Articles and essays regarding the societies, politics, economics, geopolitics and history of countries in Central Eastern Europe and South Eastern Europe (Balkan).
This letter constitutes a permission to reprint or mirror any and all of the materials mentioned or linked to herein subject to appropriate credit and linkback.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com
Skopje - Where Time Stood Still
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Frozen at an early morning hour, the stony hands of the giant, cracked clock commemorate the horror. The earthquake that struck Skopje in 1963 has shattered not only its Byzantine decor, has demolished not merely the narrow passageways of its Ottoman past, has transformed not only its Habsburgian waterfront with its baroque National Theatre. The disastrous reconstruction, supervised by a Japanese architect, has robbed it of its soul. It has been rendered a drab and sprawling socialist metropolis replete with monumentally vainglorious buildings, now falling into decrepitude and disrepair. The influx of destitute and simpleton villagers (which more than quintupled Skopje's population) was crammed by central planners with good intentions and avaricious nature into low-quality, hi-rise slums in newly constructed "settlements".
Skopje is a city of extremes. Its winter is harsh in shades of white and grey. Its summer is naked and steamy and effulgent. It pulses throughout the year in smoke-filled, foudroyant bars and dingy coffee-houses. Polydipsic youths in migratory skeins, eager to be noted by their peers, young women on the hunt, ageing man keen to be preyed upon, suburbanites in search of recognition, gold chained mobsters surrounded by flaxen voluptuousness - the cast of the watering holes of this potholed eruption of a city.
The trash seems never to be collected here, the streets are perilously punctured, policemen often substitute for dysfunctional traffic lights. The Macedonians drive like the Italians, gesture like the Jews, dream like the Russians, are obstinate like the Serbs, desirous like the French and hospitable like the Bedouins. It is a magical concoction, coated in the subversive patience and the aggressive passivity of the long oppressed. There is the wisdom of fear itself in the eyes of the 600,000 inhabitants of this landlocked, mountain-surrounded habitat. Never certain of their future, still grappling with their identity, an air of "carpe diem" with the most solemn religiosity of the devout.
The past lives on and flows into the present seamlessly. People recount the history of every stone, recite the antecedents of every man. They grieve together, rejoice in common and envy en masse. A single organism with many heads, it offers the comforts of assimilation and solidarity and the horrors of violated privacy and bigotry. The people of this conurbation may have left the village - but it never let them go. They are the opsimaths of urbanism. Their rural roots are everywhere: in the the division of the city into tight-knit, local-patriotic "settlements". In the traditional marriages and funerals. In the scarcity of divorces despite the desperate shortage in accommodation. In the asphyxiating but oddly reassuring familiarity of faces, places, behaviour and beliefs, superstitions, dreams and nightmares. Life in a distended tempo of birth and death and in between.
Skopje has it all - wide avenues with roaring traffic, the incommodious alleys of the Old Town, the proper castle ruins (the Kale). It has a Turkish Bridge, recently renovated out of its quaintness. It has a square with Art Nouveau building in sepia hues. An incongruent digital clock atop a regal edifice displayed the minutes to the millennium - and beyond. It has been violated by American commerce in the form of three McDonald restaurants which the locals proceeded cheerfully to transform into snug affairs. Stolid Greek supermarkets do not seem to disrupt the inveterate tranquility of neighbourhood small grocers and their coruscant congeries of variegated fruits and vegetables, spilling to the pavement.
In winter, the light in Skopje is diaphanous and lambent. In summer, tis strong and all-pervasive. Like some coquettish woman, the city changes mantles of orange autumn leaves and the green foliage of summer. Its pure white heart of snow often is hardened into grey and traitorous sleet. It is a fickle mistress, now pouring rain, now drizzle, now simmering sun. The snowy mountain caps watch patiently her vicissitudes. Her inhabitants drive out to ski on slopes, to bathe in lakes, to climb to sacred sites. It gives them nothing but congestion and foul atmosphere and yet they love her dearly. The Macedonian is the peripatetic patriot - forever shuttling between his residence abroad and his true and only home. Between him and his land is an incestuous relationship, a love affair unbroken, a covenant handed down the generations. Landscapes of infancy imprinted that provoke an almost Pavolvian reaction of return.
Skopje has known many molesters. It has been traversed by every major army in European history and then by some. Occupying a vital crossroad, it is a layer cake of cultures and ethnicities. To the Macedonians, the future is always portentous, ringing with the ominousness of the past. The tension is great and palpable, a pressure cooker close to bursting. The river Vardar divides increasingly Albanian neighbourhoods (Butel, Cair, Shuto Orizari) from Macedonian (non-Muslim) ones. Albanians have also moved from the villages in the periphery encircling Skopje into hitherto "Macedonian" neighbourhoods (like Karpos and the Centre). The Romas have their own ghetto called "Shutka" (in Shuto Orizari), rumoured to be the biggest such community in Europe. The city has been also "invaded" (as its Macedonian citizens experience it) by Bosnian Muslims. Gradually, as friction mounts, segregation increases. Macedonians move out of apartment blocks and neighbourhoods populated by Albanians. This inner migration bodes ill for future integration. There is no inter-marriage to speak of, educational facilities are ethnically-pure and the conflict in Kosovo with its attendant "Great Albania" rumblings has only exacerbated a stressed and anxious history.
It is here, above ground, that the next earthquake awaits, along the inter-ethnic fault lines. Strained to the point of snapping by a KFOR-induced culture shock, by the vituperative animosity between the coalition and opposition parties, by European-record unemployment and poverty (Albania is the poorest, by official measures) - the scene is set for an eruption. Peaceful by long and harsh conditioning, the Macedonians withdraw and nurture a siege mentality. The city is boisterous, its natives felicitously facetious, its commerce flourishing. It is transmogrified by Greek and Bulgarian investors into a Balkan business hub. But under this shimmering facade, a great furnace of resentment and frustration spews out the venom of intolerance. One impolitic move, one unkind remark, one wrong motion - and it will boil over to the detriment of one and all.
Dame Rebecca West was here, in Skopje (Skoplje, as she spells it) about 60 years ago. She wrote:
"This (Macedonian) woman (in the Orthodox church) had suffered more than most other human beings, she and her forebears. A competent observer of this countryside has said that every single person born in it before the Great War (and quite a number who were born after it) has faced the prospect of violent death at least once in his or her life. She had been born during the calamitous end of Turkish maladministration, with its cycles of insurrection and massacre and its social chaos. If her own village had not been murdered, she had, certainly, heard of many that had and had never had any guarantee that hers would not some day share the same fate... and there was always extreme poverty. She had had far less of anything, of personal possessions, of security, of care in childbirth than any Western woman can imagine. But she had two possessions that any Western woman might envy. She had strength, the terrible stony strength of Macedonia; she was begotten and born of stocks who could mock all bullets save those which went through the heart, who could outlive the winters when they were driven into the mountains, who could survive malaria and plague, who could reach old age on a diet of bread and paprika. And cupped in her destitution as in the hollow of a boulder there are the last drops of the Byzantine tradition."
Is Transition Possible
Can Socialist Professors of Economics Teach Capitalism?
By : Dr. Sam Vaknin
Lest you hold your breath to the end of this article - the answers to both questions in the title are no and no. Capitalism cannot be "learned" or "imported" or "emulated" or "simulated". Capitalism (or, rather, liberalism) is not only a theoretical construct. It is not only a body of knowledge. It is a philosophy, an ideology, a way of life, a mentality and a personality.
This is why professors of economics who studied under Socialism can never teach Capitalism in the true st sense of the word. No matter how intelligent and knowledgeable (and a minority of them are) - they can never convey the experience, the practice, the instincts and reflexes, the emotional hues and intellectual pugilistics that real, full scale, full blooded Capitalism entails. They are intellectually and emotionally castrated by their socialist past of close complicity with inefficiency, corruption and pathological economic thinking.
This is why workers and managers inherited from the socialist-communist period can never function properly in a Capitalist ambience. Both were trained at civil disobedience through looting their own state and factories. Both grew accustomed to state handouts and bribes disguised as entitlements, were suspicious and envious at their own elites (especially their politicians and crony professors), victims to suppressed rage and open, helpless, degrading dependence. Such workers and managers - no matter how well intentioned and well qualified or skilled - are likely to sabotage the very efforts whose livelihood depends on.
When the transition period of post-communist economies started, academics, journalists and politicians in the West talked about the "pent up energies" of the masses, now to be released through the twin processes of privatization and democratization. This metaphor of humans as capitalistically charged batteries waiting to unleash their stored energy upon their lands - was realistic enough. People were, indeed, charged: with pathological envy, with rage, with sadism, with pusillanimity, with urges to sabotage, to steal, to pilfer. A tsunami of destruction, a tidal wave of misappropriation, an orgy of crime and corruption and nepotism and cronyism swept across the unfortunate territories of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Transition was perceived by the many either as a new venue for avenging the past and for visiting the wrath of the masses upon the heads of the elites - or as another, accelerated, mode of stripping the state naked of all its assets. Finally, the latter propensity prevailed. The old elites used the cover of transition to enrich themselves and their cronies, this time "transparently" and "legally". The result was a repulsive malignant metastasis of capitalism, devoid of the liberal ideals or practices, denuded of ethics, floating in a space free of functioning, trusted institutions.
While the masses and their elites in CEE were busy scavenging, the West engaged in impotent debate between a school of "shock therapists" and a school of "institution builders". The former believed that appearances will create reality and that reality will alter consciousness (sounds like Marxism to me). Rapid privatization will generate a class of instant capitalists who, in turn, will usher in an era of real, multi-dimensional liberalism. The latter believed that the good wine of Capitalism can be poured only to the functioning receptacles of liberalism. They advocated much longer transition periods in which privatization will come only after the proper institutions were erected. Both indulged in a form of central planning. IMF-ism replaced Communism. The international financial institutions and their hordes of well-paid, well-accommodated experts - replaced the Central Committee of the party. Washington replaced Moscow. It was all very familiar and cosy.
Ever the adapters, the former communist elites converted to ardent capitalism. With the fervour with which they recited Marxist slogans in their past - they chanted capitalist sobriquets in the present. It was catechism, uttered soullessly, in an alien language, in the marble cathedrals of capitalism in London and Washington. There was commitment or conviction behind it and it was tainted by organized crime and all-pervasive corruption. The West was the new regime to be suckered and looted and pillaged and drained. The deal was simple: mumble the mantras of the West, establish Potemkin institutions, keep peace and order in your corner of the world, give the West strategic access to your territory. In return the West will turn a blind eye to the worst excesses and to worse than excesses. This was the deal struck in Russia with the "reformists", in Yugoslavia with Milosevic, the "peacemaker", in the Czech Republic with Klaus the "economic magician" of Central Europe. It was communism all over: a superpower buying influence and colluding with corrupt elites to rob their own nations blind.
It could have been different.
Post-war Japan and Germany are two examples of the right kind of reconstruction and reforms. Democracy took real root in these two former military regimes. Economic prosperity was long lived because democracy took hold. And the ever tenuous, ever important trust between the citizens and their rulers and among themselves was thus enhanced.
Trust is really the crux of the matter.
Economy is called the dismal science because it pretends to be one, disguising its uncertainties and shifting fashions with mathematical formulae. Economy describes the aggregate behaviour of humans and, in this restricted sense, it is a branch of psychology.
People operate within a marketplace and attach values to their goods and services and to their inputs (work, capital, natural endowments) through the price mechanism. This elaborate construct, however, depends greatly on trust. If people were not to trust each other and / or the economic framework (within which they interact) - economic activities would have gradually ground to a halt. A clear inverse relationship exists between the general trust level and the level of economic activity.
There are four major types of trust :
- Trust related to Intent - the market players assume that other players are (generally) rational, that they have intentions, that these intentions conform with the maximization of benefits and that people are likely to act on their intentions.
- Trust related to Liquidity - the market players assume that other players possess or have access, or will possess, or will have access to the liquid means needed in order to materialize their intentions and that - barring force majeure - this liquidity is the driving force behind the formation of these intentions. People in possession of liquidity wish to maximize the returns on their money and are driven to economically transact.
- Trust related to knowledge and ability - the market players assume that other players possess or have access to, or will possess, or will have access to the know-how, technology and intellectual property and wherewithal necessary to materialize their intention (and, by implication, the transactions that they enter into). Another assumption is that all the players are "enabled" : physically, mentally, legally and financially available and capable to perform their parts as agreed between the players in each and every particular transaction. A hidden assumption is that the players evaluate themselves properly : that they know their strengths and weaknesses, that they have a balanced picture of themselves and realistic set of expectations, self esteem and self confidence to support that worldview (including a matching track record). Some allowance is made for "game theory" tactics : exaggeration, disinformation, even outright deception - but this allowance should not overshadow the merits of the transaction and its inherent sincerity.
- Trust related to the Economic horizon and context - the market players assume that the market will continue to exist as an inert system, unhindered by external factors (governments, geopolitics, global crises, changes in accounting policies, hyperinflation, new taxation - anything that could deflect the trajectory of the market). They, therefore, have an "investment or economic horizon" to look forward to and upon which they can base their decisions. They also have cultural, legal, technological and political contexts within which to operate. The underlying assumptions of stability are very much akin to the idealized models that scientists study in the accurate sciences (indeed, in economy as well).
When one or more of these basic building blocks of trust is fractured that the whole edifice of the market crumbles. Fragmentation ensues, more social and psychological than economic in nature. This is very typical of poor countries with great social and economic polarization. It is also very typical of countries "in transition" (a polite way to describe a state of total shock and confusion). People adopt several reaction patterns to the breakdown in trust :
- Avoidance and isolation - they avoid contact with other people and adopt reclusive behaviour. The number of voluntary interactions decreases sharply.
- Corruption - People prefer shortcuts to economic benefits because of the collapse of the horizon trust (=they see no long term future and even doubt the very continued existence of the system).
- Crime - Criminal activity increases
- Fantastic and Grandiose delusions to compensate for a growing sense of uncertainty and fear and for a complex of inferiority. This nagging feeling of inferiority is the result of the internalization of the image of the people in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. This is a self-reinforcing mechanism (vicious circle). The results are under-confidence and a handicapped sense of self esteem. The latter undulates and fluctuates from overvaluation of one's self and others to devaluation of both.
- Hypermobility - People are not loyal to the economic cells within which they function. They switch a lot of jobs, for instance, or ignore contracts that they made. The concepts of exclusivity, the sanctity of promises, loyalty, future, a career path - all get eroded. As a result, there is no investment in the future (in the acquisition of skills or in long term investments, to give but two examples).
- Cognitive Dissonance - The collapse of the social and economic systems adversely affects the individual. One of the classic defence mechanisms is the cognitive dissonance. The person involved tells himself that he really chose and wanted his way of life, his decrepit environment, his low standard of living, etc. ("We are poor because we chose not to be like the inhuman West").
- The Pathological Envy - The Cognitive Dissonance is often coupled with a pathological envy (as opposed to benign jealousy). This is a destructive type of envy which seeks to deprive others of their successes and possessions. It is very typical of societies with a grossly unequal distribution of wealth.
- The Mentality (or the Historical) Defences - these are defence mechanisms which make use of an imagined mentality problem ("we are like that, we have been like this for ages now, nothing to do, we are deformed") - or build upon some historical pattern, or invented pattern ("we have been enslaved and submissive for five centuries - what can you expect").
- The Passive-Aggressive reaction : occurs mainly when the market players have no access to more legitimate and aggressive venues of reacting to their predicament or when they are predisposed to suppressing of aggression (or when they elect to not express it). The passive-aggressive reactions are "sabotage"-type reactions : slowing down of the work, "working by the book", absenteeism, stealing from the workplace, fostering and maintaining bureaucratic procedures and so on.
- The inability to postpone satisfaction - The players regress to a child-like state, demanding immediate satisfaction, unable to postpone it and getting frustrated, aggressive and deceiving if they are required to do so by circumstances. They engage in short term activities, some criminal, some dubious, some legitimate : trading and speculation, gambling, short termism.
The results are, usually, catastrophic :
A reduction in economic activity, in the number of interactions and in the field of economic potentials (the product of all possible economic transactions).
An erosion of the human capital, its skills and availability.
Brain drain - skilled people desert, en masse, the fragmented economic system and move to more sustainable ones.
Resort to illegal and to extra-legal activities
Social and economic polarization. Interethnic tensions and tensions between the very rich and the very poor tend to erupt and to explode.
And this is where most countries in transition are at right now. To a large extent, it is the fault of their elites. Providing orientation and guidance is supposed to be their function and why society invests in them. But the elites in all countries in transition - tainted by long years of complicity in the unseemly and the criminal - never exerted moral or intellectual authority over their people. At the risk of sounding narcissistic, allow me to quote myself (from "The Poets and the Eclipse"
). Replace "intellectuals of the Balkan" with "intellectuals of the countries in transition":
"The intellectuals of the Balkans - a curse, not in disguise. a nefarious presence, ominous, erratic and corrupt. Sometimes, at the nucleus of all conflict and mayhem - at other times (of ethnic cleansing or suppression of the media) conspicuously absent. Zeligs of umpteen disguises and ever-changing, shimmering loyalties.
They exert no moderating, countervailing influence - on the contrary, they radicalize, dramatize, poison and incite. Intellectuals are prominent among all the nationalist parties in the Balkans - and rare among the scant centre parties that have recently sprung out of the ashes of communism.
They do not disseminate the little, outdated knowledge that they do possess. Rather they keep it as a guild would, unto themselves, jealously. In the vanity typical of the insecure, they abnegate all foreign knowledge. They rarely know a second language sufficiently to read it. They promote their brand of degreed ignorance with religious zeal and punish all transgressors with fierceness and ruthlessness. They are the main barriers to technology transfers and knowledge enhancement in this wretched region. Their instincts of self preservation go against the best interests of their people. Unable to educate and teach - they prostitute their services, selling degrees or corrupting themselves in politics. They make up a big part of the post communist nomenclature as they have a big part of the communist one. The result is economics students who never heard of Milton Friedman or Kenneth Arrow and students of medicine who offer sex or money or both to their professors in order to graduate.
Thus, instead of advocating and promoting freedom and liberalization - they concentrate on the mechanisms of control, on manipulating the worn levers of power. They are the dishonest brokers of corrupted politicians and their businessmen cronies. They are heavily involved - oft times the initiators - of suppression and repression, especially of the mind and of the spirit. The black crows of nationalism perched upon their beleaguered ivory towers.
The intellectuals of the Balkans failed miserably. Terrified by the sights and sounds of their threatened territory - they succumbed to obscurantism, resorted to the nostalgic, the abstract and the fantastic, rather than to the pragmatic. This choice is evident even in their speech. Marred by centuries of cruel outside domination - it is all but meaningless. No one can understand what a Balkanian has to say. Both syntax and grammar are tortured into incomprehensibility. Evasion dominates, a profusion of obscuring verbal veils, twists and turns hiding a vacuous deposition.
The Balkan intellectuals chose narcissistic self absorption and navel gazing over "other-orientation". Instead of seeking integration (as distinct from assimilation) - they preach and practice isolation. They aim to differentiate themselves not in a pluralistic, benign manner - but in vicious, raging defiance of "mondialism" (a Serbian propaganda term). To define themselves AGAINST all others - rather than to compare and learn from the comparison. Their love affair with a (mostly concocted) past, their future-phobia, the ensuing culture shock - all follow naturally from the premises of their disconsolate uniqueness. Balkan intellectuals are all paranoids. Scratch the surface, the thin, bow tied, veneer of "kultur" - and you will find an atavistic poet, fighting against the very evil wrought by him and by his actions. This is the Greek tragedy of this breathtaking region. Nature here is cleverer than humans. It is exactly their conspiracies that bring about the very things they have to conspire against in the first place.
All over the world, intellectuals are the vanguard, the fifth column of new ideas, the resistance movement against the occupation of the old and the banal. Here intellectuals preach conformity, doing things the old, proven way, protectionism against the trade of liberal minds. All intellectuals here - fed by the long arm of the state - are collaborators. True, all hideous regimes had their figleaf intellectuals and with a few exceptions, the regimes in the Balkans are not hideous. But the principle is the same, only the price varies. Prostituting their unique position in semi-literate, village-tribal societies - intellectuals in the Balkans sold out en masse. They are the inertial power - rather than the counterfist of reform. They are involved in politics of the wrong and doomed kind. The Balkan would have been better off had they decided to remain aloof, detached in their archipelago of universities.
There is no real fire in Balkan intellectuals. Oh, they get excited and they shout and blush and wave their hands ever so vigorously. But they are empty. It is full gas in neutral. They get nowhere because they are going nowhere. They are rational and conservative and some are emotional and "leftist". But it is all listless and lifeless, like the paces of a very old mechanism, set in motion 80 years ago and never unwound.
All that day of the eclipse of the last millennium, even the intellectuals stayed in their cellars and in their offices and did not dare venture out. They emerged when night fell, accustomed to the darkness, unable to confront their own eclipse, hiding from the evil influence of a re-emerging sun."
By : Dr. Sam Vaknin
James Cook misled the British government back home by neglecting to report about the aborigines he spotted on the beaches of New Holland. This convenient omission allowed him to claim the territory for the crown. In the subsequent waves of colonization, the aborigines perished. Modern Australia stands awash in their blood, constructed on their graves, thriving on their confiscated lands. The belated efforts to redress these wrongs meet with hostility and the atavistic fears of the dispossessor.
In "Altneuland" (translated to Hebrew as "Tel Aviv"), the feverish tome composed by Theodore Herzl, Judaism's improbable visionary - Herzl refers to the Arabs as pliant and compliant butlers, replete with gloves and tarbushes. In the book, a German Jewish family prophetically lands at Jaffa, the only port in erstwhile Palestine. They are welcomed and escorted by "Briticized" Arab gentlemen's gentlemen who are only too happy to assist their future masters and colonizers to disembark.
In between these extremes - of annihilation and assimilation - modern Europe has come up with a plethora of models and solutions to the question of minorities which plagued it and still does. Two schools of thought emerged: the nationalistic-ethnic versus the cultural.
Europe has always been torn between centrifugal and centripetal forces. Multi-ethnic empires alternated with swarms of mini-states with dizzying speed. European Unionism clashed with brown-turning-black nationalism and irredentism. Universalistic philosophies such as socialism fought racism tooth and nail. European history became a blood dripping pendulum, swung by the twin yet conflicting energies of separation and integration. The present is no different. The dream of the European Union confronted the nightmare of a dismembered Yugoslavia throughout the last decade. And ethnic tensions are seething all across the continent. Hungarians in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia, Bulgarians in Moldova, Albanians in Macedonia, Russians in the Baltic countries, even Padans in Italy and the list is long.
The cultural school of co-existence envisaged multi-ethnic states with shared philosophies and value systems which do not infringe upon the maintenance and preservation of the ethnic identities of their components. The first socialists adopted this model enthusiastically. They foresaw a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural socialist mega-state. The socialist values, they believed, will serve as the glue binding together the most disparate of ethnic elements. In the event, it took a lot more than common convictions. It took suppression on an unprecedented scale and it took concentration camps and the morbid application of the arts and sciences of death. And even then both the Nazi Reich and the Stalinist USSR fell to ethnic pieces.
The national(istic) school supports the formation of ethnically homogenous states, if necessary, by humane and gradual (or inhuman and abrupt) ethnic cleansing . Homogeneity is empirically linked to stability and, therefore, to peace, economic prosperity and oftentimes to democracy. Heterogeneity breeds friction, hatred, violence, instability, poverty and authoritarianism. The conclusion is simple: ethnicities cannot co-exist. Ethnic groups (a.k.a. nations) must be left to their own devices, put differently: they must be allocated a piece of land and allowed to lead their lives as they see fit. The land thus allocated should correspond, as closely as possible, with the birthplace of the nation, the scenery of its past and the cradle of its culture.
The nationalist school depended on denial and repression of the existence of heterogeneity and of national minorities. This was done by:
(a) Ethnic Cleansing
Greece and Turkey exchanged population after the first world war. Czechoslovakia expelled the
Sudeten Germans after the Second World War and the Nazis rendered big parts of Europe Judenrein.
Bulgarians forced Turks to flee. The Yugoslav succession wars were not wars in the Clausewitz sense
- rather they were protracted guerilla operations intended to ethnically purge swathes of the
(b) Ethnic Denial
In 1984, the Bulgarian communist regime forced the indigenous Turkish population to "Bulgarize"
their names. The Slav minorities in the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian empire were forced to
"Magyarize" following the 1867 Compromise. Franco's Spain repressed demands for regional
Other, more democratic states, fostered a sense of national unity by mass media and school
indoctrination. Every facet of life was subjected to and incorporated in this relentless and unforgiving
pursuit of national identity: sports, chess, national holidays, heroes, humour. The particularisms of
each group gained meaning and legitimacy only through and by their incorporation in the bigger
picture of the nation. Thus, Greece denies to this very day that there are Turks or Macedonians on its
soil. There are only Muslim Greeks, it insists (often brutally and in violation of human and civil
rights). The separate identities of Brittany and Provence were submerged within the French collective
one and so was the identity of the Confederate South in the current USA. Some call it "cultural
The nationalist experiment failed miserably. It was pulverized by a million bombs, slaughtered in battlefields and concentration camps, set ablaze by fanatics and sadists. The pendulum swung. In 1996, Hungarians were included in the Romanian government and in 1998 they made it to the Slovakian one. In Macedonia, Albanian parties took part in all the governments since independence. The cultural school, on the ascendance, was able to offer three variants:
(1) The Local Autonomy
Ethnic minorities are allowed to use their respective languages in certain municipalities where they
constitute more than a given percentage (usually twenty) of the total population. Official documents,
street signs, traffic tickets and education all are translated to the minority language as well as to the
majority's. This rather meaningless placebo has a surprisingly tranquillizing effect on restless youth
and nationalistic zealots. In 1997, police fought local residents in a few Albanian municipalities
precisely on this issue.
(2) The Territorial Autonomy
Ethnic minorities often constitute a majority in a given region. Some "host" countries allow them to
manage funds, collect taxes and engage in limited self-governance. This is the regional or territorial
autonomy that Israel offered to the Palestinians (too late) and that Kosovo and Vojvodina enjoyed
under the 1974 Yugoslav constitution (which Milosevic shredded to very small pieces). This solution
was sometimes adopted by the nationalist competition itself. The Nazis dreamt up at least two such
territorial "final solutions" for the Jews (one in Madagascar and one in Poland). Stalin gave the Jews
a decrepit wasteland, Birobidjan, to be their "homeland". And, of course, there were the South
(3) The Personal Autonomy
Karl Renner and Otto Bauer advanced the idea of the individual as the source of political authority -
regardless of his or her domicile. Between the two world wars, Estonia gave personal autonomy to its
Jews and Russians. Wherever they were, they were entitled to vote and elect representatives to
bodies of self government. These had symbolic taxation powers but exerted more tangible authority
over matters educational and cultural. This idea, however benign sounding, encountered grave
opposition from right and left alike. The right wing "exclusive" nationalists rejected it because they
regarded minorities the way a sick person regards his germs. And the left wing, "inclusive",
nationalists saw in it the seeds of discrimination, an anathema.
How and why did we find ourselves embroiled in such a mess?
It is all the result of the wrong terminology, an example of the power of words. The Jews (and Germans) came up with the "objective", "genetic", "racial" and "organic" nation. Membership was determined by external factors over which the member-individual had no control. The French "civil" model - an 18th century innovation - regarded the nation and the state as voluntary collectives, bound by codes and values which are subject to social contracts. Benedict Anderson called the latter "imagined communities".
Naturally, it was a Frenchman (Ernest Renan) who wrote:
"Nations are not eternal. They had a beginning and they will have an end. And they will probably be replaced by a European confederation".
He was referring to the fact that nation STATES were nothing but (at the time) a century old invention of dubious philosophical pedigree. The modern state was indeed invented by intellectuals (historians and philologists) and then solidified by ethnic cleansing and the horrors of warfare. Jacob Grimm virtually created the chimeral Serbo-Croat "language". Claude Fauriel dreamt up the reincarnation of ancient Greece in its eponymous successor. The French sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss remarked angrily that "it is almost comical to see little-known, poorly investigated items of folklore invoked at the Peace Conference as proof that the territory of this or that nation should extend over a particular area
because a certain shape of dwelling or bizarre custom is still in evidence". Archaeology, anthropology, philology, history and a host of other sciences and arts were invoked in an effort to substantiate a land claim. And no land claim was subjected to a statute of limitations, no subsequent conquest or invasion or settlement legitimized. Witness the "Dacian wars" between Hungary and Romania over Transylvania (are the Romanians latter day Dacians or did they invade Transylvania long after it was populated by the Hungarians?). Witness the Israelis and the Palestinians. And, needless to add, witness the Serbs and the Albanians, the Greeks and the Macedonians and the Macedonians and the Bulgarians.
Thus, the modern nation-state was a reflection of something more primordial, of human nature itself as it resonated in the national founding myths (most of them fictitious or contrived). The supra-national dream is to many a nightmare. Europe is fragmenting into micro-nations while unifying its economies. These two trends are not mutually exclusive as is widely and erroneously believed. Actually, they are mutually reinforcing. As the modern state loses its major economic roles and functions to a larger, supranational framework - it loses its legitimacy and its raison d'etre.
The one enduring achievement of the state was the replacement of allegiance to a monarch, to a social class, to a region, or to a religion by an allegiance to a "nation". This subversive idea comes back to haunt itself. It is this allegiance to the nation that is the undoing of the tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, abstract modern state. To be a nationalist is to belong to ever smaller and more homogenous groups and to dismantle the bigger, all inclusive polity which is the modern state.
Indeed, the state is losing in the battlefield of ideas to the other two options: micro-nationalism (homogeneous and geographically confined) and reactionary affiliation. Micro-nationalism gave birth to Palestine and to Kosovo, to the Basque land and to Quebec, to regionalism and to local patriotism. It is a fragmenting force. Modern technology makes many political units economically viable despite their minuscule size - and so they declare their autonomy and often aspire to independence.
Reactionary Affiliation is cosmopolitan. Think about the businessman, the scholar, the scientist, the pop star, the movie star, the entrepreneur, the arbitrageur and the internet. People feel affiliated to a profession, a social class, a region, or a religion more than they do to their state. Hence the phenomena of ex-pats, mass immigration, international managers. This is a throwback to an earlier age when the modern state was not yet invented. Indeed, the predicament of the nation-state is such that going back may be the only benign way of going forward.
The Bad Blood of Kosovo
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
The old Montenegrins, tall as their mountains, their rocky faces ravaged by an unforgiving weather define "osveta" thus:
"Osveta, that means . . . a kind of spiritual fulfilment. You have killed my son, so I killed yours; I have taken revenge for that, so I now sit peacefully in my chair."
Milovan Djilas, who helped Tito become Tito and then was imprisoned for trying to be Djilas wrote in his book "Land Without Justice" (Harcourt, Brace 1958):
"Vengeance - this a breath of life one shares from the cradle with one's fellow clansmen, in both good fortune and bad, vengeance from eternity. Vengeance was the debt we paid for the love and sacrifice our forebears and fellow clansmen bore for us. It was the defence of our honour and good name, and the guarantee of our maidens. I t was our pride before others; our blood was not water that anyone could spill. It was, moreover, our pastures and springs - more beautiful than anyone else's - our family feasts and births. It was the glow in our eyes, the flame in our cheeks, the pounding in our temples, the word that turned to stone in our throats on our hearing that our blood had been shed.
It was the sacred task transmitted in the hour of death to those who had just been conceived in our blood. It was centuries of manly pride and heroism, survival, a mother's milk and a sister's vow, bereaved parents and children in black, joy and songs turned into silence and wailing. It was all, all."
And this is what Margaret Durham had to say in her celebrated ethnography of Albania, a long time ago ("Some Tribal Origins of Laws and Customs of the Balkans" - Allan and Unwin, 1928):
"A certain family had long been notorious for evil-doing - robbing, shooting, and being a pest to the tribe. A gathering of all the heads condemned all the males of the family to death.
Men were appointed to lay in wait for them on a certain day and pick them off; and on that day the whole seventeen of them were shot. One was but five and another but twelve years old. I protested against thus killing children who must be innocent and was told: 'It was bad blood and must not be further propagated.' Such was the belief in heredity that it was proposed to kill an unfortunate woman who was pregnant, lest she should bear a male and so renew the evil."
In the second century BC, Kosovo was populated by people with picturesque names: the Iliyrians, Thracians, the Celts. The whole area was under Roman rule and was subjected to the industriousness and meticulousness of Empire. Roads were paved, cities built, populations moved and commerce flourished. This lasted two hundreds years. Slav tribes descended from the Carpathian mountains and ended it in orgies of blood and fire. Until this very day, serious Greek politicians invoke this primordial invasion in their effort to convince an incredulous world that the (current) Macedonians are not the (True) Macedonians. "They are the off spring of invading Slavs" - they claim, passionately, as is the habit in the Balkans. It took another two centuries and a Byzantine brief occupation to force the reluctant Slavs to settle along the Sava river and to form the poor semblance of a civilization in the making. Roving "saints" of fervent disposition taught them a new alphabet. Cyril and Methodius were succeeded by disciples all over Central and Eastern Europe - from the period of Kliment Ohridski in today's territories of Macedonia and Bulgaria to Amos Comenius, the 17th century educator, considered in the Balkans to be their spiritual descendant in the Czech Lands.
This ability to cast their myths in paper in the vernacular, to hand the national memory down the generations, the new found Christian religion - all coagulated into an emergingly distinct culture. Come the 12th century, Kosovo was entirely Slav.
Or, to be more precise: entirely Serb. The Slavs fractured into three groups. The Croats and Slovenes, baptized by Rome, became ardent Roman Catholics. The Serbs - introduced to the faith by Byzantium - remained Eastern Orthodox. This division was to last a thousand years as the Croats and the Slovenes came under the influence and rule of the Catholic Habsburgs while the Serbs were subjected to the crumbling Ottoman chaos. Geography mirrored a tormented topography of mentalities, religious persuasions and political affiliations. The Serbs occupied today's Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina. The Croats and Slovenes occupied the rest of latter day Yugoslavia. The Tito generated unity of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was but a brief and false note. It could not have lasted - and, indeed, it hasn't.
The Serbs established a principality in Kosovo - the nucleus of what later came to be known as the Serbian Golden Age. It was situated in the rustic but magnificent valley of Ibar and controlled most of the Sandzak. Gradually, the whole of hitherto empty Kosovo became theirs and they felt sufficiently at home to form a Serbian Orthodox Church with its seat in Raska, just north of Kosovo. It took 19 years (1200-1219) to complete this feat of independence and all this time Kosovo was fought over by Serbs, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romans and Byzantines. Hundreds of years of strife, veiled conspiracies, invasions and rotting corpses in sun drenched battlefields.
To the Serbs it was a Golden Age. Under the Nemanje dynasty, luck struck thrice in the figures of kings Stephen (1169-89), Milutin (1281-1321) and Dusan (1331-55). Workers were brought in from Transylvania to mine the wealth of the land. Ever more prosperous, Kosovo became the throbbing heart of Serbland. The splendid royal court, ravishing in gold and red, radiated power north of Kosovo and unto today's Slovenia, upto the Adriatic Sea, making Pec the new seat of the Serbian Orthodox church. When Dusan died, history held its breath, the nation poised precariously on a precipice of internecine conflict. But the stability was fake. The question of inheritance, translated into the currency of power plays, tore the land apart. The Turks were there to pick up the pieces in the masochistically celebrated battle of Kosovo Polje in June 28th 1389. But not for another 70 years did they exert real control over this newly gained territory - so powerful and ferocious were their Serb adversaries even in their decline. Besieged by Mongols from the east, the Turks, already the sick man, retreated and left the Serbs to their own self-destructive devices.
All this time, there are no Albanians in the historiography of this cursed land. It is, therefore, almost startling to find them there, sufficiently armed and organized t oppose the ... Turks!
Having dealt the Mongols some mortal blows, the Turkish beast shifted its attention to another bruise in its by now writhing body, to Kosovo. The Turkish armies conquered Prizren, driving before them the dilapidated and depleted Serb forces. It was an Albanian king, Skanderberg, who rebelled against them there. Albanians then were Catholics (as many of them are to this very day), their war against their future allies, a holy war. This was in 1459 and only 250 years later did the Turks embark upon a policy of actively encouraging the (by now Muslim) Albanians to emigrate to Kosovo - not before the Serbs were expelled following an unsuccessful rebellion in 1690.
This Turkish propensity was nothing extraordinary. Empires throughout history settled "loyal" populations where they displaced restive ones. But in Kosovo a confluence of fault lines led to especially bitter sediments which went on to poison the waters of co-existence for centuries to come. Converted Moslem Albanians versus Christian Serbs; Albanian collaborators and traitors (as perceived by the Serbs) versus Serb mythical heroes (again as perceived by the Serbs); a nation of the ascendance versus a nation dispersed and the last European defence line against Islam traitorously compromised by fellow Christians and Christian kingdoms. Serbs fleeing from Kosovo, from Serbia itself, from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia - moved due north, to refugee camps set up by the Habsburg empire. Serbs settled in Vojvodina and Krajina, thus sowing the seeds of 20th century conflicts with Croatia and Hungary. And all this time they carried with them a baggage of hatred and revenge, a lethal, bloodied promise to be back and to exact the price of betrayal from the Albanians. In 1737 they established a Serbian homeland in Vojvodina. In 1738 they rebelled, again to be defeated in the scene of their national trauma, in Kosovo Polje. Another wave of immigrants followed and another wave of Albanians took over their abandoned property in Metohija. The Turks abolished the seat of the Serb church in Pec in 1766. It seemed that the Serb nation has been all but eradicated.
But this was not to be. In one of the more magnificent sleights of hand that history is so famous for - the Russians forced the beaten Ottoman empire to grant the Serbs an autonomy. It was nothing like the hallowed past sovereignty and glory of the Dusan court but it was a step that rekindled nationalistic sentiments in the most humble and humbled Serb throughout the land. This flame has since never been extinguished and it is at the blazing heart of the Milosevic Yugoslav Wars of Inheritance. That - and the belief that history is cyclical and that there is always hope.
Kosovo was by now entirely "Alabanized". Pristina was the hub of transport and the seat of the administration. Names of places which resounded both in the 14th century and at the close of the 20th recur. In Prizren in 1878 the Albanians established their first national movement. There they came of age. The infancy of Serbhood and the adulthood of Albanianism clashed in the same region, the prelude to the tragedy of 1999.
Under the Treaty of Berlin in 1878, Serbia became de jure an independent country. Its anguished delegation, eager and paranoid, gave up Kosovo in dealings behind the gilded scenes. It was a tactical move which the Serbs reversed in the First Balkan War (1912) - when they regained Kosovo - and in the Second Balkan War (1913) when they regained Macedonia. In these bloody rehearsals of the World Wars, the Serbs succeeded to redefine the borders - but also to give birth to Albania. It is an irony of history that Serb bellicosity and nationalistic dreams gave rise to the modern Albanian state. But then this IS the nature of the Balkans - a hazy nightmare in which enemies give birth to one another. An intricate commerce of Christian death and resurrection, the gifts of death and life exchanged among Gregorian chants and the prayer cries of Muezzins. In 1926 the Serbs and the Albanians drew the border line between their sovereign states. It was a bad invention, this line of demarcation. It separated close to 600,000 Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia from Albania proper. The disgruntled populace did not engage in acts of terror or in gestures of nationalistic indignation. Instead, they emigrated to Albania and to Turkey - tens of thousands of Albanians, perhaps as many as three hundred thousand, or half the population. And the Serbs came in their stead. The wheel has been reversed, or so it seemed.
Nothing in the Balkans is what it seems to be. Every surface is teeming underneath with hidden meanings, obscure interpretations and exegetic excesses. They who are up go down, bringing in their wake, through the sheer force of their own fall - the rise of their adversaries. Delicate laws of conservation preserve all grudges balanced, all the accounts settled and all agony equally distributed. It is an entropy of history itself, slowly decaying into chaotic repetition.
And thus when Italy conquered Kosovo (it, with Ethiopia being the only thing it ever conquered) - it gave it to Albania. Germany which dominated Yugoslavia, consented. For a brief four years, the Albanian nation was completely united, territorially, at least.
But this did not last long. After the war, Yugoslavia re-acquired Kosovo and the communist regime embarked on a Turkish-like brutal suppression of the Albanian population. For twenty one years, secret units of the police hunted, executed and mutilated free spirited Albanians all over Kosovo. In more ways than one, Albanians were the first true dissidents in all the communist bloc. How ironic, if one recalls the Albanian Enver Hoxa, the leader of next door Albania and the fiercest of all communist leaders. In 1968 Albanian students joined their colleagues the world over and demonstrated against Serb repression. These particular outbursts were easily squashed but in 1974 Kosovo was made an autonomous province of Yugoslavia by constitutional reforms. School instruction in Albanian was legalized. During all this period, Serbs - especially battle hardened war veterans - were economically encouraged to migrate to Kosovo. Albanians were encourage to go the other way and many did. About 200,000 Albanians left between the years 1954-7 alone!!!
By now, these human waves and military tramplings left Kosovo dilapidated to the core, a backwater both economically and culturally. People left Kosovo in this period because it offered no present work and no future prospects. One hundred thousand Serbs left between 1961-87. Much later many would claim that they were harassed by the Albanian majority but this sounds fake, a re-writing of history. Albanians left as well. Everyone who had a choice, chose to leave impoverished Kosovo.
Then Tito died and nothing was the same. The 1981 riots in Kosovo led to the imposition of martial law. as students from Pristina University rampaged in the streets, the government sealed Kosovo off, sent in the militia to restore order (which it did with vehement cruelty and bestiality) and closed down educational institutions. Pristina University was always a hotbed of nationalism - witness its Maoist-Marxist graduate, the head of the KLA and the self-appointed Prime Minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci. But that particular spring was exceptional. Public disorder was coupled with grave acts of economic sabotage. The students demanded an end to discrimination and certain freedoms but really they demanded jobs commensurate with their training, jobs, which they believed went to the Serbs.
Five years later, an hitherto obscure communist leader (he was just elected Serbia's party secretary) visited Kosovo. In a chance encounter with angry Serb mobs in the streets of Pristina he accused the Albanians of genocide. "No one should do this to you" - he said, grim faced, visibly shaken, cunningly calculating.
His name was Milosevic. Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?
(Who is Guarding the Guards)
By : Dr. Sam Vaknin
Izetbegovic, the nominal ex-president of the nominal Bosnian state, the darling of the gullible western media, denies that he and his cronies and his cronies' cronies stole 40% of all civilian aid targeted at Bosnia - a minor matter of 1 billion US dollars and change, in less than 4 years. The tribes of the Balkans stop bleeding each other to death only when they gang up to bleed another. In this, there are no races and no traces - everyone is equal under the sign of the dollar. Serbs, Bosnians and Croats divided the loot with the loftiest of egalitarian instincts. Honour among thieves transformed into honour among victims and their murderers. Mammon is the only real authority in this god forsaken, writhing rump of a country.
And not only there.
In Russia, billions (3 to 5) were transferred to secret off shore bank accounts to be "portfolio managed" by mysterious fly-by-night entities. Many paid with their jobs when the trail led to the incestuous Yeltsin clan and their byzantine court.
Convoys snake across the mountainous Kosovo, bringing smuggled goods at exorbitant prices to the inhabitants of this parched territory - all under the avuncular gaze of multinational peacekeepers.
In Romania, Hungary and Greece, UN forces have been known to take bribes to allow goods into besieged Serbia. Oil, weapons and strategic materials, all slid across this greasy channel of the international brotherhood of cash.
A lot of the aid, ostensibly intended to ameliorate the state of refugedom imposed upon the unsuspecting, harried population of Kosovo - resurfaced in markets, white and black, across the region. Food, blankets, tents, electrical equipment, even toys - were on offer in bazaars from Skopje to Podgorica and from Sofia to Thessaloniki, replete with the stamps of the unwitting donors. Aid workers scurried back and forth in expensive utility vehicles, buzzing mobile phones in hand and latest model, officially purchased, infrared laptops humming in the air conditioned coolness of their five star hotel rooms (or fancy apartments). In their back pockets they safeguarded their first class tickets (the food is better and the stewardesses ...). The scavengers of every carnage, they descended upon this tortured land in redundant hordes, feeding off the misery, the autoimmune deficiency of the syndrome of humanism.
Ask yourselves: how could one of every 3 dollars - 50% of GNP - be stolen in a country the size of a tiny American state - without the knowledge and collaboration of the international organizations which ostensibly manage this bedlam? Why did the IMF renew the credit lines to a Russia which cheated bold-facely regarding its foreign exchange reserves? How was Serbia awash and flush with oil and other goods prohibited under the terms of the never-ending series of embargoes imposed upon it?
The answer is that potent cocktail of fear and graft. First came fear - that Russia will collapse, that the Balkans will spill over, that Bosnia will disintegrate. Nuclear nightmares intermingled with Armenian and Jewish flashbacks of genocide. The west shut its eyes tight and threw money at the bad spirits of irredentism and re-emergent communism. The long arm of the USA, the "international" financial institutions, collaborated in constructing the habit forming dole house that Eastern and Southern Europe has become. This conflict-reticence, these approach-avoidance cycles led to an inevitable collusion between the ruling mob families that pass for regimes in these parts of the planet - and the unilateral institutions that pass for multilateral ones in the rest of it. An elaborate system of winks and nods, the sign language of institutional rot and decaying governance, took over. Greasy palms clapped one another with the eerie silence of conspiracy. The world looked away as both - international financial institutions and corrupt regimes - robbed their constituencies blind. This was perceived to be the inevitable moral cost of stability. Survival of the majority entailed the filthy enrichment of the minority. And the west acquiesced.
But this grand design backfired. Like insidious bacteria, corruption breeds violence and hops from host to host. It does not discriminate, this plague of black conscience, between east and west. As it infected the indigenous, it also effected their guardians. They were all engulfed by raging greed, by a degradation of the inhibitions and by the intoxicating promiscuity of lawlessness. Inebriated by their newly found powers, little ceasars - natives and financial colonialists - claimed their little plots of crime and avarice, a not so secret order of disintegration of the social fabric. A ghoulish landscape, shrouded in the opaque mist of the nomenclature, the camaraderie of the omnipotent.
And corruption bred violence. The Chicago model imported lock, stock and the barrel of the gun. Former cronies disappeared mysteriously, bloated corpses in stale hotel rooms - being the only "contracts" honoured. Territories were carved up in constant, unrelenting warfare. One billion dollars are worth a lot of blood and it was spilled with glee, with the enthusiasm of the inevitable, with the elation of gambling all on a single spin of the Russian roulette.
It is this very violence that the west tried to drown with its credits. But unbeknownst to it, this very violence thrived on these pecuniary fertilizers. A plant of horrors, it devoured its soil and its cultivators alike. And 120,000 people paid with their lives for this wrong gamble. Counting its losses, the west is poised to spin the wheel again. More money is amassed, the dies are cast and more people cast to die.
The Titanic Waltz
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
It was as surrealistic as they get: a Viennese Ball in a decaying Balkan city. Organized by the nation of former Nazis and current Nazi sympathizers in a land of former communist thieves turned capitalist robbers. It was held in a newly opened hotel, a gleaming temple of kitsch and tackiness, an abode of golden brass and polished mirrors amidst urban waste and uncollected mounds of festering trash. Hundreds of middle aged, burly diplomats and locals, all in ill fitting smokings, the women wearing sweaty, smeared make-up. A grotesque medley of decadence, a glimpse of zombie Habsburg schmaltz, the foreigners' deluded way of pretending they are in Europe, an outlet for smug Balkanian swaggering braggarts.
Outside, fly-infested children beggars extended ulcerated soiled hands in silent plea. Others peddled rusted razor blades and leaking batteries to passers-by. Young men smiled rotting teeth in the smoking humidity of dingy coffee-houses. The middle aged, bent, sparkless eyes, consumed by unemployment and disease, a confluence of wrinkled toothlessness and dwindling hair. The women grey and flabby, wise, weary eyes in penumbral sockets. They glided, huddled, fending off the windy chill that ricocheted from cracking, mouldy walls. Dark clouds weighed on denuded trees in littered boulevards.
Inside, the orchestra cast notes at heated chandeliers. Elastic TV cameramen engaged in public pantomime of angles and photo-opportunities. Scarlet cheeked singers hurled their arias at the wooden eurythmics of the hop. Flushed waiters in perspiring attires held trays of bubbling champagne aloft. Men in skewed bow ties smiled genteelly at each other, leading the women in gauche steps across the wide arena. The lights were bright, the atmosphere excited.
Not far from there children were dying for want of medicine or excess drugs. Needled hookers solicited the haunted streets. Rat packs erupted from fermented rubbish, ignored by men and women poking through the piles. A red, polluted moon irradiated drunkards in tattered, puky heaps near black Mercedeses in ostentatious parking.
The light - the darkness. The sybaritic fest - the dying populace. The glitter and decrepitude. The haves and those who don't. The growing abyss between the leaders and the led, the elite and the masses - the masses soon to turn mob. A writing on the crumbling walls, the distant thunder of reality denied, of social justice spurned. As Ministers and mobsters (one and the same) cruise potholed streets in flashy cars, as mink clad mistresses expose indecently bejewelled necks in fancy restaurants, as former politicians throw hedonistic parties in sumptuous villas and marry their off-spring in Roman style - so do they seal their fate, so they pronounce their verdict.
It had its faults but Communism did guarantee a modicum of common misery. Society was never polarized and theft was national pursuit. The spoils were shared and so was the inane bureaucracy, the paranoia and the fear, the xenophobia, the immobility, the stilted speech. All had the same disintegrating residence, suffered the same maltreatment, enjoyed the same dilapidated services. The schools, the clinics, the gulag were all accessible in equal measure. These were societies maintained by zealous envy and lack of privacy and private property. There was no middle class, there were no classes, only nomenklatura to which one could belong at will.
And no middle class emerged in the capitalist upheaval that followed the spastic death of socialism. Malignant profiteering followed malignant abstinence. The social fabric torn, trust - meagre as it were - was utterly eradicated. A jungle ruled in which all forms of human animal prevailed: the venal politician, the mafiosi, the Arkans of this world, the drug dealer and weapons smuggler, the petty thief and pimp, the whore. The haves had more, the luckless shipwrecked on an isle of destitution. The former lived with abandon, the latter abandoned life. A yawning, lava spewing gap, a pit without bottom, a biblical damnation.
They who have no thing to lose shall lose all others have.
Sam Vaknin's "United Press International (UPI)" Author Archive:
Sam Vaknin's "Central Europe Review" Author Archive: