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One Tito Bails, Another One’s Resurrected: Macedonia’s Theater of the Bizarre

October 29, 2005


By Christopher Deliso

Tito Petkovski, the longtime SDSM man and losing presidential candidate in 1999, announced his departure from the governing party this week. Simultaneously joining him in dissent, if not in camaraderie, were devotees of another Tito – Josip Broz, that is.

Petkovski’s exodus from the SDSM came as no surprise. For a long time, rumors of such a move have been circulating, as this elder member of the party felt himself marginalized by the current leadership. His departure attests to the fracturing within the party, which has been apparent for at least 2 years. Nevertheless, the SDSM has maintained an impressively unified front, something that has helped it survive despite less than stellar results and low public confidence.Petkovski’s new party will probably be named the “Social Democratic Alternative,’ according to A1 TV on 24 October. The station relayed his assurance that the new party will attract “real’ professionals, successful businessmen, university professors and students who were “not until now involved in politics”- though he refused to provide names.

Petkovski hopes that other disgruntled SDSM members will join him, and he has apparently begun a trip around the country to whip up support for his breakaway venture. Saying that “I no longer wish to be a “partybreaker,'” Petkovski announced his departure, leaving the question of his future political allies open. However, initial speculation that he will join forces with Skopje Mayor Trifun Kostovski, an independent who himself was expected to form his own party, now seems unlikely.

While Petkovski said that Kostovski was a good friend, he added that “our target group comprises people who live from salary, not from profit”- basically ruling out the established tycoon who is himself grappling with the problem satisfying the demands of a diverse group of opposition parties who campaigned for him in March.

When asked about the prospects of recruiting Liljana Popovska, formerly a member of coalition partner LDP and vice-speaker of parliament sacked for supporting last November’s referendum on territorial decentralization, Petkovski only said that, “she’s a politician whom everyone would like to have.”

According to Petkovski, the new party will be left-center in orientation. By the end of November it will be registered. Notably, the SDSM exile even stated that the party leadership will include two Albanians- something rarely seen in Macedonia’s ethnically-divided political landscape.

It remains to be seen whether Petkovski will make a significant dent in the SDSM’s base on the local level. A local source suggests that at least one quite corrupt businessman is likely to be a major player in the new party, something which could be damaging in the public eye. Further, though Petkovski was able to capitalize on a wave of righteous indignation in 1999, when his defeat to Boris Trajkovski in the presidential race was widely regarded as the result of rigged elections and Albanian voter fraud, he is perhaps now too old and too much associated with the Communist-era old guard to make a serious political impact on his own.

On the other hand, there are others who wish to glorify Macedonia’s Communist heritage out of simple nostalgia or with more ulterior motives in mind.

In the grand ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Josip Broz Tito, President Branko Crvenkovski went only so far as to suggest that a statue of the Communist kingpin be erected in Skopje. Now, however, a purposeful bunch of retired renegades are taking things one step further- by creating a party built specifically on Tito’s ideals and apparently immortal cult of personality.

The new party plans to give the established Macedonian Communist Party (a thriving political force which consistently polls in the low single-digits) a real run for its money. On November 29th, the “birthday’ of the old Yugoslavia, we will also witness the foundation of the “Union of Tito’s Leftist Forces,” a party created specifically to tap into residual Yugo-nostalgia among Macedonia’s older and more embittered generations.

Stating explicitly that its key target would be the sexy demographic of pensioners and workers, UTLF top man Slobodan Ugrinovski promised that “we’ll work very hard, honestly and for real. Our party will stop the downfall of the country. But before anything else, we’ll do something about pensioners’ problems. The leftist political option in the country is now in crisis- a party [should include] not only doctors and professors and rich people, but also workers.”

Displaying an almost religious veneration for the deceased Yugoslav leader, party organizers at the grand gala – appropriately enough, held at the “Kaj Marshalot’ restaurant in downtown Skopje – cranked out such old chestnuts as “International [Committee]” and “Comrade Tito, We Swear to You” from a cassette player.

In a mysterious, symbolic gesture, an empty place at the head of the table was even left for the “new Macedonian Josip Broz.”

Further bizarre comments from the new party’s president left one wondering whether the issue here really is religion and not politics. Comrade Ugrinovski cryptically attested that “the new Josip Broz has been born, he’s already walking, but it’s still not the right time for him to show up.”

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