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New authoritarian tendencies – a legacy of the past?

Photo by Ljubica Spaskovska


LeftEast brings you the latest assembly of the Cross-border Committee (Assembly of young researchers of Macedonia). Edited by Ljubica Spaskovska, it features four perspectives on the new authoritarian tendencies in the post-Yugoslav space.


Political parties that serve as employment agencies and hence engender and perpetuate entrenched corruption and clientelism, weak state institutions, political control over the media, rampant inequality, dismantling of the welfare state. The ‘authoritarian temptation’ proved too big for most of the new post-Yugoslav elites to resist. While across the political spectrum, to varying degrees, there have been prominent tendencies of portraying the socialist past as a deviation and essentially criminalising it, neglecting it or purposefully erasing it from the public space and public history/memory, there has been an uncritical appropriation in intellectual and media discourse of a linear, simplistic narrative – common in the post-communist states of Central and Eastern Europe – ascribing all contemporary negative phenomena to the ‘totalitarian’ socialist past.

The Yugoslav successor states have not been immune to what can be termed nesting anti-communism. In Macedonia, all the while insisting on the undemocratic nature of the socialist ‘regime’, the ruling political elite engineered (through a highly controversial Lustration Law, the establishment of a Museum to the victims of communism and the deliberate destruction of the socialist/modernist architectural legacy in the capital) a hegemonic official memory regime which in many ways mirrors the worst practices of the system they seek to demonise. Nevertheless, the question of whether and to what extent the new authoritarian political culture in the region is a legacy of the one-party, socialist past is worth asking.

Generally, and in the Macedonian case more specifically, ascribing the blame for contemporary ills and for a 21st century authoritarianism to Tito, his comrades, or ‘communism’ is nothing but an easy way of self-vindication for the appallingly corrupt and irresponsibly elites. What is shocking is that in some crucial aspects, Macedonia in 2015 is doing far worse that it did 40 years ago. The income inequality (Gini) index rose from 28.1 in 1998 to 43.6; almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line; the country plummeted from 34th in 2009 to 117th place in 2015 in the World Press Freedom Index; around a quarter of the population emigrated abroad; and it has become impossible to find employment without connections and party membership (contrary to popular opinion that even in socialist Yugoslavia Party membership was crucial, as a matter of fact, the League of Communist of Yugoslavia for most of its existence had around 1 million members).

Pointing out some of the positive features of the socialist period does not imply an uncritical glorification or idealisation of that system; it is above all an attempt to emphasise the fact that what was positive in it (the emancipatory practices, workers’ rights, social protection and solidarity, equality, social mobility, relative meritocracy, active foreign policy and highly competent diplomacy) has been severely diminished or completely destroyed, while that which was negative (political authoritarianism, personality cult, lack of freedom of speech) has been amplified and ‘perfected’. Hence, Nancy Fraser’s vision of ‘another “postsocialism”’ – ‘one that incorporates, rather than repudiates, the best of socialism’ – still seems pertinent.

IMG_0137Ljubica Spaskovska is an Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, UK. She received her PhD at the same university with a dissertation on “The last Yugoslav generation – youth politics and cultures in late socialism”. She holds master degrees from the Universities of Sarajevo and Bologna (European Master in Democracy and Human Rights), and from the Central European University in Budapest (MA in Central European history). Between 2009 and 2014 she was also part – both as a full-time research fellow and as a research collaborator – of the University of Edinburgh based project ‘Europeanisation of citizenship in the successor states of the former Yugoslavia’ (CITSEE). She has also worked as a literary translator from French and English, having so far translated from French ‘Man’s fate’ by Andre Malraux (Magor 2013), ‘The possibility of an island’ by Michel Houellebecq (TRI 2007) and ‘One year’ by Jean Eshenoz (Templum 2006).

UntitledThe Cross-border Committee (Прекуграничен комитет) is an initiative by young researchers of Macedonian origin who are currently either in the process of completing or have already completed their PhD in the field of social sciences at universities abroad. It is an attempt to give voice to the young people that are typically considered to be part of the “brain drain” process so that they can apply their knowledge, skills and experience, actively participate and contribute to the Macedonian public discourse. The forms that they use, besides short analyses and commentaries, are so-called “virtual assemblies”, i.e. virtual panel discussions, whereby particular topics are discussed by several panelists.