Part of the virtual assembly “Symbolic elements of the Macedonian authoritarian populism”. Author: Borjan Gjuzelov
In 2009, the Macedonian ruling party VMRO–DMPNE addressed its membership through an open letter announcing that they need to be prepared for “the final battle against the transition politicians.” This was one of the first steps in the shaping of the discourse of a fight against the enemies of Macedonia, which had began earlier that year with the violent counter-protest against the Architecture students and the aggressive rhetoric of several popular pro-governmental journalists. In the period that followed, the Macedonian public discourse was full of hate speech against alleged domestic and foreign enemies, traitors, mercenaries, non-Macedonians, sorosoids, faggots, heretics, etc. Today, even the Prime Minister Gruevski himself publicly proclaims that Macedonia is seriously in danger of the joint threat of foreign secret services and domestic ‘traitors’ from the opposition.
Such discourse is typical for populist regimes that build up their support on the basis of conflict between the People as ‘us’ and the enemies as ‘them’. These two terms (the People and the enemies) are actually fictive language constructs, that play the role of empty signifiers because their meaning varies depending to the daily political interests of the populist government. According to Ernesto Laclau, populism simplifies the political with a symbolic division between the folk (the People), that almost always has the role of a victim and everything else as the Other. In the Macedonian context, the Other is the opposition, the ethnic Albanian minority, Greece, Europe, America, etc. In this context, the fight against the Other (i.e. the enemy), is the basic source of legitimacy for the populist leaders. Ironically, the enemy is actually the main marker of their political agenda for preservation of the national uniqueness from the ‘danger’ that comes with the enemy. Accordingly, the stronger the alleged enemy appears to be, the tenser the feeling of conspiracy and vulnerability among the masses is, and therefore the need for some false unity in order to prevent the danger is ever more pressing.
All of this leads to a state of exception, where the primary place is taken up by the narrative of securitisation of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. This state of exception tends to extrude all the other political issues out of the public discourse. Therefore, the public is defocused from the possible government’s unsuccessful policies and corruption affairs, while the room for any meaningful political dialogue is significantly diminished. On the other hand, the politics of protection of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ generates a real danger of destabilisation and conflict. Namely, the state of exception creates emotions of fear, hate, and xenophobia among the masses and leads to a non-civic mobilisation of a militant character that directly affects the public safety in a society.
The emotional manifestations of fear and hate, which emerge from the discourse of internal and external enemies, bring out the lowest passions of the individual and transform the citizens into a crowd, whose main connecting tissue is the provincial intolerance of anything individual and different. In that context there is no room for any critical re-evaluation of the truth, or any rational individualistic action. To the contrary, everything is subverted into the uniform submission to the narrative of protection of ‘us’ against ‘them’, whose sovereign authority is the authoritarian leader with its feigned protective role.