By Anastas Vangelis
In the upcoming parliamentary elections in Macedonia, for the first time appears an authentic left-wing party, formed by activists who gained their political experience in political organizations and movements with a strong ideological sign, and got their political experience on the streets, at protests and heated public debates. The Left (Левица), a party that was formed less than a year ago, is now going to the elections with the slogan “Spark in the Dark”, with lists in the top five constituencies.
One of the most striking figures in the Left is Professor Dimitar Apasiev, a well-known lawyer and orator, longtime activist, author of six books and over 50 papers, and advisor for the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office. He is part of the Presidium of the party and holder of the electoral list of the Left in the first constituency. In the run-up to the elections, I conducted an interview with Dimitar Apasiev which will be published in Serbo-Croatian language for the regional left-wing magazine and portal Novi Plamen. The Macedonian version exclusively goes to Okno a few days earlier.
We talked with Apasiev about the context in which the Left appears, the political persecution of its members, its positioning and individual political provisions, and its expectations from the elections. As one of ten anti-regime options (there are a total of six parties and four coalitions in the opposition), the Left stands for the underprivileged and the disadvantaged. Apart from the strong emphasis on social justice, the Left is characterized by its pronounced anti-elitism in terms of domestic politics, and anti-imperialism in terms of foreign policy. Apasiev believes that in this election the Left will become a parliamentary party. The whole interview is below.
Anastas Vangeli: How would you frame the appearance of the Left and the running in these parliamentary elections, in the context of the political trajectory of independent Macedonia, and especially in the context of the political events in Macedonia in recent years?
Dimitar Apasiev: The Left is a long and wide work. This atypical party is something that has never been seen before on the Macedonian political scene in the past 25 years. It is the fruit of the process of left-handed fermentation and maturation of children in transition. Although a new party, the Left is made up of “old” activists who have been present in all protest movements in the past period. We are a real refreshment of our uninventive political scene. The left is made up of educated, uncompromising and brave people who were the first on the streets and the barricades when it was most needed and who showed how to resist the onslaught of police cordons. We, although young, have many years of experience in practicing various forms of political activism through hard fieldwork, through several leftist associations (Lenka, Solidarity, etc.), trade unions, protest movements, informal groups and civic initiatives. That is why the Left, in many ways, is different from all the other usual parties in our country – because we built it from the bottom up. The left has no leader, no sponsor, no baggage from the past!
AV: The Left is one of the rare parties that goes to the polls alone. Such a move was met with support, but also criticism from those who called for a broad opposition front against Gruevski. What was the logic behind that decision, and what were its effects?
DA: Going to the polls alone is the best strategic decision of the Party’s governing bodies. Namely, if we want to be consistent to the end, in practice there is no “broad opposition front”! There are as many as four coalitions and six parties against the Regime. We decided on our proposal for a broad supra-party bloc against Gruevism was ignored and the arrogant rejection of the sanitary cordon for non-alignment with DPMNE (although rumors are growing that a broad post-election concentration government has been agreed in Przino between SDSM and DPMNE). It would be a real pity if we formed a coalition with SDSM. Well, we have nothing in common with their rich members. Our mothers and sisters are cleaners in their homes.
If we wanted to sell ourselves for government seats, we would not have built a “partisan” party – without oligarchs, but with membership fees. The coalition with SDSM would have suffocated our authenticity in the fight and would have put to ashes all the past years of sincere political activism, which started from 2008 onwards. We would have melted into their red-bourgeois ranks and in a few months, the fervor we carry in the struggle would have died down. Let me not sound offensive, but we would have ended up as an LDP and company – unrecognizable, uninteresting and irrelevant in public discourse.
On the other hand, our planners and strategists estimate that by going to the polls on our own, we will strengthen the front against Gruevism – because we will attract people from the “undecided” who will never vote for SDSM because they lost their jobs and stayed on street just in their ruling times. These people, and there are thousands of them, if the Left had not appeared – would have stayed at home and the Regime would have been stronger. To summarize, the Left is the last wedge from the final blow to dethrone Gruevski! Hence, the vote given for the Left is a vote that not only does not diminish the resistance but strengthens it several times more.
AV: Members of the Left’s governing bodies were and still are being dragged to court over their participation in protests against Ivanov’s abolition in the spring of this year. As a lawyer, how do you interpret these processes?
DA: These are classic processes of political persecution of the Regime against our Party. There is no other party in Macedonia, in the Balkans and in Europe where almost half of the top leaders are under such criminal prosecution with suspended fines! Such a thing exists only in Erdoganist Turkey – with the Kurdish parties! All relevant international institutions have been notified about this. The case, at the invitation of the European left, was presented at the highest level before the European Parliament, at a specially scheduled session for the situation in Macedonia.
Although we, faced with the Macedonian reality and everyday life, somehow seem to get used to this – if we want to be serious, this is unseen precedent and scandal for a “democratic country”.
Specifically for the trials against our members, our excellent and well-trained legal team, unlike the other detainees who pleaded guilty to get a deal and face lighter sentences, decided to go all the way! We will win these cases in court. We are not afraid of bribed prosecutors or frightened judges. We also have a notebook! We have the capacity, as well as the legal knowledge, in a fair procedure, to deal with these third-class lawyers and to restore the hope of the people that without a fight there is no victory against the incompetent followers and supporters of the regime.
AV: One of the most important characteristics of Macedonian politics, among other things, is is the great gray shadow, the influence and involvement of the “services” – primarily UBK (Security and Counterintelligence Directorate) – in every sphere of government and life. How will the Left (will) fight against the service and police “country within a country?”
DA: Our members have been wiretapped and monitored for years, but that didn’t sway us in our perseverance and the placement of the sincere leftist ideology. Democratic mechanisms for external control over the “services” must work, otherwise there will be re-sinking into dark crises, racketeering blackmails and ugly scenarios of destabilization. Even the most heartless imperialist occupiers in Third World countries do not carry out such illegal wiretapping of an entire nation. But it is a matter of diagnosis and pathology, not politics! The secret police are the biggest cancer wound that led to this political crisis – the biggest since the war of 2001. Any “reform” that will not start from it, is just a poison in the veins of the system, for which we will have to look for the antidote again for decades.
AV: What are the economic platform and the economic vision of the Left? What are the most important economic measures that the Left is committed to?
DA: Our economic platform is made up of doctors and professors who are theoretically grounded and with sincere leftist thinking. The platform is offered in the Pre-election Program and, in a word, it is radical! Because only with decisive cuts in this abnormal situation of over-indebtedness, results can be achieved and will be visible in an optimal period of two years. Because, well, right – we should not grow old while we are being reformed! We spent half our lives in “reforms”.
The Macedonian economy today is characterised by several structural problems that lead to inefficient and ineffective use of available resources, and thus to a poor quality of life for most people. In other words – according to what we have, we should be rich, and we rot in poverty?! This means that this neoliberal mantra in the economy simply does not work! We have learned from our experience that the mild reforms that are happening to us are not enough. That they are just a vaccine for a sick society.
That is why we offer several “revolutionary” measures for overcoming misery and for the well-being of the people. In short, the philosophy of our political economy is based on two pillars: (1) progressive tax reform, which will enable equitable financing of public expenditures. The reform would be aimed at reducing tax rates for the poor and raising them for the rich – so that wealth is redistributed rather than accumulated in the hands of a small number of people or families; (2) regulation of the illegal and usurious banking sector, by eliminating the excess liquidity in the banks and reducing the bank profits, interest and commissions, to prevent more legally covered robbery of the citizens.
Given the limited space, I would like to outline only a few of the most important economic measures: (a) reviewing the criminal privatisation and confiscation of illegally acquired property of all existing governing structures and oligarchs, by introducing the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of the so-called economic crime;
(b) Prohibition of further privatisation of public enterprises – post offices, railways, water companies, power plants, etc .; (c) the introduction of a luxury tax, ie. wealth; (d) limiting the concession of natural resources and public goods and services, reducing toll prices and definitively abolishing the payment of parking services in public areas; (e) building state-owned housing to be sold to financially limited citizens, without participation and at 0% real interest; (f) abolition of enforcement agents, etc.
AV: Macedonia as a result of systematic corruption and lack of competent staff, largely does not function as a sovereign state – many political decisions depend on the “foreign factor.” In addition, Macedonia and the Balkans are again present in global political debates, this time as ( potential) hotbed of geopolitical conflicts at a time when major external actors (US, EU and European national governments, Turkey, Russia and China) are undergoing processes of self-redefining and changing their visions of the region. How does the Left react to the influence of foreign governments in Macedonia? What would be the attitude towards the main external actors, and what would be the positioning in a time of tension and potential conflict between them?
DA: The foreign policy of the Left will be a policy of internationalism and anti-imperialism. The ruling elites are adherents of the real-political theory of governance and positioning on the international stage. It is an approach to international politics that does not compromise the morals, justice and interests of other peoples, but takes into account only pragmatism, marriages of interest and associations with the stronger side. The regional policy of the Left will be a policy of peace and cooperation, with special reference to the cooperation with the Balkan countries, of which Macedonia is a geographical and cultural whole. Furthermore, the Left will strive for the development and full respect of international law and the institutions of the international judiciary, and in this regard strongly condemns the clientelism that prevails in diplomacy today.
On international level, the Left, along with other progressive and anti-militarist forces at home and abroad, will push for an immediate end to NATO Pact accession negotiations, as we believe that membership in this “Cold War relic” will not bring any good to the people.
We are committed to continuing the negotiations for EU membership, but in a reformed and more democratic union, which will not cut the social rights of its citizens at the expense of the enrichment of multinational corporations and large monopolies.
And finally, regarding the hot chestnut – the dispute over the name of the country, the position of the Left, starts from the principle of self-determination, that the name of the country is and must be the existing – Republic of Macedonia erga omnes! Any possible adjective/adjective, which would apply exclusively and only in inter partes relations with neighboring Greece, and not in relations with other deja vu and international organisations – will have to pass a republican referendum and approval before the people.
AV: What are your personal expectations from the elections? What is the ideal scenario in your opinion? What is the minimum for the outcome to be considered successful (not only in terms of the Left, but in general as an outcome of the elections)?
DA: Given the general climate of bloodshed, the TV boycott against the Left, the coffin of the colorful opposition and the regime’s repression against us – I am sure that, using skillful and creative social networks, the Left’s voice successfully spreads to those who are our target, in these elections – the youth! Even more than our expectations.
Our rating is growing by the day. We expect exactly those young people, who may not have deliberately voted so far – unable to bear the peasantry of DPMNE and the elitism of SDSM – to be motivated for the first time and to give their vote for the Left with a pure heart. Hence, we are convinced that we will become a parliamentary party, and it’s not right to calculate in advance the number of MPs. If one enters, it will be worth ten! And let us not forget, our MPs are the first to go to work by bicycle. For the defiance of Silvaneva Boneva.
AV: Thanks for the answers, and good luck on the 11th!