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Levica: a left case for boycott of the referendum on the Macedonia name dispute

Note from LeftEast Editors: In June an agreement was signed between Greece and Macedonia. According to it, the latter’s name will be changed into the Republic of North Macedonia. One of the attributes of the agreement is that Macedonia will be promised membership of the EU and NATO, which Greece had previously blocked. The agreement has been applauded by the western establishment and even garnered the support of some well-regarded names on the left. And yet other figures on the left have criticized it for being “ in the service of US imperialism and European capital.” On September 30th a referendum is taking place in Macedonia. It poses the following question: “Are you in favour of EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between Macedonia and Greece?” Since the referendum is non-binding and the agreement includes a provision for constitutional changes , its result will still need to be approved by two-thirds of parliament. Levica- the left wing party has called for a boycott of the referendum mainly on the grounds of anti-imperialism, self-determination, as well as due to formal and legal issues.

LeftEast: Why have you decided to boycott the referendum? What do you hope to achieve or expose through this position?

Levica: We are the only political force in Macedonia that has been against NATO membership since our formation. We see the NATO pact as an imperialist alliance, which aims to bring one more country under its control and completely assimilate it. The agreement between Prime Ministers Zaev and Tsipras (also known as the Prespa Agreement) was concocted with this as its main goal. The agreement is detrimental for the international working class, the region, and for Macedonia. The dispute over the name of the Republic Macedonia has had no real bearing on the ability and willingness of Greek capital to penetrate our country. Our analysis shows that the only way to stop the Agreement is through the failure to reach the necessary voter turnout (50% of the eligible voters). There isn’t a single unified boycott movement, although Levica was one of the first political entities to call for a boycott. Levica also supports a boycott due to formal, material and legal issues that make the referendum itself illegitimate.

Q: The “I boycott” movement has so far not been supported by any major political party but it has nonetheless picked up a momentum on social media. Its support base seems to be quite diverse and not quite in line with Levica’s own (left) positions: from Macedonian hard-line nationalists to Russophiles and former government officials from the VMRO-DPMNE party, including the VMRO-backed President Ivanov (protests against him got two members of Levica arrested, and prosecutions are ongoing). The fact that Levica has found itself shoulder to shoulder with such groups has led many, including liberal-left figures, to describe you as nationalists and reactionaries. How do you deal with such accusations?

First off, the Zaev-Tsipras deal has not stopped the Zaev government from carrying on its own violent nationalist propaganda. On the other hand, this deal basically absolves Greece of its past crimes, like the liquidation and internment of the leaders of the Macedonian minority there, the forced hellenization of non-Greek cultures, bans on free movement, language and ethnic markings and an exodus of non-Greek populations. So despite what the liberal left is claiming, this deal is not an act of peace-making but of even greater separation. Additionally, the pressure from international actors, as expressed in the visits of NATO General Stoltenberg, Austrian Chancellor Kurtz, German Chancellor Merkel and EU Commissioner Hann, is applied exclusively to the weaker nation. We also consider that the formal denial of the existence of a Macedonian minority in Greece is the highest form of chauvinism. It is no wonder that left anti-imperialist and anti-chauvinist parties in Greece also condemn the Zaev-Tsipras deal.

Q: What are the key messages that you have tried to communicate as part of the campaign for boycott?

First of all, that NATO is an imperialistic alliance and that the deal will only serve foreign interests, not the interests of the working class in both countries. Second, we are against any deal that denies the principles of self-identification and self-determination and goes against basic human rights. Finally, we point out that the Zaev-Tsipras deal will hasten the process of market liberalization.

Q: Do you think that the referendum has a chance of failing as a result of a widespread boycott?

Yes, but the Zaev government is also aware of this and it will try to circumvent the referendum. This is why the referendum itself has been declared as consultative and not binding. But this will expose the fraudulent policies of the government, opening an alternative to the neo-liberal policies which have been ravaging Macedonia for the past 30 years.

Q: What geopolitical implications do you think the failure of the boycott may have? Do you think that the agreement might still be passed? If the agreement fails to pass, do you think that in the context of a shifting US/Germany policy on “no border change in the Balkans” and the possibility of territory exchange between Kosovo and Serbia, this might also open up a Pandora’s box in the context of Macedonia?

The Zaev-Tsipras agreement is not significant enough by itself to create new turbulence in the Balkans or farther abroad, although it will cause great changes in Macedonian politics. But the “Pandora’s box” in the Balkans has never been closed and could never be closed by forced bureaucratic agreements.

Q: What implications do you think the failure of the referendum will have for a) for the prospects of the country and b) for radical left-wing politics?

We do not expect massive course changes if the referendum fails. The trend of economically and socially destructive policies will continue as it has since the creation of the Republic of Macedonia, because it is in the interest of the elite. On the left a visible rift has been created between the supporters of the Prespa Agreement, which are more inclined to nonpartisan organising and grant-based existence promoting identity politics and academic elitism, and the left that is party organised and is more focused on class struggle, social justice, anti-imperialism and anti-militarism.

Q: What do you think of the letter published in the Guardian and signed by many public intellectuals, including Toni Negri and Judith Butler, in support of for the agreement?

It would seem that they are not well acquainted with the essence of the agreement but only with the out-of-context version presented by the media. So we would suggest that they read the agreement between the Hellenic Republic and the “Second Party” (the phrase used to refer to Macedonia in the agreement) and see for them self the discrimination imposed upon the “Second Party”.

Q: How would you describe the last 15 months in power of the current Social-Democrat-led government? In what way has it marked a break with the corrupt populist Gruevski government, which was in power for 10 years and which sparked mass protest movements in 2015 and 2016?

The VMRO-DUI government was exchanged by a SDSM-DUI government which is only a new face for the same policies in almost all domains. The only change is the focus on foreign affairs and defense, where we see an increase in servility towards the USA and Germany.

Q: How, if at all has the failure of the protest movement of 2015/6 (that in the later stages was described as “colorful revolution”) to bring about radical changes in the country impacted your re-evaluation of your own participation in the movement? What, if any lessons have you drawn from this in terms for future organizing?

The social protest movement started to express the anger with the social policies of that government but then spread due to the government’s failure to adhere to the rule of law and culminated in April of 2016. Levica was formed a few months prior to that culmination as an answer to the inability of the then opposition (SDSM) to fight against the Gruevski regime. Even then we had warned that the exchange of Gruevski with Zaev would not cause a change of these bad policies and accordingly did not participate in the forming of the new government. This was a great learning experience for a young party formed in the midst of an authentic protest movement.

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