Ideas for Improving Nationhood, National Identity and Democracy in Australia

By Ordan Andreevski, UMD Australia Director

The United Macedonian Diaspora (Australia) submission No. 167 to the Australian Senate Inquiry into Nationhood, National Identity and Democracy has recently been published under Parliamentary Privilege. 

Click HERE to read.

It focuses on the most important issues relevant to the Australian Macedonian community, how they have arisen, what challenges they pose and opportunities for improvement. 

What are the issues?

UMD is deeply concerned that nationhood, national identity and democracy in Australia corrode rapidly when the political system gives opportunistic political parties, domestic and foreign governments and pressure groups the ability to engage in long term systematic discrimination and de-legitimisation of Macedonia and the Australian Macedonian community in Australia.

For political and ideological reasons, Australia’s political elites have classified and treated Macedonia and Macedonians as ‘unpeople’.  In George Orwell’s novel 1984, unpeople are defined as people whose existence and concerns are officially denied and ignored.  Macedonian nationhood, national identity and democracy are rarely mentioned or debated in the Australian Parliament and the media.

The mainstream media and the political elites have not shown any concern about the human rights, rule of law or the impact of the imposed Prespa Agreement and the Agreement with Bulgaria on Macedonia and its people. Australia has sadly collaborated with NATO and the EU in undermining Macedonian democracy, human rights and rule of law. Macedonian statehood, democracy and human rights are treated as valueless when they get in the way of US, NATO and EU policies.  There are double standards, one for the Hellenic Republic and its diaspora and another for Macedonia and its diaspora. The legitimate views of the Macedonian community have largely been not heard or acted upon in the Australian Parliament. 

Why have the issues arisen?

From 1913 to date Australia has colluded with the UK, France, the USA, NATO, the EU and the Hellenic Republic to legitimise the forced partitioning and colonisation of Macedonia. This has facilitated the theft of Macedonia’s rich history, culture, language and national identity by Greece and Bulgaria. Australia has ignored the flagrant violation of human rights and Macedonia’s right to self-determination.

In 1988, Australia was pressured into allowing the Hellenic Republic to run a disinformation campaign that ‘Macedonia is Greek’.  This set the stage for future propaganda activities targeting the Australian Parliament, federal and state governments, the media, think tanks, universities and the wider public aimed at undermining Australian democracy.  In 1994, Australia adopted a deeply flawed and biased official foreign policy on Macedonia.

Australia’s foreign policy on Macedonia was aligned with and crafted by Athens and its Phil-Hellenic lobbyists and politicians in Canberra. Australia recognised the Republic Macedonia as ‘the former Yugoslav Republic’ pending the resolution of the problem created by the Hellenic Republic and its Western masters. Australia ignored the fact that 140 countries at the UN recognised the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name.   Canberra ignored Australia’s legal obligation under the UN Charter and the Human Rights Convention. In February 2019, under instructions from the increasingly denialist, undemocratic and authoritarian USA, NATO and the EU, Australia blindly recognised the Republic of Macedonia as the Republic of North Macedonia.

In 2018, Australia’s political elites welcomed the illegal, unjust and unsustainable Prespa Agreement. This was done without national, parliamentary or foreign policy debate and no input from the Australian Macedonian community or any other independent experts.

In all my years of studying and teaching law, I’ve never come across such travesty, this document called the “Prespa Agreement”. First, it is treason to the most basic standards in international law, and second, it’s packed with nonsense, empty promises with zero guarantees – says Spanish law professor Carlos Flores Juberias.

The Prespa Agreement violates the EU Human Right Charter, the Vienna Convention for Treaties and the Macedonian Constitution. It is the brainchild of the USA, NATO and EU and the Hellenic Republic. It is designed to advance their strategic, commercial and political agenda rather than to improve nationhood, national identity and democracy in Macedonia or to advance peace and stability in the region.

The Macedonian electorate and its diaspora at a referendum categorically rejected the Prespa Agreement on 30 Sept 2018. The agreement was introduced with alleged blackmail and alleged bribing of vulnerable opposition MPs.  Australia would never accept such an agreement itself if a foreign state imposed it by pressure and manipulation of its democracy.  Australia ignored the legitimate concerns of the Australian Macedonian community, the UN Charter and international law experts who oppose the illegal, unjust and unsustainable Prespa Agreement. It rewards ultra-nationalist bullying, the rewriting of history and hostile foreign policies of the Hellenic Republic towards Macedonia.

What challenges do these issues pose?

The decline of Australia’s system of parliamentary democracy in the ‘post truth’ era has been documented by prominent Australians like Professor Julian Triggs, John Menadue and many others.  An era where political ideology and political pressure drive policy not evidence, where expertise attracts personal attacks and where populism and so called retail politics constrain informed public debate and decision-making. 

Australian Macedonian citizens and communities expect equal respect, justice, human rights and rule of law for all. When Australian governments fail to deliver on their obligations to justice, people lose faith in the their political leaders, the political system and the government institutions.

Australia claims that it supports democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, creative middle power diplomacy and ‘good international citizenship’. In practice, it fails to live up to its own public diplomacy propaganda and narratives.

The central problems for nationhood, national identity and democracy in Australia are it’s one ideology political system and the increasingly secretive and deceptive deep state (Toohey, 2019).  This environment facilitates unscrutinised, biased and out of touch bi-partisan domestic and foreign policy to flourish virtually unchallenged.  It blocks innovation and debate about alternative options for Australia. Power is concentred in the hands of elites at the expense of ordinary Australian citizens and some communities. The wishes of ordinary people and some communities count for nothing in Australian policy making. There are no robust, inclusive and regular national, parliamentary or policy debates. The bulk of the media in Australia is controlled by Murdoch media and similar corporations who are not interested in scrutinising government policies, which they have shaped, or genuine community concerns. The Australian Futures Project has found that even federal MPs feel trapped in the political system they cannot change.

At the same time, the Australian economy is not delivering for most citizens due to weak competition, feeble productivity and tax loophole.  Rentier capitalism means an economy in which market and political power allows highly privileged individuals and big business to extract a great deal of rent from everyone else (Wolf, 2019). We have a rigged capitalist system that benefits elites at the expense of Australian citizens, communities and liberal democracy itself.

What opportunities do the issues present?

Fresh ideas for reviving nationhood, national identity and democracy in Australia are urgently required.

For Australia to reach its full potential we need to change the political and the economic systems concurrently and without delay. We also need to change the political culture in support of social change.

We have a unique opportunity to form coalitions for democracy renewal and policy change by working with all key stakeholders that support innovation.  We must create more opportunities for citizens and communities to move up the policy and democracy engagement scale.

The best way to solve the wicked problems facing Australian nationhood, national identity and democracy is through more people powered democracy involving all key stakeholders in society.

What action should be taken by the Australian Parliament, the Australian Government and other relevant stakeholders?

The Australian Senate Inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy provides an excellent opportunity to capture the views of diverse stakeholders who care about the future of democracy in Australia and to build momentum for positive social change.

Australia should conduct rigorous and relevant research to establish and improve the health of its democracy. It should conduct a performance audit of its democracy. It should also develop an outcomes focused approach for improving it democracy as proposed by Social Ventures Australia (2018). 

The inquiry can generate more informed national, parliamentary and policy debate in support of a new strategy for confronting the backsliding of democracy.  The Australian Parliament should hold a national forum on nationhood, national identity and democracy in Canberra. It should also travel across Australia to engage with the Australian community on how we can improve our democracy and the outcomes for all citizens and communities especially those that are most disadvantaged by the status quo.

The Australian Parliament and the Australian Government must play a more active role in re-imagining new forms of active and direct democracy for the people and by the people and not rely on gatekeepers and elites.  

The inquiry should also put pressure on the Australian Government and Parliament to abandon it flawed foreign policy towards Macedonian nationhood, national identity and democracy and its diaspora. Australia needs to have independent foreign, economic and defence policies, which will be the bedrock of a healthy democracy.