Let’s be honest- we all forget about Macedonia. Back when I was a teenager I was into pan-Slavism. Guess which country I forgot. Yup, Macedonia. I didn’t even know it was a country back then; in spite of all the wars of the Balkans I thought it was just a region of Greece. Years later I used to be a hardcore Yugoslavia buff- except when it comes to Macedonia. Behind some things that were in the news back then, I don’t know dick about Macedonian politics.
I can tell you who does know all about Macedonian politics though- the legions of pro-Russian and Kremlin-financed geopolitical experts and “political analysts,” of course. Now that Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has stupidly shot himself in the foot and suggested that the recent protests in Skopje are the workings of the US, we’ll hear all about how Macedonia’s heroic, anti-neo-liberal government was looking towards the Russian-led alternative in spite of the fact that it is still an EU-member candidate and it has applied for NATO membership. We’ll hear how the neocons in Washington are angry at the government’s supposedly friendly overtures toward Moscow so they conjured up this protest movement out of nowhere. Why the US hasn’t done the same thing Greece or other European countries that balked at the sanctions against Russia is a mystery, but rest assured that according to the usual suspects, the Macedonian people have no agency and are just stupid cattle that the US can order around like Starcraft units. Who would seriously go out and protest massive wiretapping, corruption, and cover-ups of murders? They don’t do that in Russia, so the CIA must be behind it!
Believe me, that’s what we’re going to see, because thanks to Lavrov the media is already framing the conflict in those terms, acting as though Macedonia plays this crucial geopolitical role between the West, and the other superpower that has an economy comparable to the state of California and falling fast. Now at this point the Putin fan-boys start their shrill screeching: “BUT THE US STATE DEPARTMENT SAID! THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY! RADIO FREE EUROPE! NGO’s! NGO’s EVERYWHERE!”
Yes, yes, we’re all aware of the fact that there are NGO’s and other various organizations that are supported by the US government or at least never seem to openly promote ideas which are antagonistic to US interests. But if these groups are so powerful, why didn’t they overthrow Putin’s regime years ago, when his approval rating was much lower and the country was much freer? Why didn’t they overthrow Lukashenko’s government? Why didn’t they overthrow Yanukovych years ago when he flat out stated that Ukraine would never join NATO? Like in all conspiracy theories, the conspirators are all-powerful, yet seem to have strange limitations.
Let’s get back to those NGO’s though. As I’ve said before in the past, sometimes these NGO’s don’t deal with overtly political issues at all. For example, you have countries where corrupt governments don’t do anything about women trafficking, orphans, or homeless people, and so NGO’s pick up the slack. Of course many NGO’s do deal with political issues, but this is usually limited to educating people about human rights, transparency, journalism, democratic norms, etc. Of course at this point the typical Kremlin supporter, and unfortunately even some of my radical leftist fellow travelers, roll their eyes and start making the “jerking off” motion in the air. Before you guys snap your wrists, bear with me for a second.
The US and various European governments, i.e. the factions that do indeed fund many of these NGO’s, claim to uphold the following:
-Democracy (in terms of a republican system with free and fair competitive elections, separation of powers, all that stuff you learn about in civics class)
-Rule of law
Now I know you Putin fan-boys are just chomping at the bit to scream “WHAT ABOUT (Insert isolated incident in Western country, which may not be comparable in terms of degree or frequency)?!” Calm down, son, bear with me, take a deep breath, and answer the following question:
Are any of those things above bad? If we take them at face value, are any of those things negative? Now if you think things like human rights are bad, then that negates or at least seriously hampers your ability to use whataboutery, but if not, and you agree these things are good, then let us proceed.
Assuming that those values are in fact good, positive, or at least not negative, if follows then that American or Western NGO’s which promote such things are implicitly promoting good values. The principle problem with America’s soft power campaigns in the world is when, and only when, people don’t get those things they thought they were fighting for. Plenty of times movements have replaced governments with or without help from American NGO’s and with or without moral support from the US. In many cases, but by no means all, the new governments failed to bring what they promised. Of course if they proved to be profitable markets for US investment, the State Department couldn’t care less, naturally.
Part of the point I’m getting at here is that while the US does still influence politics in other countries, it does not overthrow governments the way it did back in the Cold War. Back then democracy and human rights were not major issues; debate over almost any atrocity could be cut short by invoking the necessity of fighting Communism. No small wonder, then, that most of these real coups were rapid and often brutal. Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iraq, Chile, and dozens of attempted coups against Castro are just a few among many historical plots hatched by the CIA and Western governments. What is also salient here is that in these cases, the leaders being overthrown were actual progressive figures. They were almost never actual Communists or socialists(though Allende of Chile was fairly close to the latter), but they were almost to a man land reformers and nationalizers who wanted their governments to be answerable first and foremost to their people instead of foreign investors. Yanukovych is no Allende. Neither is Putin.
Now every time there is one of these “color revolution” scenarios, Russia always sticks its neck out and puts its money on the losing side (though that side might win the battle on occasion). Lavrov’s statement, throwing in Russia’s lot with a corrupt Balkan government, is the latest example. You could set your watch to this shit. Russia decides to back some corrupt, semi-dictatorial government and surprise, surprise, it eventually collapses sooner or later. Why does this happen?
My theory is thus: Russia’s elite, insofar as they have an ideology that extends beyond self-enrichment and self-preservation, believes in the morally bankrupt quasi-ideology of geopolitics. What this means is that when the US starts crowing about human rights and democracy, Russian leaders and theorists assume it’s just a cynical ploy; nobody actually believes in these things. Hence they have a tendency to back leaders who are corrupt, authoritarian, and incompetent. Whereas the US an EU, with some glaring exceptions, tend to prefer working with countries that observe certain minimums of human rights and democratic governance, Russia sets the bar much lower. On one hand, this can net some quasi-allies really quickly, insofar as Russia looks the other way on matters of gross corruption, human rights abuses, etc. as a rule, but what it ultimately leads to is an inevitable backlash against that leader that the US and EU can exploit to the fullest.
What Russia’s leadership, ideologues, and media personalities can’t understand is that most people really like ideas such as freedom, democratic government, rule of law, etc. They aren’t interested in tolerating corrupt, dictatorial, kleptocrats just because they supposedly “stand up to the West.” Thus they assume that protesters must be paid or, in Russian domestic propaganda, even drugged. “Why would anybody actually protest against government corruption? The West is criticizing that leader, ergo he stands up to the West! He’s a friend of Russia!”
So basically what it comes down to is that if you’re a person living in an impoverished country wracked by corruption, as Macedonia apparently is, you look at two sides which have their own set of associations.
-Most developed countries in the world with high, including the highest standards of living
-Imperfect, but very functional systems of government, courts, etc.
-Highly stable and predictable
-Corruption that is uncovered is punished, governments are voted out, etc.
-Economy roughly equivalent to state of California or at best, Italy, in spite of massive natural resource wealth and years of high oil prices
-Endemic corruption on par with developing countries
-Authoritarian, unstable society with low personal freedom
-Unpredictable, nobody knows when or how Putin will leave and what comes after that
Now geopolitical experts look at this comparison and can’t figure it out. Did I deliberately leave out that siding with Russia means pissing off Washington? Don’t those Macedonians want to do that? Or are they pathetic bootlicking whores who bend over for the White House, just like all the countries of Europe?! And what about gay marriage?!
Aaaaand that’s why people hate them, folks. They see everyone, even the Russian people, as mindless cattle, pawns in their grand chessboard games, totally lacking any agency. Whereas US strategists, think tanks, and NGO’s will actually try to get a feel for what people in these countries actually want, tailoring their propaganda accordingly, Russia’s propagandists don’t give a shit about these foreigners. They should be willing to tolerate any dictatorship indefinitely for the privilege of being in Russia’s non-existent camp and supposedly angering the “pindos”(slang for Americans).
So we see the same thing happening again and again. The US gets on the morally right side, even if its own motives aren’t moral, and Russia, falling for the trap, assumes everyone has the same cynical mentality. They back a loser, and he ends up losing. Then the whole thing is blamed on the CIA and it starts all over again.