HAS MACHISMO MIGRATED FROM MEXICO TO MACEDONIA?
By Veton Surroi
Veton Surroi is the famed editor of Koha Ditore, the main Albanian
Kosovor newspaper, who was forced into hiding to avoid Serbian capture
and execution during the NATO bombing campaign two years ago. Surroi spent
part of his adolescence in Mexico.
"Excuse me, sir," the young officer said in a tone approaching
that of a beseeching priest. "I am applying the federal law on firearms,
and if you would be so kind to open the trunk .... It will be a short
routine checkup, it's for the benefit of all of the people .... "
The scene was from my visit to Chiapas, Mexico, a few weeks ago on a road
close to where the Zapatista headquarters are supposed to be. The difference
in the military checkpoints now and in the past is striking. From the
stereotypical "every car is an enemy" of the past, there is
now a politeness that makes the soldiers almost seem like representatives
of the tourist information office.
Switch now to a Macedonian police checkpoint near Skopje. It reminds me
of my 10 years of experience going through checkpoints during the wars
all across disintegrating Yugoslavia. A policeman in military fatigues
strides forcefully toward the car. With a harsh tone that matches the
stern cast of his face, he barks: "Where are you going? What is the
purpose of your trip? Where are your personal documents? Your car's documents
...." An AK-47, ready to fire, is swinging off his shoulder. One
hand holds the documents, the index finger of the other hand is on the
In the 10-kilometer drive from the Kosovo-Macedonian border to the capital,
Skopje, I encounter more checkpoints than across all of Chiapas, a territory
more than twice the size of Macedonia.
A must souvenir from San Cristobal de las Casas, where the original Chiapas
uprising began on New Year's Eve seven years ago, is a small Zapatista
doll, most commonly a figure of the ski-masked commandantes, Marcos or
Esther. A souvenir doll of a masked ethnic Albanian insurgent in Tetovo,
where the current uprising in Macedonia originally started, is unimaginable.
Anything resembling the UCK (Ushtria Clirimtare Kombetare) insignia would
be regarded by the Macedonian authorities as a sign of support for "terrorists,"
as they call them.
The fact that the war has evolved into souvenirs
in Chiapas is no coincidence. The Zapatistas met success and global acclaim
not when they established "free territories," but when they
went on the Internet to express what they couldn't with guns. Since 1994,
the greatest victories for the Zapatistas have been in gathering national
and international support, especially among civil-society activists. When,
earlier this year, they organized the March of Dignity from their jungle
base to Mexico City, the bus carrying the commanders was protectively
surrounded by representatives of the Italian activists known as the White
The fact that the war in Macedonia has not produced souvenir dolls instead
of casualties is no coincidence, either. The biggest victory so far for
the UCK has not been in gathering international support but by physically
occupying territory. Its imperative is to demonstrate the weakness and
illegitimacy of the Macedonian governmental forces. The capture of palpable
soil, not cyberspace, is their objective.
Mexico's President Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, demonstrated
he knew a thing or two about marketing when he accepted the idea of the
Zapatista March for Dignity. An advocate of globalization, he nonetheless
invited the anti-globalization insurgents to express their views across
the country and in the Mexican congress while withdrawing the Mexican
army from most of Chiapas. It was at that moment that the possibility
of war on the ground yielded to politics.
With the threat of violence out of the way, the full complexity of the
problems of Chiapas were finally possible to see and address. First, and
foremost, is the issue of how to guarantee the rights of the indigenous
people, especially when there isn't one nation of the Indigenous, but
at least three dozen, each with its respective language.
Beyond this is the vast disparity between rich and poor, of which Chiapas
is only a microcosm of Mexico as a whole. As much as 40 percent of the
Mexican population lives beneath the poverty level.
Boris Trajkovski, the Macedonian president trained as a Methodist minister,
has directed his public relations exercise in a far different way from
Fox. Wearing military fatigues and visiting his troops in Kumanovo at
the end of May, he vowed to "defeat the terrorists," just as
the Mexican authorities originally vowed to do seven years ago in Chiapas.
On the Macedonian side there is a public contest of harsh words over who
will crush the ethnic Albanian insurgents fastest and with strongest tactics.
And, indeed, these words are reflected in deeds: The Macedonian authorities
are shelling villages where insurgents mingle with the civilian population.
One great casualty of this violence is that the
real issue is buried instead of raised in public debate so it can be resolved:
the disparity of constitutional rights between ethnic Macedonians and
the Albanians, who make up a third of the population.
It used to be said that real "macho" men would never talk it
out, never apologize and never compromise. Now it turns out that in Mexico,
the land of macho, the term has come to mean tackling tough problems through
a new social contract instead of through war.
The old machismo, it seems, has migrated to Macedonia. European Union
diplomats agree with the Macedonian authorities that the "terrorists'
backbone needs to be crushed" before there are talks.
This macho imperative to appear strong is leading Macedonia, a young democracy
in the making, toward a negative spiral of violence: Governmental action
boosts the popularity of the Albanian guerrillas, inviting more governmental
action, until the whole of Macedonia becomes polarized into ethnic military
camps of Macedonians and Albanians.
As strange as it may be to suggest, perhaps Europe can learn something
from Latin America about how to make peace instead of war in the 21st
(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 6/19/01)