the past decade or so, non-governmental organizations have sprung up
all over the Balkans and indeed, all over the world. Allied with their
institutional sponsors, NGO's become institutions themselves, adopting
a vital role in political and economic developments. Avers Balkan expert
and economist Dr. Sam Vaknin:
serve as long arms of their sponsoring states gathering intelligence,
burnishing their image, and promoting their interests. There is a revolving
door between the staff of NGO's and government bureaucracies the world
encroachment on state sovereignty of international law enshrined in
numerous treaties and conventions allows NGO's to get involved in
hitherto strictly domestic affairs like corruption, civil rights, the
composition of the media, the penal and civil codes, environmental policies,
or the allocation of economic resources and of natural endowments, such
as land and water. No field of government activity is now exempt from
the glare of NGO's. They serve as self-appointed witnesses, judges,
jury and executioner rolled into one."
form of multi-tasking has reared its head, quite overtly in little Macedonia.
Interference: the Case of Macedonia
strong-arming in the Balkans has enabled locals swept up in their own
idealism, righteousness and paranoia. On special occasions, candidates
possessing these qualities are wheeled out. Such was the case in Macedonia,
when the International Crisis Group's Edward Joseph sought to sway the
2002 elections with a thoroughly
underwhelming corruption report.
of institutional manipulation is more notable for its motive than for
its efficacy. While the chosen parties won, the machinations of the ICG and Friends
had zero effect on the result. A periodic changing of the guard is a
predictable and perhaps healthy feature of Macedonian politics. But
it certainly doesn't require outside prompting. Despite being Balkan,
the people aren't so stupid that they need to be told whom they are
to like and dislike.
in his last televised address to the Macedonians, Joseph implored the
people not to vote for specific politicians. Now, having finally gone
back to the most perfect country on earth, this captain of intervention
continues to orate on the gripping issue of Macedonia today though
most people back here have always been just mildly bemused with his
antics. However, there were some, like Dr. Vaknin, who reserved harsher
criticism for the failed interventionist:
epitomizes everything that is rotten in American interventionism. The
likes of him his brutish tactics, open bullying, score-settling, and
deep-set ignorance of local realities made America hated throughout
third and fourth worlds."
Land of the Lotus-Eaters
the rhetoric about reforming undemocratic, lawless and corrupt countries,
NGO interventionists actually enable and perpetuate these characteristics.
After all, they don't work with saints. Promoting "opposition" candidates
and political "dissidents" inevitably means helping longtime antagonists
settle old scores. This Western fascination with Lilliputian squabbles
explains why, when elected, the "opposition" never improves the lives
of its citizens.
don't the Macedonians cry foul? The answer is simply because it is not
in their interest. Macedonians have learned to live and even profit
from NGO's. After almost 4 years of free money, they can't imagine life
without it. Yet this dependence on NGO employment and dividends constitutes
one of the biggest dangers to Macedonia's economy. Addiction to free
money and organizations with no entrepreneurial future are endangering
the very possibility of a free-market economy in Macedonia.
Hard Facts: the Kapital Report
recent article in Kapital, Skopje's economic weekly, supports
this thesis. According to Kapital, statistics show that "at least
30 million euros flow annually into non-governmental organizations in
Macedonia" of which there are over 4,000 currently registered.
up to 10 million euros come from "domestic" organizations, the rest
come from sometimes murky foreign sources. How is the money spent? Avers
Kapital, "…only the people who are spending the money who have
no responsibility to account for it know." Indeed, the NGO's have become
a completely unaccountable industry:
of the NGOs have no idea why they exist,' says law school professor
Gyorgy Ivanov, who has been studying the development of Macedonian civic
society for 15 years. 'For example, there is an ecological association
whose members attend seminars 250 days a year, yet their offices have
litter all around. Many of them are functioning as
with the sole purpose of spending grants. NGO employees live the most
comfortable lives and jobs in the NGO sector are the most enticing and
most profitable.' This is the rule, not the exception, he adds.'"
it in the Family
not directly involved in an NGO, most Macedonians have a friend, brother,
mother or cousin involved with one. Typically, they start such organizations
in order to hire their own people as with state-owned companies in
the old days of Socialism. And these are not only uneducated opportunists
we're talking about; tragically, distinguished individuals like doctors,
dentists, lawyers and professors often find that their NGO winnings
often trump the compensation available from their own chosen professions.
there's little incentive for Macedonians to expose NGO corruption, because
they often profit from it. Even when the (foreign) chief of one well-known
humanitarian organization absconded to Vietnam, allegedly with a suitcase
containing $2 million in cash, there was no public outcry. His local
underlings, of course, had also benefited from this "trickle-down" economics.
NGO corruption is now discussed only when local adversaries
settle scores, curry favor and finish off enemies. By tantalizing provincial-minded
locals with shimmering piles of cash, the West has merely perpetuated
that most unattractive of Balkan qualities begrudgery while keeping
the people too focused on illicit profiting to realize how much they
are compromising themselves.
and Economic Decision-Making
in the political sector, NGO's are now instrumental to high-level Macedonian
economic decision-making. For example, George Soros' Open Society Institute
has become like a Vice-Ministry for Finance, present at major meetings,
representing large donors, and channeling large amounts of money throughout
Macedonia. Soros country chief Vladimir Milchin is so powerful that
he's treated more like a don than a bureaucrat.
the largest NGO's interact informally with all of the key economic players
the European Union, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development,
World Bank and IMF. Economic coercion is the rule, not the exception.
Last summer, politically-active NGO's influenced the IMF's decision
not to reach a standby agreement with the Macedonian government. Political and economic interests
coalesced, and as so often happens, proved indistinguishable.
the current situation is ruining Macedonia's tentative steps towards
a free market economy. Small entrepreneurs and investors are discouraged
from risking their assets on a small and unpromising market. The Kapital
report quotes one official who pinpoints how the NGO's continue to provide
an easy way out for fearful would-be businessmen:
Saracin of the European Commission said people in Macedonia are more
inclined to start their own NGO rather than invest in a new or established
company for the simple reason that it is the easiest way to make money.
"At the moment, the NGO sector provides the safest … flow of money and
labor force recruitment," says Saracin. "Moreover, the procedure of
registering an NGO is much simpler than the procedure of registering
generally timid and a little bit lazy, Macedonians are clever and creative
especially with "misappropriating" resources. The Kapital report
details a "diverse" range of tactics, including the "manipulation of
remuneration and the double funding of projects" and the submission
of fake invoices.
something very sad about this. Such behavior shows that the people don't
aspire to be better than the politicians they claim to despise. It also
shows that they'd rather spend their time and creativity on methods
of self-enrichment that are ultimately mean, petty and unsustainable.
Scheming about how to recover expenses that never existed, to chronicle
conferences that were never held, to hire teachers who never graduated
requires the mental agility of a lab rat. While the immediate cash reward
may seem the perfect justification, such behavior merely shows a lack
of self-respect and lack of interest in the country's long-term economic
might argue that NGO's (corrupt and non-corrupt alike) are useful, in
that they pump money into the consumer economy. There are two problems
with this, however.
of all, most NGO's don't produce or create anything. Here, the "conflict
resolution" and ethnic harmony types are absolutely the worst.
They offer a wealth of free advice and good intentions, but nothing
sustainable. For all of the simulated seminars, conferences and publications
generated over the past four years, ethnic relations haven't improved.
That was never the point, however; interventionist hacks are happy enough
to own two SUV's, live in the leafy part of Skopje and in rapturous
tones sing of planting trees in the countryside.
speaking, NGO's do not create wealth. Nobody invests in them. They are
alien to the real small entrepreneurs who have traditionally built free
market economies by going out and risking their assets. NGO's do not
promote competition; rather, they promote and perpetuate systems of
patronage. Fundamentally, they are destructive insofar as they prolong
the old scourge of socialism, with all of its stasis and nepotism.
the riches of non-governmental largesse are ephemeral, and therefore
dangerous. In most cases, they have been wasted on creature comforts
and conspicuous consumption. Yet someday the West will turn off the
funding faucet for good. Macedonians surely know this will happen, and
sooner rather than later; however, they prefer to milk the system for
as long as possible and "live for the moment." Someday, the NGO's will
become unsustainable, and only those who were able to illicitly transfer
assets into "private enterprises" beforehand will thrive.
of Blame for All
organizations are not inherently evil, of course. As Dr. Vaknin
reminds, organizations like Medecins san
Frontieres perform some beneficial services.
in Macedonia the NGO sector has had a largely negative effect. By parking
a Trojan horse loaded with free lucre outside the city gates, the West
has retarded the growth of the Macedonian economy and kept the people
mired in a destructive cycle of petty antagonism, vendetta and nepotism.
In short, it has perpetuated all of the worst qualities of the former
state's latest idea is to resurrect the
dream of agrarian Macedonia by offering free arable land in the
villages to anyone willing to move from the city and become a peasant
serf. Such a bizarre, doomed plan only reaffirms the utter paucity of
creative thought prevailing in the soporific haze of post-war, civil-society
the Macedonians weren't coerced. They gladly fought for the free funds,
and devised novel schemes for stealing and cheating their neighbors
in the process robbing themselves of their pride and the right to say,
"we did this for ourselves." But what does pride matter in an utterly
demoralized, thwarted country like Macedonia, anyway?
clear that the rule of the NGO's in Macedonia is waning. With the death
of this lucrative sector, the cash propping up an unhealthy percentage
of the population will also disappear. Outside observers have long wondered
at how a country with a 40 percent (official) unemployment rate can
survive. We're about to find out.