thrive.
Finally, the song I referenced above by Nik Kershaw also includes these lines:
Time goes by
And if you didn't laugh you could almost cry
Life goes on, life goes on
You don't know what you've got 'til it's almost gone
Indeed, at the threshold of your next year, life goes on. Remember what you have, now, build on it, and don’t let it go.
Long live Macedonia!