Macedonia's Titanic Waltz

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Written: March, 2000

Every year, the Austrian Embassy holds a "Viennese Ball" in Skopje.

It is as surrealistic as it gets: a Viennese Ball in a decaying Balkan city in a land of former communist thieves turned capitalist robbers. It is held in a newly opened hotel, a gleaming temple of kitsch and tackiness, an abode of golden brass and polished mirrors amidst urban waste and uncollected mounds of festering trash.

Hundreds of middle aged, burly diplomats and locals, all in ill fitting smokings, the women wearing sweaty, smeared make-up. A grotesque medley of decadence, a glimpse of zombie Habsburg schmaltz, the foreigners' deluded way of pretending they are in Europe, an outlet for smug Balkan swaggering braggarts.

Outside, fly-infested children beggars extend ulcerated soiled hands in silent plea. Others peddle rusted razor blades and leaking batteries to passers-by. Young men smile rotting teeth in the smoking humidity of dingy coffee-houses. The middle aged are bent, eyes sparkless, consumed by unemployment and disease, a confluence of wrinkled toothlessness and dwindling hair. The women are grey and flabby, wise, weary eyes in penumbral sockets. They glide, huddled, fending off the windy chill that ricochets from cracking, mouldy walls. Dark clouds weigh on denuded trees in littered boulevards.

Inside, the orchestra cast notes at heated chandeliers. Elastic TV cameramen engage in public pantomime of angles and photo-opportunities. Scarlet cheeked singers hurl their arias at the wooden eurythmics of the hop. Flushed waiters in perspiring attires hold trays of bubbling champagne aloft. Men in skewed bow ties smile genteelly at each other, leading the women in gauche steps across the wide arena. The lights are bright, the atmosphere excited.

Not far from there children are dying for want of medicine or excess drugs. Needled hookers solicit the haunted streets. Rat packs erupt from fermented rubbish, ignored by men and women poking through the piles. A red, polluted moon irradiates the drunkards in tattered, puky heaps near black Mercedeses in ostentatious parking.

The light - the darkness. The sybaritic fest - the dying populace. The glitter and decrepitude. The haves and those who don't. The growing abyss between the leaders and the led, the elite and the masses - the masses soon to turn into a mob. A writing on the crumbling walls, the distant thunder of reality denied, of social justice spurned.

As Ministers and mobsters (here, one and the same) cruise potholed streets in flashy cars, as mink clad mistresses expose indecently bejeweled necks in fancy restaurants, as former politicians throw hedonistic parties in sumptuous villas and marry off their off-spring in Roman style - so do they seal their fate, so they pronounce their verdict.

It had its faults but Communism did guarantee a modicum of common misery. Society was never polarized, theft was a national pursuit. The spoils were shared and so was the inane bureaucracy, the paranoia and the fear, the xenophobia, the immobility, the stilted speech.

Everyone had the same disintegrating residence, suffered the same maltreatment, enjoyed the same dilapidated services. The schools, the clinics, the gulag were all accessible in equal measure. These were societies maintained by zealous envy and lack of privacy and private property. There was no middle class, there were no social classes, only a nomenklatura to which one could voluntarily choose to belong.

And no middle class emerged in the capitalist upheaval that followed the spastic death of socialism. Malignant profiteering followed malignant abstinence. The social fabric torn, trust - meagre to begin with - is utterly eradicated. A jungle rules in which all forms of human animal prevail: the venal politician, the mafiosi, the drug dealer and the weapons smuggler, the petty thief and pimp, the whore. The haves have more, the luckless are shipwrecked on an isle of destitution. The former live with abandon, the latter lead an abandoned life. A yawning, lava spewing gap between them, a pit without bottom, a biblical damnation.

They who have no thing to lose shall make others lose all that they possess.

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