by Saso ORDANOSKI
In the USA, once the sufficient number of signatures is collected to put a referendum question on a ballot, the authorities are given a chance, if they wish, to implement the requested changes or abolish the controversial law, since it is believed that the success of a ballot initiative is a democratic signal that a problem exists. If on the other hand a referendum is held, its results are mandatory [unfortunately, legislators have opportunities to ignore referendum results; for example see the refusal of Massachusetts legislature to implement "fair elections initiative" approved by the voters].
According to the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California (www.iandrinstitute.org) 900f American cities - regardless of their location, size, ethnic and demographic characteristics or development - are included in implementation of referenda in connection with all sorts of diverse issues related to the local government.
The American definition of a referendum is also interesting. For example, literally, experts of the mentioned California Institute specify that "Referendum is a process through which an existing law is confirmed or rejected by the electorate". It is noted that the academia and media have during the last decade increasingly supported and encouraged the use of referenda.
Besides, as a curiosity, just consider that in California a few years ago the policy of setting up the levels of insurance premiums was the subject of no less than six different referenda!
Interestingly, it did not occur to anyone to proclaim the doom of the Californian car insurance industry.
Given such democratic context, one cannot explain the "Jacobin" attitude of the international community, above all Americans, with respect to the already called fateful referendum on the new territorial organization of Macedonian municipalities. It is difficult to recall another issue of regional Balkan importance in which the international community has painted itself in a corner without practically any alternative policy. They - imagine that! - are boasting that they are not thinking of, nor do they have plan "B" if the referendum succeeds. Essentially, the lack of policy is their policy!
In itself that is a scandal, especially if we recall that the very same international community during the last decade did not flinch from having alternatives and "Plans B" even when it had to support and cooperate with mass butchers, war criminals of historic proportions and destructive attitudes of various Balkan politicians/criminals.
Now, on the other hand when the issue is a perfectly legal opportunity for citizens of a sovereign and internationally recognized country to express their opinion, Brussels and Washington are showing off the manners of typical Balkan warmongers. The noise of international war trumpets and drums has confused our poor political provocateurs and they are nearly walking around offering tranquilizers to the populace: Arben Xhaferi hasn't been given a chance to add another one of his theories about the unfinished break-up of the former Yugoslavia; Teodor Petrov hasn't been able to even utter the bank account of his Mickey mouse congress organization; and Pavle Trajanov is in a dead heat with the American ambassador Butler in their race to draw attention of as many unleashed TV-teams that are wondering through Skopje and all over the country in order to dig up someone who can offer yet another doom and gloom prediction regarding the future of Macedonia.
Consequently, this malicious and threatening - it has surpassed the borders of impolite and boring a while ago - repetition by the international community that if the referendum succeeds Macedonia (if it survives and they definitely know that it will not) will not be able to join the EU and NATO in the foreseeable future, requires a deeper analysis.
Let us start with the worst - according to the international community - of all possible outcomes: namely that more than 850,000 voters participate in the referendum and that all of them vote yes. Therefore, the referendum would be successful.
In that case the international community has several options at its disposal...
First, Branko Crvenkovski and Ali Ahmeti can be encouraged to bring such referendum results into the parliamentary procedure where, given the application of Badinter's majority in voting, the referendum results would be de facto annulled. However, even Buttler is not so, to say the least, arrogant. Further elaboration of the consequences of that possibility would demand description of the size and weight of the stones around the Macedonian Parliament building and all the complications that would follow, including the violent suppression of the popular discontent.
Is the international community prepared for that?
Secondly, they could announce their "deep disappointment" and declare that Macedonia was to be taken off the list of candidates for the EU and NATO. That would probably in the short term bring about a drastic political (and other types of) reaction of ethnic Albanians in the country ("We do not want to live in such Macedonia" etc.), which would definitely provoke radicalization of a significant number of ethnic Macedonians, and end up in a dangerous and profound political and consequently security crisis in Macedonia. The international community, willingly taking the side of ethnic Albanians, would be forced to confront the majority population in the country. Ultimately, it would be given no other choice but to by force draw on the ground "lines of separation" and, sooner or later, to assist in the creation of "Greater Kosovo" and similar other regional complications.
Is the international community prepared for that?
Third, if the referendum succeeds, the international community might, as usually in the past, split into two camps: one camp would say "fine, the referendum should be taken into account", while the other camp (most likely including Americans, among other) would either keep silent or leave us to roast in our own fire or begin to openly advocate the break up of Macedonia and implementation of some sort of their regional scenario (by the way, many are waiting for that scenario to be revealed).
Is the international community prepared for that?
The international community is not prepared for any of the above three options. In other words, now it is not in anyone's interest to see a new escalation and radicalization in the Balkans, given that such developments will not simplify but on the contrary necessarily complicate the mode of operation - if not the mode of coexistence - of the current Balkan reality, established with much difficulty. I know that it sounds paradoxical, but that is the least favorable outcome for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia - and even in the Balkans - given that they don't have a fuel that could be used to "feed" that radicalism. Namely, borders will not be changed by violence in their favor.
Consequently, keeping in mind relatively modest cause and disproportionally significant consequences of this "dead end" of the international policy in Macedonia there can be no rational explanation for such policy.
In other words, they are very clumsily (resorting to threats!) attempting to explain that, although a democratic tool, referenda are not advisable for all countries, and especially not for young and ethnically mixed democracies.
That is not incorrect to a certain extent. Referenda, by definition, limit the ability of the authorities and lawmakers to implement coherent policies, especially when implementing reforms (above all in the inter-ethnic sphere). In theory, referenda reduce the role and responsibility of political parties (even if those are essentially business cartels as in our case) for management of political processes and development of political options. Similarly, referenda simplify every complex reality when they reduce it to one simple question, so that voter decisions regarding how to vote in a referendum are rarely led by objective arguments, and are much more likely to be driven by other motives and manipulation. Finally, it is undeniable that the atmosphere of a "mature" democracy and wealthy society (as for example in Switzerland or California) is the best environment for referenda, given that otherwise results of referenda may cause new divisions in a country.
A lot of what was said in the previous paragraph also applies to Macedonia, and will most likely motivate many of those (ethnic Macedonians) who decide not to participate in the forthcoming referendum.
The international community, justifiably without doubt and very clumsily, is trying to warn us about all of the above. (there is another reason, related to crisis management, which the international community cannot publicly state: referenda are means to hear the opinion of the people, and the international community in the Balkans, understandably prefers to deal with certain politicians, especially if it knows about their secret bank accounts in distant Faroe Islands).
However, such current approach to the referendum by the international community - the guarantor of the Ohrid Framework Agreement - inspires me to mention certain proverb that states that after certain practical acts - there is no going back! Given that it is undeniable that they believed that the new territorial organization of Macedonia could be agreed without their involvement, but it turned out they were wrong... It is undeniable that they naively believed that, the way Trajkovski did, Crvenkovski would find a way to continue the process of the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement in the atmosphere of "shared political responsibility", which successfully avoided "loss of control" on sharp turns of that process - but that did not happen... It is undeniable that they first tried to dismiss the whole referendum campaign as mad and illegal, only to later realize how stupid that was and quickly switch to a different, even more stupid, tactic: they decided to reject the result of a democratic initiative as undemocratic... It is undeniable that, even while you are reading this article, they still have time for a constructive and relatively insignificant corrective intervention regarding the new territorial organization that would "deflate" the whole drama regarding the referendum - but they have chosen to do otherwise...
So what is going on with our "international factors"? Have they lost their mind?!
Given the current situation, there is only one rational explanation for what the international factors in Macedonia are doing. Namely, it is possible that secretly they are working full time on some post-referendum "Plan B", while they do not want to reveal that now lest that increase the likelihood of the success of the referendum. That would be a logical strategy, although - on the other hand - persistent parrot-like repetition that the referendum is a catastrophe for Macedonia is almost certainly, due to a combination of spite and national pride, daily increasing the number of those who are determined to vote yes in the referendum.
Such possible strategy of the international community in Macedonia in itself includes serious risks regarding the developments in connection with the local authorities. Namely, for SDSM and even the BDI if you want, the worst possible outcome would be the failed referendum with the turnout and yes vote by in between 500 and 600 citizens. Such almost unanimous delegitimization could not be survived by the Prime Minister of the sort such as Hari Kostov! Besides, these authorities came to power with a smaller support of voters.
Moreover, that is the case because the economic situation in Macedonia is still deteriorating, so that it can be assumed that at least a few more hundreds of thousands of citizens, even if they did not vote in the referendum, would with pleasure depose the current authorities if only on the basis of our current socio-economic catastrophe.
All of that will converge with another two processes that will negatively impact the survival of the current authorities. First, it will coincide with the beginning of the break up of the SDSM immediately after the election of the new party leader in December (regardless of who the new leader will be); it is to be expected that the level of intra-party denunciations and intrigue between battling business-government lobbies (naturally, the intensity of ideological clashes has a long time ago been reduced to the level of activity similar to that in city cemeteries) that has become public will have dramatic effect. The second punch will be the likely catastrophic defeat in the coming local elections early in the next year.
Such processes would undoubtedly provoke a crisis, reshuffling of the government and creation of some sort of SDSM-expert cabinet (if not technical that would prepare the forthcoming elections) or early general election the next spring.
Therefore, given that all of these factors are likely it is obvious that the international community has no other choice but to accept the results of the referendum, even if it succeeds, to eat its dangerous bluffs and threats regarding the future of Macedonia, and then to force all local players who did not understand that it was bluffing to "cool it". Then a new political process will start, producing a new basis for an agreement, perhaps even in connection with the disputed territorial organization. Such new strategy by the international community could even be beneficial for the country.
On the other hand, that will not contribute that in the near future we forget the ignominious lack of policy that is currently practiced by the international community - not in relation with the referendum, but regarding the political views and choice of an overwhelming majority of citizens of Macedonia.
I will not vote in the referendum. I have political reasons for that - some of them personal (Todor Petrov, please!), some of them stemming from my principles. But I will do everything in my power to make sire that those who wish to vote in the referendum can do so, without fear for their own or the future of Macedonia.