Saturday, March 12, 2011

Macedonia’s Hopeful Holocaust

Category: Issue 21

Macedonia boasts one of only four major Holocaust memorials in the world (the others are in Jerusalem, Washington, and Berlin). For a country of 2 million people with fewer than 130 Jews and no tourism to speak of this is a curious circumstance. That Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is a bestseller in Macedonia and old people still believe in anti-Semitic blood libels renders the whole affair a travesty.

Like the vast majority of Jewish communities in Europe, the Jewish community in Macedonia – 7400 members strong - was completely annihilated during the Holocaust. Like the vast majority of the peoples of Europe (with a few notable and noble exceptions), the Macedonians sat back and did not lift a finger to help. Only a few brave Macedonian individuals bucked the trend. The silent majority gleefully took over the possessions and property of the exterminated Jews and looked the other way. For a definitive account of the Holocaust in Macedonia, read the book by the historian Jenny (Zeni) Lebl. For a harrowing – and, as far as the Macedonians go, unflattering – account of one survivor’s ordeal watch Eitan Oren’s documentary film about Isaac Adijes. Especially pay attention to how the local Macedonians “welcomed” Adijes when he had returned, decades later, to visit his ancestral home.

It has been my experience that anti-Semitism is alive and well among the Macedonians. The few Jews left here are aware of it: being an Israeli Jew myself, I have been chastised by them for criticizing the government and, potentially, bringing the wrath of the populace and the authorities upon their collective head. Rightly or wrongly, they perceive their status as precarious.

Yet, the Macedonians are conflict-averse and their variety of anti-Semitism is relatively benign and far from virulent. Jews are mostly feared and admired because they “rule the world and the United States, the media and the banks, and all the money in the world”. Such fear and “admiration” (which is a thinly-disguised stereotype, steeped in spite and envy) are also forms of anti-Semitism. Indeed, the Holocaust Museum – almost fully funded with the proceeds from the sale of denationalized properties of liquidated Jews, hastily declared heirless by the Macedonian authorities – is the Macedonians’ way of bribing the Jews to help them with their economic and geopolitical dire straits. Highfaluting speeches aside, Macedonia’s dignitaries – alternately bored or inappropriately smiling - said as much in the Museum’s festive opening ceremony.

As usual, the Jews collaborated: the “leaders” of the Jewish community took over the unclaimed funds and erected a white elephant of a museum in the erstwhile Jewish quarter. Now that the deed is done, it would be nice to see the accounting for the moneys contributed by the dead Jews and spent by the living ones in the multi-year process.

Anti-Semitism is a Balkan staple.

I was shown the same book in Yugoslavia, in Macedonia and in Bulgaria - “The World Conspiracy” - a shabby tome written by an ageing “scholar”. The main, unabashedly anti-Semitic, hypothesis (presented as undisputed fact) is that the Jews rule the world supreme: always have, probably always will. Lists of prominent Jews in the world of international finance reprinted with lists of influential Jews in the Soviet communist regime. And it all amounts to a well organized secretive machinery of illicit power, claims the author with all the persuasion of a paranoid. In here, trash magazines dwell endlessly on these and similar themes.

Yet, anti-Semitism is only one species in a zoo of rumours, conspiracy theories, meta histories and metaphysics. Superstitions, prejudices and calumny thrive in the putrid soil of disinformation, mis-information and lack of information. In the void created by unreliable, politicized and corrupt media rumour mills spring eternal. It is a malignant growth, the outcome of a breakdown of trust so compleat that communication is rendered impossible. This is the main characteristic of the East (from Russia to Albania): distrust. Citizens and politicians, businessmen and government, the media and its consumers, manufacturers and service providers, the sick and their doctors - all suspect each other of ulterior motives and foul play. All are more often than not quite right to do so.

It is a Kafkaesque, sealed universe in which nothing is as it appears to be. This acrimonious divorce between appearances and essence, facade and truth, the Potemkin and the real is a facet of daily life, of the most mundane exchanges, of the most trivial pursuits. Motives are sought with increasing urgency: why did he do it, what did he try to achieve, why had he not chosen a different path, why here, why with us, why now, what can it teach us. Information is pursued frantically, appearances discarded, data juggled, heated debates ensue, versions erupt, only to subside and be replaced by others. It is a feverish ritual, the sound of clashing exegeses, of theories constructed and demolished in vacuo.

At the heart of it all, is the unbearable uncertainty of being. Political uncertainty under communism was replaced by economic uncertainty under the insidious and venal form of capitalism that replaced it. Tucked in identical cubicles, the citizens of planet communism were at least assured of a make belief job in a sprawling bureaucracy or in a decrepit factory, manufacturing redundant documents or shoddy goods. Subsistence was implicitly guaranteed by the kleptocracy that ruled them and, in principle, it was always possible to ignore the moral stench and join the nomenklatura, thereby developing instant upward mobility. Corruption, theft and graft were tolerated by the state as means of complementing income. Life was drab but safe as long as one abstained from politics and subserviently consumed the bitter medicines of acquiescence and collaboration. The vast majority (with the exception of the USSR under Stalin) were not affected by the arbitrary capriciousness of history. They decayed slowly in their housing estates, morally degenerate, possession-less but certain of a future that is the spitting image of their past.

Under the spastic orgy of legalized robbery of state assets that passed for privatization, millions were made redundant while thousands enriched themselves by choreographed looting. The results were instability, unpredictability, uncertainty and fear. In a world thus unhinged, the masses groped for reason, for a scheme, for a method in the madness, for an explanation, however sinister and ominous. Anything was preferable to the seemingly random natural forces unleashed upon them with such apparent vengeance. Even a “World Government” (a favourite), the Illuminati (a Freemasonry-like movement but much more odious), the Jews, the USA, aliens. The greatest conspiracy theory of them all - the Phoenix of religion - sprang back to life from the ashes it was reduced to by communism. A host of mystical beliefs and sects and cults mushroomed noxiously in the humid shadows of irrationality.

Thus, every event, no matter how insignificant, any occurrence, no matter how inconsequential and any coincidence, no matter how coincidental assume heraldic meaning. People in these domains carry their complex jigsaw puzzles with them. They welcome each new piece with the zeal of the converted. They bellow triumphantly with every “proof” of their pet theory, with every datum, with each rumour. Things don’t just happen - they whisper, conspiratorially - things are directed from above, ordained, regulated, prevented, or encouraged by “them”. A group of 400 rule the world. They are Jews, they are the Serb mafia, or the Bulgarian. Or the Americans who plan to dominate (which obviously puts Kosovo in context). They are the rich and powerful, the objects of envy and frightened admiration, of virulent hate and rage. They are responsible. We pay the price - we, the small and powerless and poor. And it is hopeless, it has been like that forever. The disparity between them and us is too great. Resistance is futile.

Why was this president elected? Surely, the West demanded it. Or political parties conspired to rig the vote. Or rich businessmen supported him. What is the real aim of foreign investors in coming to these godforsaken places, if not to infiltrate and penetrate and establish their long term dominion? And wouldn’t it be safe to assume that al the foreigners are spies, that all the Jews collaborate, that the neighbours would have liked to conquer and to subjugate us, that the world is a colossal puppet show? In other words, is it not true that we are puppets - victims - in a theatre not of our making? They filter out that which does not conform to their persuasion, does not accord with their suspicions, does not fit within their schemes.

This deferral of responsibility brings relief from shame and blame. Guilt is allayed by symbolically and ritually passing it onto another. Fear is quelled by the introduction of schemata. These are potent psychological incentives. They provide structure to the amorphous, bring order to the chaos that is the brave, new world of the economies in transition. Flux is replaced by immutable “truths”, possibilities by certainties, threats by “knowledge”. It is a re-construction and reconquest of a paradise lost by giving up the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

It is this hyper-vigilance, this elevated suspicion, these instant certainties fabricated from frail pseudo-theories and conspiracies that make the Man of the East so easy to manipulate, so vulnerable, so amenable to collude in his own downfall. Bewitched by his self-spun myths, captivated by his own paranoia, under the spell of his magical, immature, thinking - non critical, non analytical, non discriminating - he is exquisitely susceptible to crooks and charlatans, to manipulators and demagogues, to the realization of the very threats he tried to fend off in the first place.

Posted by Sam Vaknin on 03/12 at 11:56 AM | Permalink
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