Emblem transpoзиция by Sofija Krnceska
It’s the middle of the night at a run-down train station. The rain has been pouring harder than ever. People from a nation without a name and with an unknown number of inhabitants, soaking wet and tired, are waiting for the train to stop at their station and lead them to сигурност (certainty). The train has been late for nearly three decades now. But that hasn’t stopped these people from waiting. They have had ups of enthusiasm followed by downs of hopelessness. But they haven’t given up the wait. Why? Because the wait is all they (think they) have. Because they don’t want to admit they were wrong. Because they lack courage to stop. Stopping would mean starting something anew. And starting anew would mean giving up the wait, which has become everything they have.
Our country is one of those post-socialist countries which gained their independence during the last decades of the 20th century. It is difficult to say how many people live here at the moment. According to the last census, held in 2002, the number of residents was 2,022,547. In these last 16 years, we have been having some trouble organizing a new census. We even had one unsuccessful attempt in 2011. In the meantime, a total of 21 elections have been held since 1990. No trouble organizing those.
We are located at the heart of the Balkans, neighboring 5 (some would say 4) other countries. Almost immediately after declaring our independence, our neighbors made it clear that they had issues with us: for some, the issue was our name; for others, it was our language, our church, our identity, our history or some combination of the above. We like every single one of our neighbors. We don’t have anything against their names, languages, churches, identities, etc. We want them to like us too. We want them to be our partners and friends. Our neighbors want us to fail. They have been patiently waiting for us to fail while we have been patiently waiting for them to start liking us. They are winning the waiting game.
After declaring independence, we also announced our ambition to join the EU and NATO. That was nearly three decades ago. After a period of vague transition, the EU and NATO were seen as organizations that could help us get back on our feet. We are geographically part of Europe, so we assumed the EU was where we belonged and, since NATO comes hand-in-hand with the EU, we looked to join it as well. We want the EU and NATO to like us. We want to be a part of that big, democratic family. But the feeling doesn’t seem to be mutual. The EU and NATO want us to resolve the open issues that we have with our neighbors, especially the one regarding our name, before they even consider inviting us for a visit. We have been packed and ready, waiting for that invitation to come for a really long time now.
So, what have we done while waiting for that love from our neighbors and acceptance from the EU and NATO to arrive? Nothing. We just waited. And this dark cloud of несигурност (uncertainty) gathered over our heads, getting bigger and bigger as the wait extended. At times, the sunshine managed to pass through the gaps in the clouds, but not for long. Most of the time, the rain has been pouring hard.
In the meantime, our society as we knew it started to deteriorate. While holding on to an unreal notion of the future, we forgot to live in the present. It is not that we didn’t notice the problems around us; we simply decided to deal with them later, after getting the love and acceptance from the others. And the values we lived by and cherished? We will acquire new ones that will match the ones of our new family.
Did we lose anything in the process that we might never recover?
We lost ourselves. We lost our moral values, our integrity, our self-respect and the respect for each other. Persons and institutions that were supposed to be our moral pillars have failed us, time and again. And the younger generations started to mirror that behavior. Here is an example: if members of the parliament can constantly insult each other, if the language they use is rude and highly inappropriate, why would young people talk to each other any differently? Why would they talk politely to their parents and teachers? Why would they respect them? Why would they strive to educate themselves when education is obviously not valued here? Good education leads you nowhere, whereas rudeness and insults can lead you to a privileged life with unimaginable travel allowances. That’s the image that is repeatedly being projected to our young people, an image that they have come to accept as “proper.”
What else did we lose irreversibly?
We used to be a country of green mountain pastures, blue skies and clean rivers and lakes. Not anymore. We have cut our forests and polluted our cities and villages so much so that our capital was on the list of the world’s most polluted cities this winter. We were breathing poisonous fumes instead of air. Our most beautiful lake, protected by the UNESCO, washed up around 40 cubic meters of plastic and other debris in the city center during a recent storm. How can you tell our country apart from other countries in the world? While driving down the highway, have a look out your car window. You will notice plastic bottles and bags caught in the high weeds along the road.
Maybe the most important thing that we lost is our self-love. Because, when you love yourself, you try to be the best version of yourself. You invest in your future. You work on your physical and psychological well-being. You put yourself first and you love yourself the most. In terms of your country, you protect your environment, you work on your education and you invest in your younger generations. You set goals to improve yourself (your country) and you work hard to accomplish those goals. Only occasionally do you look around and wonder whether your neighbors like you. Out of curiosity and nothing else. If they do, great, if not, you continue working on your progress. Because, it’s easy to blame others for our failures and to say that we are failing because others want us to fail. Finding courage in ourselves to start anew and to become the best we can possibly be is difficult. Therefore, we wait, while the dark clouds of несигурност are diminishing our last hope of a sunny future.