The Myth of the Colonial Maverick
Don't bother to remember the name of the Bulgarian prime minister. Or the Slovenian. Or the Slovakian. Or the Croatian.
an unorthodox or independent-minded person.
The Croatian PM criticised Hungary for its recent decision to adjusting domestic fuel price control measures, by excluding foreign registered cars, taking away the advantage Croatian motorists living near the border enjoyed at the expense of the Hungarian state budget.
He did this one day after the EU leaders - him included - voted on oil sanctions.
This was the second time Croatia acted swift and though towards Hungary within a month, while staying quiet and submissive toward Our Betters. Zagreb roared like a big dick lion at Budapest, twice, and the only times it did at all: despite their share in the inter-EU crisis regarding existentially threatening sanctions, the Croatians, when it comes to standing up to the West, are as quiet as a little harmless mouse. The Croatian people, may Allah have mercy on them, out of boredom or lack of vigilance, elected a Colonial Maverick government.
Island of stability
The 12-year hegemony of Fidesz in Hungary gave us a stable platform to observe the fluctuating political climate in our neighborhood: bereft of change and seeking any novelty that might offer the faintest promise of removing Orban, the opposition’s intelligentsia was eager to report any news about appropriate regime changes in the applicable Eastern Block nations around us: in yet another little colony like our own, the people finally fed up with the local version of parochial nationalism, and advanced to the next level.
Years passed, such news came and gone, certain patterns emerged.
Republic of Slavania, somewhere in the 2000s: times are shit, rampant corruption, mismanagement, no hope for the future; then, out of nowhere, the demoralized masses are offered a Fresh New Face who promises to break the cycle of misfortune, German wages in Euros, digitalization whatever that is, transparency, a break from the tiresome - though righteous! - scolding from the Empire, an escape from the failed student status, so they jump at the chance, they elect the Fresh New Party (coalition), lead by the Maverick!
To emphasize the unimportance of particular instances of a Colonial Mavericks, I’ll skip names as much as possible. The actual individuals - by nature - are irrelevant. Memories and personal anecdotes will suffice, see if you find the model I’m about to present fit someone you’ve already heard of. If you spent time the Eastern Block, it will.
A funny new detail emerged regarding the brave tweetery of the Bulgarian PM that I’ve covered before, condemning Hungary for being against sanctions: if the poorest shithole of East Europe can do it (Bulgaria), so can you! As it turns out, the Bulgarians’ original reluctance to commit energy suicide went away after their PM met with Biden, getting a promise of LNG shipments from the US at a subsidized rate.
Securing the backing of a Big Dog before acting all though and independent in your own backwater is part of being a Colonial Maverick, but to commit to a potentially disastrous policy shift for the country you’re in charge of based on vague, future promises (Do they even have the terminals to receive LNG from America? Will it actually be cheap? How can Bulgaria enforce these terms if the US decides to change its mind?) is the true hallmark of these characters.
Burning a bridge before having an alternative secured puts the whole of Bulgaria at risk. This ought to be done by the way of the old internet-PUA method
monkey branching: you don’t let go of the previous branch before having a secure hold of the new one.
Otherwise you risk falling from the tree.
But Colonial Maverick lead governments don’t lose sleep over putting the country they’re in charge of at grave risk: if the shit eventually goes up in flames as it hits the fan, they’ll just retreat to the West (Washington, Brussels) to recuperate in a think tank or an NGO, with a potential to be airdropped back into colonial politics 5-10 years later. Back in the Drawer, in an envelope slightly thicker with work experience, ready to be pulled out and redeployed if needed in the future. They never suffer the consequences of their actions, not personally, not career-wise, as long as they stay loyal to the Empire: the colonials, the little people that entrusted them with the power are the ones who do.
Interchangeable and irresponsible: a case study
Once upon a time there was a post-soviet shithole whose people wanted what they saw in the Western movies. As they all do.
One of their own, after some training in the US, comes back to power after a color revolution. The guy makes a few blunders, the biggest one declaring war on a neighboring superpower (which his people subsequently lose).
He suffers no consequences for this mishap. Eventually he’s evicted from power at home, and goes back to the Imperial Drawer.
A few years pass, there’s another post-soviet shithole, another color revolution, and he makes a return, appointed to govern some place where he doesn’t even speak the language. Good enough for the Empire.
(person) pulled out of the drawer (or cabinet): imagine a powerful man’s desk drawer full of files.
It means the person is astroturfed, a ready made puppet by higher powers meant to fill a gap, fitting a template, sitting in an envelope, waiting to be deployed when the occasion arrives.
The Janissary corps was originally staffed through a system of tribute by which Christian youths were taken from the Balkan provinces, converted to Islam, and drafted into Ottoman service.
The colloquial Hungarian meaning refers to a local, who, just like Janissars in the Ottoman Empire (with which we shared a 150 year coexistence), betrays their own people to serve the conquering Empire as an enforcer of imperial will.
Soldiers with local origins whose loyalty is to the colonizers is not a new phenomenon in our region. Janissars also trained in Constantinople, the imperial capital, before returning home if enforcement was in need — another parallel.
The eternal, Post Cold War Eastern desperation
Colonial Mavericks are not benchmarks of a nations progress: they’re symptoms of a people’s desperation.
It’s not like Slavanians one day, after a night of binge watching Netflix, woke up to feel disgusted as they looked in the mirror and a repulsive Balkanian rube looked back, so they decided to aspire to become a positive Aaron Sorkin character from then on. People in Slavania are more or less okay with themselves, they’re just unhappy about the multiplier applied to their wages compared to a German doing the same job for the same company back home. That multiplier is 0.5 at best, 0.4-0.33 usual. Would you be happy with that? I wouldn’t. It’s understandable.
If you live in a nation where emigrating to the West to do menial labor is considered a step up in life, the luxurious political attributes that Western elites tend to celebrate in a candidate ring hollow. All you see looking West is money you ought to have but don’t.
There’s an inherent incompatibility with an elite that either has a Tesla in their own or their parents’ garage, or has an existence where acquiring a Tesla is a future prospect, and those who are destined to be stuck - at best - one level below the colonial status of having an entry pass for a multinational company hanging from their neck: the former class lecturing the latter about climate emergency is so insensitive it would make Marx angry.
Yet Mavericks do: they hoist the rainbow flag and cargo cult whatever pet moral panic a faraway elite is using as an excuse to feel better about themselves, and shit test and purge their local dissidents as a bonus.
The Maverick's progressive attitude is mostly for the foreign audience, save for a few cosmopolitan liberals living in the colonial capital who also have the luxury to take such matters seriously. They can get away with it, for a while, as long as they have a credible Big Bag of Foreign Currency hanging as a promise from the hand that’s not busy waving some nouveau flag or holding up an angry fist to own Thatcher beyond the grave or whatever.
The Maverick promises a way out of the material trap for the provincial electorate, from the very trap that is maintained by the Mavericks’ handlers who have no interest in letting the colonials free.
To trick the rubes into supporting them, Mavericks need to present old school social demagoguery with adequate credibility to get ahead of the traditional, homegrown demagogues.
Hoping for a miracle is evergreen
The Maverick is not some parochial bum: they enter the domestic spotlight with a well-padded, dazzling CV. They’re the cosmopolitan success story finally coming home, a piece of West you can touch. East Europe’s post-socialist fool’s gold, personalized.
The automatic deferral to foreign-sourced credentialism can be exemplified by a recent quote from Momentum’s, our homegrown Imperial startup’s former frontman, who describes the current Bulgarian regime with the following attributes:
is the Bulgarian model, a country governed by two businessmen who have returned from overseas and Oxford.
Wow. Where can I give them a blank cheque?
The former Eastern Block never really confronted its own pathetically low self esteem that made young Muscovites proud to pay 2 months’ salary for a pair of knock-off Levi’s.
If we did, such shiny brass bells should long ring hollow and familiar, but the spine required for the sober, immediate if somewhat spiteful rejection of the automatic deferral to the dazzling attribute “Oxford educated” cannot be grown in a demoralized environment.
You still find suckers for this old trick, even in Hungary, it’s the very same insufferable crowd that badmouths their own nation non-stop.
We had many chances to get tired of Colonial Mavericks. I remember a few, let me present one that I don’t even need to research, just from memory:
…and he’s gay!
From the mid 00s to the end of the decade, Hungary was in a constant economic crisis. One in the long line of short term crisis managers that the socialist-liberal government pulled out of a drawer in 2007 was a guy who I still vividly remember.
So, the country is already in recession (a year before the global recession!), and his two most important attributes upon his ascendance touted by the government-adjacent media was:
held high positions in multinational conglomerates (tobacco)
Not spoiling much here: as far as managing the crisis he didn’t make a dent. As it shouldn’t, his appointment, timed with such disastrous perfection, with a tone deafness that made the country feel that the higher ups in control lost their mind made him a Colonial Maverick to remember.
I recall the insensitivity of the Budapest elites as they both celebrated his sexuality and tried to scold any critic by charges of bigotry whenever doubts surfaced.
He’s gay! Isn’t that cool? What a step up for our backwater Balkan shithole, right? These elites were by and large sheltered from the crisis and were adjacent to the government. A total disconnect from the masses.
They were not just missing the beat here, they were keeping their noise-cancelling headphones on by both hands, while simultaneously shouting insults into the megaphone to the angry mob outside.
- Fire department! My house is on fire!
- Calm down sir. Are you sure it’s not your fault?
- I don’t know, why does it matter? Send firemen!
- Well, we can’t do that, there are too many houses on fire, but we can offer advice. The first one would be: don’t own property to begin with. Hungarians have an unhealthy obsession with property ownership. If you rented the house, you wouldn’t have this problem. Do you have a mortgage?
- Yes, of course, but why does it matter? Will you help or not?
- We’ll do what we can to help the bank minimize its losses. Good news though: we have a new fire chief! Well, fire strategist really. And he’s gay! Isn’t that wonderful?
- MY HOUSE IS ON FIRE
- Uhm, sir, you sound homophobic. Eww.
What followed this failed regime was 12 years of unbroken Fidesz rule, still counting.
Such cases of ineffectual Maverick worship during the crisis years, coupled with the countless upstart Colonial Maverick governments failing to deliver in our neighborhood dispelled Hungarian illusions about this form of Imperial trickery.
We feel distinguished living in an island of stability as we observe other nations around us still falling for the trick from time to time.
It’s a bit disheartening every time it happens, but as time goes on, less and less so. “Orban was beaten in the Republic of Slavia”, announces the domestic Brusselite press that yet another small, Eastern Block nation went for the Colonial Maverick option, and by now even centrist journalists treat this as a joke, angering the local liberals who desperately yearn for anything but Orban, a comfortably low expectation that a Colonial Maverick would easily pass, but so would the Devil himself.
Nations that share a common burden can represent their interest better as united than divided: this is so obvious that it needs no store-brand game theory proof. Assume it’s true.
North vs. South
The European Union, before the Eastern expansion, had two widely recognized, opposing blocks: the Northern and Southern member states. The former group’s primary uniting force was scolding the latter for being lazy, or to be more diplomatic, fiscally irresponsible, and the latter’s was to try and prevent the Northerners from forcing austerity measures on them.
Member states in both blocks were better served by internal unity than divisiveness. As long as the southern states could stay united, they could get away with their loose finances.
This solidarity was eventually broken in the late 00s: the North managed to isolate Greece from the Latin herd.
One successful blockbusting attempt was the northern states’ lenience towards Italy (and the likes) when it came to isolate Greece in the late 2000s: you let us punish the irresponsible Greeks and we let you slip. So they did, and watched their abandoned mate made example of.
East vs. West
What makes Eastern Europe different from the West? We’re poor. That’s it. Not our languages, alphabets, religious beliefs: it’s that we’re poorer. The ideology of one particular government of one tiny colonial statelet in a given moment is irrelevant to the big picture. Such differences in our secondary attributes should not be an obstacle when it comes to our internal, Eastern Block cooperation. The more united we can be when it comes to representing our common interests in the EU, the better. If we’re divided, isolated, we don’t stand a chance. We’re going to be gutted.
One wishful criticism of Orban that is so common it has now become a Hungarian inside joke is that he’s isolated: part of this perception originates from Hungary’s desperate attempts to build bridges to anyone who’s willing to hold up their end. Orban’s government doesn’t care about ideology when it comes to alliances, especially not in the Eastern Block.
This is not exclusive to Orban: any leader above a certain level of pragmatism in the Eastern Block will seek cooperation. The Colonial Mavericks don’t: they look to the West, offer full submission in exchange for a domestic carte blanche, and as a bonus, if they’re up to it, they are free to antagonize fellow colonies who pissed off the Metropole.
Due to Brussels’ unrelenting federalization effort, a remarkable shift happened in the Eastern block since the 90s: back then, Nationalists were the spoilers of unity between neighboring countries, mostly due to historical grievances, trying to interface two nationalist governments was like pushing the same poles of two magnets together.
Less nationalism = more cooperation was held evident.
Today nationalists, prioritizing the self-interest of their nation are the bridge builders within the block, as they recognize the utility of unity. Those old scars haven’t healed, the minefields are still around, but it’s kept on the back burner: when it comes to business, chauvinism gets a back seat.
Colonial Maverick governments, unbound by the Darwinian pressure of creating a sustainable domestic legacy are not driven by pragmatic concerns: when it comes to intra-Eastern Block relations, they will happily do the diplomatic equivalent of shitting on the dining table in exchange for a favourable retweet by Western a big wig.
Approval from the West can be worthy of a few burnt bridges, one might think, but Colonial Mavericks don’t need further approval: they’re already in. They were vetted long before they showed up in the domestic politics of their home country. They are hard wired to disregard any dissident as a legitimate player, pragmatism is never a concern: just look at me, says the West, don’t take your eyes off me, and go shit on that table. Good boy!
The effect of this on Hungarian foreign policy is that when one of the neighboring Republic of Slavias eventually elects a Maverick, Budapest just assumes lunatic hostility from their foreign ministry, so they put a “disregard” post-it on their incoming mail for a while in quiet resignation. It will pass, they’re not rational players, why bother reacting? If you don’t view us as a legitimate player, we will stop viewing you as a rational one.
Can Colonial Mavericks be benevolent?
First: no. They don’t have the agency to do so, and they lack it where it really matters: standing up for the national interest.
The more important something is to a nation’s interest, the more the Colonial Maverick will be pressured to defer to the Imperial interest. It came with the contract they originally signed.
If the Republic of Slavia finds a massive, easily extractable oil field, they better hope that some ultranationalist bumfuck is in power, because if it’s a Colonial Maverick, the free market - the global corporate oligarchy - will be invited to exploit it, and the citizens will have to do with a single digit cut at best.
There’s a reason why nationalizing the oil industry is historically treated as a declaration of war on the Imperium.
Second: no. Whatever their colors are, at the end they’re still elected by the suffering colonials on the hope of finally fulfilling the old promise of - chiefly economic - convergence to the West, the image of the West as it was cca. 30 years ago when the Curtain fell. That West has changed since then, consciously purging and distancing itself from a lot of its former appeal, and whatever the West is today, its elite is interested in keeping the colonies subdued. The Imperium has nothing to gain from the elevation of the colonies to economic and political equality.
They will get convergence, just not the one they’re hoping for.
What they get is deeper integration, which means an active push to decrease sovereignty on all levels; economically this means more reliance on the mercy of neoliberal capitalism, with a well-known, if sometimes forgotten, outcome. On other levels it’s deference to an imperial elite that shows an undeniable eagerness to be sadistic towards its own, full right citizens. Second-class colonials expecting benevolence from submission to such power are in for a rude awakening.
The salmon, the watermill and the bear
Convergence is possible: it’s an unending struggle swimming upstream, a salmon’s struggle. If a peripheral country is tough and determined enough, it can do it, but it can never let up, and it can never even play with the idea of outsourcing the solution to forces that get their power from the water flowing downstream. It’s an obvious conflict of interest. And you definitely shouldn’t ask a bear for a lift.
We’re still the same ecosystem, salmon, bear, watermill, but one must be aware of their own roles and goals to survive. Illusions of the ultimate benevolence of nature is a luxury that you can’t afford at the bottom of the global food chain. The Colonial Maverick is telling the salmons how cute the bear is, and represents the watermill when the strength of the river’s flow is on debate.
Salmons putting their trust, hopes and dreams in them are in for a rude awakening.
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Clocking in at around 20000 characters, being a bit redundant in a few places to drive the concept home, I think I provided a usable model to describe the Colonial Maverick. But to make sure it’s clear:
What is NOT a Colonial Maverick
holds office for more than one term: blind obedience to the Empire usually means a no breaks neoliberal economic policy that is detrimental to most subjects, that won’t turn the gutted ship around (it was gutted by these policies to begin with), which over time weathers away the popularity that was initially credited to the Colonial Maverick. They’re like a battery that discharges over time, it’s by design. Once they served their time keeping up the status quo, they leave to be recharged and another Colonial Maverick is offered by the same manufacturer.
stays in the country after losing power: staying after the mess you presided over is a low bar for responsibility, but in the colonies any standard is better than the usual none. It’s not without risks, because if such ex-leader dared to go against the Empire, they can expect future harassment, usually disguised as an anti-corruption crusade.
seeks legitimacy on the ground: would you state something that displeases most of the colony’s electorate, but pleases the New York Times editorial board? You might be a Colonial Maverick. But wait, that’s obviously counter-productive if you want to win an election over there, right? Well, this brings us to the next point
doesn’t lecture the electorate: even the most flexible populist is guilty of some level of societal engineering, power includes power to shape society, but the paternalizing bluntness of the Colonial Maverick, as they try to guilt the people into a mass Stockholm Syndrome so they vote them into office out of shame always stands out.
doesn’t have a LinkedIn: obvious red flag for any politician. Who are you trying to appeal, the voter base or the Western market for your skills?
creates a meltdown in the foreign press upon ascendancy: the Western elite always keeps at least one Maverick in the waiting line in every colony. If a person is starting to displace the Maverick, it will generate hostility in the Imperial media (usually tattletale local journalist sending their biased profile, stacked with the shock adjectives of the day, to be published by the newspapers of the Metropole, to be featured later in the local press as credentialed Imperial criticism). If someone gets this treatment, by elimination, they can’t be a Colonial Maverick.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov planted the blame squarely on Russia and his own country’s powerful mafia after his government lost a no-confidence vote on Wednesday.
Petkov, who only came to power six months ago, was voted in on a pledge to fight the country’s rampant corruption and has pushed Sofia to take an unusually strong line against Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.
In the vote of no-confidence, some 123 lawmakers out of 239 in parliament voted against his cabinet.
“I am the Human Resources Secretary of State of the Government of the Republic of Hungary. Economist and HR director. Partner, friend, sometimes rival. And I am gay.”
Well, Greek was the definition of non-Latin for a thousand years, so it’s a bit of a mixed metaphor. The Easy Going Mediterranean Bunch. The Siesta Group. The Olive OPEC.
Great post! "Colonial Maverick" is a very solid concept, but as a Croat I need to say that you're misguidedly applying it to 2022 Croatia. Croatia *has* seen its share of Colonial Mavericks for sure, but the "big dick lion" PM is not a case of that. He's a case of something even more depressing.
OK so at this point I had started expounding the details, got to ~2000 words without being finished, and then for everyone's sake I cut it all. Your post is about "Colonial Maverick", and HDZ's PM Plenkovic isn't *that particular thing* (however much he otherwise does subjugate the needs of the Croatian people to the wants of the Globalist Empire). Let's just leave it at that for now. To stay on the topic of your article, of COURSE that we have a proper Colonial Maverick; what kind of Slavistan would we be otherwise?
In their present incarnation, they are called "Mozemo!" ("We Can!", the exclamation mark is an integral part of the name, no I am not kidding), and they rule Zagreb since 2021. Having debuted some two years prior, that is no small feat.
Their pitch had been roughly in line with what you wrote. Tired of the smelly HDZ/SDP duopoly? Want some Fresh New Faces who promise to break the cycle of misfortune? Vote for us! We love western values and we will wave a wand to make all this to be like the West! We're the Mavericks who know how! Don't focus on our CVs being razor thin outside of liberal-arts-n-humanities studies -- that is our advantage, actually! Didn't we already mention that we are Mavericks?
The Mozemo! is a notable update from the previous incarnations of Colonial Mavericks, in two respects.
First, previous Colonial Mavericks tended to appear as "star politicians" who joined one of the two duopoly parties, with all the "Croat who was very successful in the west" / "new face!" / "will turn things around" / etc. kind of woo. Ultimately they'd end up doing a few things in the interest of western capital, not doing anything much in the interest of Croats, and peter out after getting bogged into whichever usual disputes or affairs in the political swamp.
Second, the MO had been for them to appeal to the widest possible electorate, boosting nationwide vote for the particular duopoly party which they'd joined, effectively tailoring their promotional messages as a certain nudge in the "desired direction".
Mozemo! has done away with all that. The "wide-electorate-appeal / nudge-of-position" is so passé. They went straight for the urbanites, for the "Londoners" instead of the "Little Englanders" if you will, sliding in about as much of the woke/progressive agendas that the urbanites could digest at this moment. They handsomely won Zagreb's mayoral elections, even though they didn't make much of a dent in the parliament (yet). They were thwarted by a gerrymandering of Zagreb from the 90s, while being not even slightly popular outside of the urbanites. So as much as they may lack MPs, they are just getting started, and controlling Zagreb counts for a lot in this place.
You wouldn't guess in a billion years which particular billionaire is supporting them.
There are currently some heated facebook faceoffs about contested governance decisions of Mozemo!. (Urg. I'm still unused to putting a dot after an exclamation mark.) Following down the rabbit hole of participants, I was... surprised and not surprised to find participants with the Mozemo! insignia on their profile who are not merely trans, but trans *activist*. Not the "inward" ones, who are content to live out their self-mutilated lives. No. The "outward" ones, those with an itch - a yearning - to mutilate the fabric of society. Or whatever still remains of it. I'm sure you know the type.
I was surprised because the public visibility of this at the moment is next to none, and not surprised because it figures. Yes, they are in tow, and from what I saw, they are ready. The Croatian normies wouldn't even understand what I'm talking about, since the lid is pretty much still on, and the local Théâtre de Guignol between HDZ and SDP is blocking their view of the West. Give it a few years, and *boy* are they going to find out. (and then grumble some, and then yield. I'm not a man of many illusions)