Walking in the footsteps of greatness

Ljupcho Petkovski Chevening Alumnus

In September 2015, I temporarily left my job at Eurothink to begin my master’s degree in Ideology and Discourse Analysis at the University of Essex. I have been working for Eurothink since 2010 and since 2013, I have been responsible for the expanding research programme.

Eurothink is a vocal think-tank group in Macedonia which uses European integration as a broad frame to research and analyse democratisation and advocate for change. My time at Eurothink coincided with a deterioration of the social and political climate in Macedonia and the rise of authoritarianism resulting in protests on the streets. This is how my activist background was created, and how I developed a strong interest in populism, social movements, and protest politics. This interest has proven to be fruitful in terms of reading, publishing, travelling, meeting people, and further studying.

Delving in head-first

Before Chevening, I had taken a break to complete my first master’s degree in political science at the state university in Skopje. My dissertation focused on theories of populism, especially approaches such as the one developed by the political theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. What I found captivating in their discourse-analytical was the theoretical sophistication, theoretical psychoanalysis, and use of post-structuralism to address issues pertinent to political science. This approach has served as a practical toolkit for political activism and mobilisation of many progressive social movements in Europe and South America that have challenged the authoritarian tendencies of late neoliberal capitalism. Populism is not necessarily an ideology of the far-right, it can be used by progressive social movements as well.

During this period, I learnt that the Government Department at the University of Essex offers a postgraduate programme called Ideology and Discourse Analysis that takes the work of Laclau and Mouffe as a basis for critical analysis of political phenomena. In fact, the programme was founded by these thinkers three decades ago. So I decided to apply both to Essex and for the extremely generous Chevening Scholarship.

A rewarding experience

My year in the UK was a unique experience both in terms of studying and learning new things about life in this amazing country. It was definitely a year of hard work – I got engaged in extensive reading and stimulating exchange with fellow students and professors. My time at Essex was a huge success – apart from graduating with distinction, I was awarded the Ernesto Laclau Prize for Best Political Theory Postgraduate Student, an award that bears the name of my favourite political theorist! My time in the UK challenged and complemented my existing knowledge about the life in this country. I was amazed how so many social and economic contradictions and cultural differences can peacefully coexist on the streets, in the institutions, and at the universities. Brexit was a shocking experience indeed, but it made me think about the unpredictable results social mobilisations can produce.

In 2016, I was at home again. Back to my old job at Eurothink, but with new challenges to be addressed. On its path to becoming a robust liberal democracy and EU member state, Macedonia cannot benefit from a positive global conjecture, because the global democratic trends are far from promising. The knowledge gained at Essex will inevitably shape the way I make sense of the world we live in. It will also significantly shape the way I engage in activism and social struggles for progressive change, and my future professional career.