Illiquidity and Authoritarianism at the Margins of Europe
Published by: Stanford University Press
248 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781503612938
- Published: June 2020
Dark Finance offers one of the first ethnographic accounts of financial expansion and its political impacts in Eastern Europe. Following workers, managers, and investors in the Macedonian construction sector, Fabio Mattioli shows how financialization can empower authoritarian regimes—not by making money accessible to everyone, but by allowing a small group of oligarchs to monopolize access to international credit and promote a cascade of exploitative domestic debt relations.
The landscape of failed deals and unrealizable dreams that is captured in this book portrays finance not as a singular, technical process. Instead, Mattioli argues that finance is a set of political and economic relations that entangles citizens, Eurocrats, and workers in tense paradoxes. Mattioli traces the origins of illiquidity in the reorganization of the European project and the postsocialist perversion of socialist financial practices—a dangerous mix that hid the Macedonian regime's weakness behind a façade of urban renewal and, for a decade, made it seem omnipresent and invincible. Dark Finance chronicles how, one bad deal at a time, Macedonia's authoritarian regime rode a wave of financial expansion that deepened its reach into Macedonian society, only to discover that its domination, like all speculative bubbles, was teetering on the verge of collapse.
From stocks to illnesses, financialization is at the core of contemporary life. But what is financialization? How can it be studied ethnographically? And how does it relate to the rise of global authoritarianism? This chapter introduces the book's main arguments and situates them within the debates surrounding financial expansion. Rather than a function of calculative devices or liquid capital, the chapter describes financialization as a multi-scalar political process and offers an example of how to interrogate ethnographically the different relationships that generate financial expansion.
Until 2015, Macedonia's authoritarian regime received international coverage largely in relation to the Skopje 2014 project and the hundreds of new buildings and statues that celebrated a fictional Hellenic and neo-baroque past. Chapter 1 describes how Skopje 2014 constituted a mask—obscuring shady businessmen who colluded with former secret agents, plotted to ruin former socialist companies, and invested in a wealth of real estate developments in Skopje. The chapter describes the financial networks that are at the core of Skopje's construction expansion, their connection to the socialist era's need for foreign currency, and their crucial role in supporting Gruevski's political ambitions. Following the trajectory of these networks through the postsocialist transition, the chapter shows how the built environment has become a magical device through which dirty money is made clean, and ambiguous power relations are recast as a national identity.
Postsocialist-transition Macedonia is a country with few natural resources, high unemployment, and few value-added industries. Where did the money for Skopje 2014 and other construction-related public investments come from? Chapter 2 details the international conditions that favored and structured the inflow of capital in Macedonia, focusing on two pillars of financial expansion at the periphery: foreign direct investment (FDI) and aid. It describes why international investors and agencies decided to provide funds to the Macedonian government despite the lack of credit that characterized the global economy. The chapter also follows the peregrinations of a group of Italian businessmen who tried to escape global illiquidity by intercepting international investments in Macedonia. Their stories portray the domestic, rent-seeking structures put in place by Gruevski's rule and illustrate how an increasingly unequal and subdivided European Union generates financial peripheries and supports authoritarian regimes.
How did international loans translate into domestic power for Gruevski's government? Chapter 3 explores the characteristics of Macedonia's domestic financialization, focusing on the reemergence of in-kind exchanges, known as kompenzacija, that followed the global financial crisis. Outlining kompenzacija's postsocialist trajectory and its relation to the Macedonian banking system, the chapter describes how politically disconnected companies receive payments in goods they don't want. These objects, such as apartments or eggs, lose value, thus obligating businesses either to absorb losses or offload these properties on subcontractors and workers. By describing the political coercion and financial dispossession that ensues, the chapter shows that kompenzacija constitutes a form of forced credit fully integrated into global financial flows. At the periphery of the European and global financial systems, the need to convert value across means of payments allows authoritarian regimes to increase their power by reaching deeply into people's social networks.
In a landscape punctuated by illiquidity, production is not constant but is rather subordinated to the rhythms of debt repayment. Chapter 4 focuses on the disruption of daily routines that takes place once illiquidity makes manual work almost irrelevant. Based on a fine-grained description of the actions, rituals, discussions, and pauses that characterize work under illiquidity, this chapter details the strategies used by workers to regain agency and meaning. The chapter narrates the poetic resilience of workers and their capacity to generate spaces for empathy in the interstices of financial uncertainty. Filled with potential for social transformation, the tempo of workers' acts, jokes, and conversations does not remain merely performative. Framed by financial precariousness, their tricky conversations slide toward opportunism and reduce their moral capacity to oppose the Gruevski regime.
Illiquidity affects not only workers' self-conception but also their collective identity. Chapter 5 shows how Macedonian illiquidity generates gendered paradoxes that dislodge earlier models of work-centered, hegemonic masculinity despite the regime's insistence on aggressive manhood as a fundamental component of Macedonian identity. The chapter follows a group of male Macedonian construction workers as they try to restore patriarchal authority within their company. Unable to provide for their families, challenged by economically ascendant ethnic Albanian males, and dislodged from the nurturing attentions of Macedonian female colleagues, their failures leave them exhausted. Scorn and mockery emerge as hierarchical ways to keep male solidarity alive, forcing workers to consume their energy in containing their microaggression and projecting the regime as their only anchor.
Illiquidity is without doubt a process intertwined with Macedonia's socialist and postsocialist history, intrinsically linked to its geopolitical marginality. And yet, it also enlightens some of the social dynamics that fuel authoritarian processes at the global level. This chapter expands on the insights derived from the Macedonian case, highlighting the importance of financial paradoxes and predatory relationships to map out how finance encounters (or emerges from) social life. Suspended between dreams and exploitation, financialization delineates a crucial domain of politics.
"As financialization and populism reshape the world, Fabio Mattioli's rich and timely analysis traces the intersection of finance-fueled construction and authoritarian rule in Macedonia. It critically highlights the illiberal politics that drive financialization and urban development, while carefully attending to the everyday lives of construction workers who are building Skopje's new skyline." ~Sohini Kar, London School of Economics and Political Science
"Dark Finance offers fresh insight on contemporary populism in Europe and fine-grained descriptions of how illiquidity functions. This is the most compelling, persuasive, and chilling analysis of North Macedonia's place in the global economy, and the cynical exploitation of a people by their elected government, that I have read in the past decade." ~Keith Brown, Arizona State University
"Dark Finance takes the anthropology of financialization to the next level. From gender relations and exploitation to the volatile politics of popular desires and authoritarianism in North Macedonia in the years after the global financial crisis, Fabio Mattioli's holistic and relational take on the contradictions of global finance in the postsocialist periphery is pathbreaking." ~Don Kalb, University of Bergen and Utrecht University
"Mattioli excels in this respect: documenting the operations and implications of finance and financialization beyond its own narrow social domain—the one of financial markets, institutions, expert knowledge, and so on—and within the life-worlds, relations, and practices of a variety of social actors. This allows him to analyze aspects likely to be missed by other perspectives." ~Marek Mikuš, Journal of Cultural Economy
"Fabio Mattioli has written a vibrant book, mapping the networks sustaining Nikola Gruevski's power and the lived experience of "authoritarian financialization," and offering novel insights into Macedonia's and Europe's political economy. The book combines ethnographic and an almost-poetic sensitivity, rich in its description of economic, urban, and social landscapes. In addition to being a skillfully executed ethnography, Dark Finance: Illiquidity and Authoritarianism at the Margins of Europe is a fascinating case study, a crime story, a political drama, and a political thriller. Highly recommended not only for those seeking to understand Gruevski's regime but anyone interested in illiberal finance." ~Gábor Scheiring, Review of Democracy
"Original, timely, and gorgeously written, Dark Finance makes key theoretical contributions to several fields of inquiry, including economic anthropology, political economy, anthropology of the state, social studies of time and gender, and Europeanization as a cultural and financial process. It represents anthropology at its best and should be read and taught widely." ~Emanuela Grama, American Anthropologist
"Through its analysis, the book unravels the social, political, and gendered relations that mediated financialization and that produced a centralized power apparatus. Mattioli develops an original take on both financialization and what he calls authoritarianism. . .In contrast to these understandings, Mattioli illuminates how capital "flows" and state capture depend on, constitute, and are exercised through social relations.In its acuity and originality,Dark Financeis thus an important example of how research in "the margins of Europe" contributes to our understanding of global political economic processes." ~Jane Cowan, on behalf of the 2021 William A. Douglass Prize Jury
"Dark Finance creatively reimagines the concept of financialization to provide fresh insights into politics and society in Macedonia, with implications for our understanding of the postcommunist region more broadly. Beginning from an eth visible Skopje 2014 construction projects sponsored by the Gruevski government, Mattioli demonstrates the centrality of illiquidity—the prevalence and significance of non-cash transactions—to both the nature of authoritarian politics and the shape of everyday life, with especially compelling attention to gendered politics and identities. Far from a bounded case study, the book's ethnography and analysis extend outward into the European Union and global economy to argue that Macedonia presents an illustrative instance of 'peripheral financialization.' Mattioli's novel conceptual framing, multi-scale range of vision, sensitivity to long-term histories, and captivating writing style combine to showcase an innovative way of studying political economy." ~Ed A. Hewett Book Prize committee
"With Dark Finance, Mattioli manages successfully to articulate the global, the local and the intimate in peripheral European contexts... Overall, Dark Finance is a riveting study aided by comprehensive ethnographic observations." ~Tringa Bytyqi, Anthropology Book Forum