Stealing history

Historical Revisionism is a fascinating topic. And for us folks in the Balkans, the most obvious example that instantly comes to mind is probably the way the new nation of Macedonia has been crafting its new identity where none existed: by stealing history from neighboring nations. We’ve all heard of Skopje 2014, the huge, majestic, ultra-megalomaniac re-doing of the city center of the Macedonian capital. They put a huge golden statue of Alexander the Great on a horse – so huge that when you stand on this huge square and look to the statue, the only thing you’d see is the horse’s golden balls. And that’s just the centerpiece of a much larger complex of buildings that look as if they’re in the capital of the Roman empire at its zenith. All the while, the rest of the country sinking in squalor and being torn to pieces by lingering ethnic tensions.

It’s a mess. But I digress. This is just a symptom, the tip of the iceberg. It’s a sign of something bigger, deeper about the Macedonians that’s troubling. And it’s not just the fact that the Macedonians have struggled to find their identity ever after the artificial creation of their nation back in the early 20th century at the behest of the Soviets who wanted to split a nation (the Bulgarian one) into pieces to rule the region more easily, and favor their buddies the Serbs. Geopolitical games have such consequences, you know – they pull people apart, often even people of the same nation. The Macedonians have gone to tremendous lengths since that time – they’ve turned a certain variety of the Bulgarian language into a new language that they call Macedonian (the joke goes that it’s Bulgarian, written on a Serbian typing machine); they named their territory after a province in Greece which is traditionally associated with an ancient Greek group called Macedon (Greece has blocked their EU integration because of that, which has forced Macedonia to name itself FYROM); and they’ve completely re-written all their history books, and indoctrinated their children for a couple generations now, to believe that today’s Macedonians (predominantly Slavic people with quite a bit of Thracian DNA in them, just like the rest of the peoples living around these regions) are somehow the direct descendants of Philip and Alexander. They’ve even claimed many great historical personalities and current celebrities have some Macedonian ancestry – hell, even a Macedonian discovered America while sailing alongside Columbus! (Except, that sailor never called himself Macedonian). What’s next, we often joke here – claiming the Moon is Macedonian territory as well? (“Oh Moon, you Macedonian land! Are we gonna fight over you too?“)

If that’s not an example of historical revisionism in desperate search of a non-existent identity, I don’t know what is. It’s all a consequence of the many complexes and frustrations that the Macedonian people have had through the centuries. A small country, squeezed between several larger ones, always kicked and moved around, always used as a pawn, and cannon-fodder in someone else’s wars. I understand them. WE ALL understand them. Which is why we’ve given up trying to argue with them. We’ve stopped trying to convince them that they’re not what they claim they are. It’s not worth it. We gain nothing from it. We’ve thrown our hands in the air, and decided on a different approach. Which is why my country was the first to recognize Macedonia’s independence when they split away from Yugoslavia. We accepted the name Macedonia (unlike the Greeks, who’ve had their reasons to vehemently oppose it). We recognized their language, although we all know too well that it’s just a dialect of ours. Even most Macedonians, when you ask them off-camera, would say they feel Bulgarian. But don’t tell that to their leaders and politicians, it’s a different story there.

Who cares. It’s all in the past. They can define themselves as they wish. They can claim all the great glory of the world if they like. The rest of us know the truth. Let them think of themselves as they wish. We should be looking to the future now. Together. Which is why our governments signed an agreement for neighborly cooperation just yesterday. It was carefully crafted in a way not to insult anyone’s sensibilities. Because there are lots of sensitive questions surrounding Macedonia. Yet, some in Macedonia still opposed this large step toward regional peace and harmony. There’ll always be those who’d want to draw political benefits even from the most noble of occasions. Anyway. We’ve done a big step into the right direction, and the process now looks irreversible. Because the Balkans have always been a powder keg, split up and divided and kicked around and used and abused by various “Big Powers”. And if there’s one solution to all that, it’s to take matters in our own hands, forget our differences, and walk together in the same direction. Hopefully, that step will be followed by many more. And hopefully, the Macedonians will stop living in the past, and finally look forward from now on. Because the alternative is quite disastrous. And to all big players in the West I must say: hands off from the Balkans!

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