Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief (left), and Zoran Zaev, PM of Macedonia (also left)

“There is no alternative.” Really?

Ever notice how, more and more, many politicians of a certain worldview say “there is no alternative” to this and that, usually some “pressing” issue? Whether it is EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (who joined the Federation of Young Italian Communists in 1988) weighing in on the Iran deal — “there is no alternative” to the so-called Iran deal — or Zoran Zaev saying “For Macedonia, there is no alternative to NATO and EU membership. There is no alternative for the whole region” — these statements come fast and furious. But really? Are we all that bereft of intelligence, insight, and wisdom that we must shrug our collective shoulders and go with the only path that has been proffered, almost always by those same individuals who insist that “there is no alternative?” Are there no other ways? Really?

Does this strike you as a bit creepy? It strikes me as downright authoritarian. Because it is. It is a deliberate effort to shut down debate and silence opponents. In effect, these politicians are saying “There is no way other than that which we dictate to you, the little people, from on high. You don’t have to like it, but you will obey and comply.” That’s authoritarian. We should be asking “why is there no alternative” or “could there possibly be another alternative?” Isn’t that what these individuals are there for — to explore all possible deals and then make the best deal? Or is it that they just wish to avoid the hard work and prefer to fall back on intellectual and moral laziness?

In the case of Macedonia, let’s look at those possible alternatives.

First, we must recognize that indeed, the Macedonian public desires membership in NATO and the EU. Fine. But it’s always useful to point to the fact that it was the center-right party of VMRO-DPMNE that called for Macedonia’s membership in both organizations long before SDSM, the current party in power, did. And it’s worth noting why it took SDSM many years to say they advocated this membership for Macedonia as well: prior to independence in 1991, SDSM was…the League of Communists of Macedonia.

But again, the majority of Macedonia’s citizens want membership in these clubs, though the percentage of those wanting this has decreased over the last decade, due to many reasons. But there’s a caveat to all of this: they want membership in NATO and the EU: but not at any price. Not at the price of losing their name, their identity, their dignity, their culture, their way of life, their country….you get the idea. And yet “there is no alternative.” Meaning, if “there is no alternative” then, according to those who espouse this mantra, the Macedonians must adopt a stiff upper lip, hold their heads as high as they can, accept the one and only and true path, and then deny their own existence, in effect committing national suicide in the process. After all, “there is no alternative.”

Why is it that the opinions, nay, the very heartfelt desire — and the universal right — of Macedonians to retain their name, their identity, their dignity, their language, their culture, and much more — why is their heartfelt desire and right not taken into the equation? In fact, in a parliamentary democracy, power ultimately resides with the people and to say that “there is no alternative” when the people say the opposite is, indeed, authoritarian. On May 21, Zaev told the public, regarding his proposal for “Republic of Ilinden Macedonia,” “I do not think there is a political party, an intellectual, a normal citizen who is insulted by this proposal.” Well, facts are stubborn things. And the facts state otherwise. Most Macedonians are, indeed, insulted. And they are insulted by the whole charade of these so-called “negotiations.” But of course, “there is no alternative.”

Why is it that we never hear Western leaders saying “There is no alternative for Sweden and Finland, but to join NATO?” How is it that Sweden and Finland (and Finland shares a very long border with Russia) manage to get by without this membership? Is it possible that there is, indeed, an alternative to membership?! Hallelujah! But not so fast. Not for Macedonia and the “whole region” according to the diktats of Zoran Zaev. What about the EU? Why is it that we never hear “there is no alternative” for Iceland and Norway but to join the EU? “Hold on!” you might fairly shout. “Those are ‘rich’ countries and really don’t need to join the EU,” you chortle, secure in the thought that you have an iron-clad answer to why they don’t need to be in the EU. Fair enough. They are rich. But here’s an interesting fact: they didn’t get rich by being in the EU. They got rich by being out of the EU. Funny how that works. That is not to say that being out of the EU guarantees you riches. But it does point to….an alternative. But of course “there is no alternative.”

Wouldn’t it be good if politicians from all political parties in Macedonia came together and said “Look, we need to develop alternatives to the EU and NATO, while still working with them and cooperating with them to the largest extent possible, like other countries, even as we wait for our Greek friends to change their minds.” But this can’t happen and mustn’t happen because “there is no alternative.”

Those who proclaim “there is no alternative” are either lazy, morally and intellectually, or have an agenda that is nothing short of authoritarian.