Travel Report: February 2009 to Montenegro, Macedonia and Israel
This past month has been a hectic one for me, as I have been changing countries almost every three days. The month of January was no less hectic, but I have already reported on my trips to Slovenia, Croatia, and Russia. In February I started with Montenegro, continued to Macedonia, and then to Israel.
Montenegro is a small country of 650,000 inhabitants with a beautiful countryside, but the environmental devastation I have reported in the past continues. The roads leading to some of the most beautiful sites imaginable (they have the only fjord south of Norway) are littered with construction refuse. On the side of the road, rocks covered with advertisements stretch on for miles. Vulgar construction continues, but the consequences of the recession can be felt. Those who were building speculative apartment buildings ran out of funds as sales dried up and vanished, leaving construction unfinished.
Everyone was asking me, “How long will the recession last?” Let me repeat here what I have been saying to them and in all other countries about this question: The credit crunch, or the financial crisis, is a manifestation of a greater problem and not the problem itself.
The current method of dealing with this manifestation is to flood the market with government money, which many experts say will take as long as two years. It will take about two years for the money to process through the channels to get to consumers, and for the market to regain confidence and stop the negative feedback loop that is now in force, where people save instead of spend. Thus, demand is lower, which leads companies to reduce labor costs, which increases peoples’ fears, which causes less spending, and the cycle repeats itself.
But what is going on is only a manifestation of a deeper problem, in my opinion, and to deal with that deeper, causal problem will take “a bit” longer. The cause of the financial crisis is that the mixed market model (free market regulated by government), the capital markets system, and the business model of how companies should be governed, are all outdated models that do not work anymore. They do not reflect the new realities of the complex world we live in. In other words, the capitalist system as we know it is in a crisis and needs reengineering, like what was done in the 1930s.
We do not need more or less government intervention. It is not a question of more or less. It is a question of how to design a new model that is different.
I believe that the present crisis is not bad enough to make this reengineering happen. Thus, all we are doing now is dealing with manifestations and not with the core cause. The prediction I have is that the next crisis is going to be even worse. Much worse.
So my recommendation to the policy makers in the countries I was visiting was, “to brace yourself for worst.”
Which means what?
In times of crisis, trust is at premium. The country disintegrates. So start by reinforcing the trust people have in their government and its institutions. For instance, Montenegro and Macedonia were facing elections when I was there. My recommendation to both was that politicians should stop playing the blame game. Negative campaigns are destroying the country, and the mistrust people feel towards their political leaders due to negative campaigning only serves to enhance the crisis.
I had a weekend between Montenegro, where I lectured, and Israel, where I was going to lecture to the Israeli Defense College. I was invited by one of the best-known businessman of Macedonia to come to my birthplace, Skopje, and give a lecture to their business community. I agreed to do so free of charge if they promised to organize evenings of folk singing, which I adore.
I did not know what I was in for.
When I arrived I already had appointments with Branko Crvenkovski, the President of the Republic, and Kiro Gligorov, the former President.
I ended up in the middle of a political typhoon. This visit created enormous noise in the media, and I was attacked and criticized. Here is the background:
Macedonia is a small country with about two million inhabitants. It borders Albania on its west, Greece on its South side, Bulgaria on the east, and Kosovo on the north. It could not have found a worse neighborhood.
Between 25 and 40 percent of Macedonia’s population is of Albanian origin. Some of them do not speak Macedonian as a way of expressing their rejection of the Macedonian entity in which they live. They do not feel Macedonian. They are Albanians of Macedonian citizenship. It is very similar to the problem Israel has with the Israeli Arabs. Albania is attractive to the Albanian population of Macedonia, as is Kosovo, which just got its independence. The borders are quite porous. Families live on both sides of the border. The TV shows can be seen on both sides of the border, and radio waves do not obey borders, either. One can hear some “noise” from the Albanian population that wishes to secede. A member of the Macedonian parliament and member of the governing coalition of Macedonia in Tirana, the capital of Albania, suggested that Macedonia should be split. Now, that is a “noise” one cannot ignore, right?
Additionally, Bulgaria has sought the annexation of Macedonia for centuries. Remember, they almost succeeded during the Second World War, when the Germans gave Macedonia to Bulgaria. Even today, some Bulgarians claim that the Macedonian language is nothing more than a dialect of the Bulgarian language. Furthermore, a member of the Macedonian parliament recently requested and received a Bulgarian passport, and some politicians are very pro-Bulgaria, especially since it is a member of the European Union.
If those were not problems enough, Macedonia has an even bigger problem with Greece. Northern Greece is populated by Aegean Macedonians. They are Macedonians who speak Greek. They have been forbidden from having Macedonian cultural centers, speaking the Macedonian language, or even having Macedonian last names. These prohibitions stem from a Greek fear that Aegean Macedonians might try to secede and join their northern brethren. Thus, Greece refused to recognize the name Macedonia when the new state of Macedonia was established in 1991, and called it FYROM, or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece put an embargo on FYROM when it was established to force them to change their name.
In the beginning of the 1990s, when I was consulting to the Prime Minister of Macedonia, I also did some consulting for the Greek government. I tried to act as a bridge between the two. No chance. The Macedonian government would not change the country’s name-although all that needed to be done was add the word Nova to Macedonia to distinguish it form the ancient Macedonia, which included parts of Greece. Why? The people would not support it.
Macedonia needs to join NATO and the European Union for several reasons. The economic reasons are obvious. The more important reason is that it would also solve the identity problem of the Albanian “minority,” a problem that will become even more acute if Albania and Kosovo join the EU and Macedonia does not.
As long as Macedonia does not change its name, Greece will not support its entrance into NATO or the EU. But the nationalistic government of Macedonia will not budge on the name. Moreover, it increased its belligerent actions, making Greece even more adamant to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU. The Macedonian government named the Skopje airport Aleksander Macedon, in a sense claiming that Aleksander the Great was not Greek, that he was Macedonian. They even discovered a tribe in Pakistan who are apparently descendants of the Macedonian soldiers from Aleksander the Great’s invasion of the area. They are testing the tribe’s DNA to prove that present-day Macedonians are also the descendants of Aleksander the Great.
I met unofficially with someone of the Greek government last summer to see what was preventing a solution. The conclusion of my conversations was that both governments were like a cat that brazenly climbed a tree and now cannot get down.
The fear Greece had that northern Greece would want to join Macedonia turned out to be unrealistic. In recent elections the Aegean Macedonian candidates received very few votes and it became clear that the Macedonians feel Greek, and thus the danger of the north seceding does not exist.
But over the years, Greek political parties made the issue one of major significance during election time. It arose emotions in people, and the media made a big deal out of it (The more emotional the issue, the more newspapers sell). The same is also true for Macedonia. Now both governments cannot compromise on the name. They are stuck. Any suggested solution, either by Greece or Macedonia, must be rejected by the other in order to maintain a strong and triumphant image.
Macedonia’s leadership is not budging from the name “Macedonia.” They believe, despite the presence of the Greek Lobby, the President of the United States will push the Greek government to accept Macedonia as the official name and will not block Macedonia’s entrance to NATO or the EU.
I warned the Prime Minister of Macedonia last year that it would not happen. And it did not happen. In Bucharest, then-President Bush announced that Macedonia would be invited to NATO, and lo and behold, Greece vetoed it. This was a major blow to the reputation of the United States, but it showed Greece’s commitment to the issue.
What happened in Bucharest was a good reality check. The hope that the Greek veto could be overcome evaporated, and some leaders of Macedonia realized that the name has to change. The prime minister wants the name change to be ratified by a referendum. But the emotions that were fed for fifteen years do not change quickly. A referendum might not pass. And if it does not pass, Macedonia continues to be out of NATO and the European Union. The cat continues to sit up in the tree.
Now about me.
I was interviewed on the TV and by the newspapers. I said that Macedonia is like a cat that climbed up the tree and now cannot get down, and that if Macedonians knew who they were, it would be easier to change the name. It is their lack of confidence that makes them so reluctant to make any changes.
I even claimed that origins are not as important as behavior. Here is an example: during the Second World War, a Jewish person converted to Catholicism and eventually became the bishop of Paris. True story. Now, was he Jewish or Catholic? I claimed that, while the origins are interesting in studying what happened and why it happened, the person should be evaluated by how he behaves and what he believes. If he believes in Jesus Christ and behaves like a Catholic, he is a Catholic. Period. Thus, in Macedonia they are spending too many resources studying the origin of their people and fighting on the name– to the detriment of their existence. In the meantime, the country is becoming Americanized. Young people do not know their national folk dances or songs as well as they know disco and the Beatles. National cuisine is giving way to Italian restaurants and fast food outlets. If the Macedonian culture is being slowly but surely lost, what does it mean to be Macedonian? Is it just a label?
It became a subject newspapers picked up, and a topic for a debate on TV. Should Macedonia change its name or not? I believe the government used me to “check the temperature” of the population and see what public feelings about the name change were.
I believe that if they do not join NATO and the EU, Macedonia is in serious danger economically and politically. I do not believe it can survive when it has a growing Albanian population that does not feel Macedonian.
When one is out of Israel, one feels the increasing dangers Israel is facing. It is losing its friends rapidly. The worldwide media is particularly hostile. And the Israeli left is helping feed the fires of animosity towards Israel, reporting how Israel violated its own medical/ethical code of behavior during the recent Gaza war. (Investigation proved that it was hearsay and not supported by any evidence)
The fact that rockets out of Gaza are showering Israel, and getting closer and closer to Tel Aviv itself, and that some are hitting schools (luckily on Saturday when schools are closed), and that the rocket attacks are almost always at around 8 o’clock in the morning when kids go to school…all this does not get reported.
There is no sympathy from the world media. The daily rockets do not show up on TV in Europe or any other country I have been to; Only reports about the suffering of Gaza’s population. The expectations of how Israel should behave and protect itself are not applied to any other country.
Now I ask all readers to close their eyes and imagine themselves sitting in their living room. Now imagine a location eighteen miles from your living room. See that place as you close your eyes. Now imagine that a country that repeatedly announces that it wants to destroy your country is showering that spot, eighteen miles from your living room, with rockets. Daily, a rocket screeches in the morning sun, while your kids walk to school. Eight thousand rockets fall unexpectedly from above. After several years, ask yourself, what would you do? What would you absolutely ask your government to do?
Israel is in deep trouble at home and from abroad, and as it loses friends, its time of reckoning creeps closer. Anything could happen.
But in Israel itself, one does not feel the fear or worry. The place is booming in more ways than one. While the world stock markets were crashing, the Tel Aviv stock market went up.
Israel is busy with its own elections, its own need to keep the economy going, and its worry about the Iranian nuclear threat. Losing friends takes the back seat in their strategies; they allocated a mere one million dollars for cultural exchanges and for explaining the Israeli position to the world, which amounts to an insignificant effect.
Why this aloofness to world opinion? Several reasons, I believe. First, deep inside, Israelis believe that the world is anti-Semitic and nothing Israel does to explain itself will work. They gave up explaining. Second, when you are in Israel itself, you feel secure. The place is booming: skyscrapers appear almost overnight, highways are built, and high-tech companies are dominating world markets. There is a feeling of “we can and will overcome anything.”
This sense of invulnerability worries me a lot. That is how the Jewish community of Germany behaved when Hitler first came to power. In order to survive, the Jewish people developed a capability to deny reality that is probably unparalleled in the world. But this denial always comes with a price when reality cannot be denied anymore, and the time to do something evaporated already.
Am I worried about Israel? Yes, more than ever.
Dr. Ichak Adizes