Communities of memory
The latest salvos from the Bulgarian Government against Macedonia and the Macedonians should make it abundantly clear that they have made the calculation that since Zoran Zaev and the Macedonian Government were willing to easily give up Macedonia’s name and identity for a proverbial bowl of pottage (NATO membership), then the same charade of characters will be willing to give up Macedonia’s language and history for EU membership. As I have written about before (see here) once the Macedonian Government agreed to start giving up things that make Macedonia, Macedonia, then the proverbial floodgates would be opened and others, primarily Bulgaria, would demand more.
The Bulgarian government continues with its offense, and it offensive push to demand that Macedonia give up its history, its heritage, its language, and much else, as the price for Bulgaria allowing Macedonia to join the EU. In short order, here is what they have said: Prime Minister Boyko Borisov stated that Bulgaria will “block them [Macedonia] at every chapter of the EU accession talks.” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zakharieva stated that “We have an interest in them recognizing the history while we recognize the reality at the moment.” Bulgarian defense minister Krasimir Karakacanov added his own incendiary language while attempting rhetorical flourishes, stating “Not only were [we] one nation, we still are one nation, albeit forcibly divided. I also believe that the day is not far when we are together again, and where waters have flowed before, they will flow again.”
The question is, will this Macedonian Government give in to Bulgarian demands for membership in a club whose very existence is in doubt and whose purported benefits are sketchy at best?
The late American sociologist Robert Bellah (1927–2013) wrote that “healthy nations must be ‘communities of memory.’” I have quoted other thinkers and authors in the past on the issue of the importance of memory to a people, a nation, and they are worth repeating here:
“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history…. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was.” — Milan Kundera
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” — George Orwell
“To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth.” — George Orwell
Isn’t it obvious that if you want to build a future as Macedonians you must remember, cherish, and celebrate your past — and your present — as Macedonians? If that is true, then how can you just give it up especially for something as ephemeral as membership in clubs whose long-term existence is in serious doubt? How can you allow an increasingly authoritarian government to just simply hand over your heritage, your birthright as Macedonians, to another government and people?
Zoran Zaev, for his part, after refusing to comment on whether or not he thinks Macedonians speak the Macedonian language came out and said that Macedonia must implement its agreement with Bulgaria. In October of 2019, two years after the “friendship treaty” with Bulgaria was signed, he basically said the same thing, encouraging the Macedonian committee charged with coming to an agreement with Bulgaria on Macedonia’s history (and thus school textbooks among other educational materials) to come to an agreement with their Bulgarian colleagues. Back then Zaev said “History is a living, breathing thing.. So we tell our members in the committee not to be afraid if something is documented and historically accepted by both sides…Find a way to build friendship, instead of something that will divide us again.”
Despite all of this, in a sign of some good news, Dragi Gjorgiev, the head of the Macedonian committee mentioned above was quoted as saying that “Macedonia should absolutely not discuss and put the language on the table. It is an absolute question, the reality and the existence of the Macedonian language, and Macedonia should not open that topic at all or keep that question open… absolutely no discussion about the Macedonian language should be allowed, this matter is closed.”
For his part, Macedonian president Stevo Pendarovski apparently said that Macedonia does not need EU membership if the price for membership is agreeing with Bulgaria that there is no Macedonian language. Does he mean what he says? Who knows? He is from the party of Zoran Zaev, SDSM, and Zoran Zaev, not too long ago, said that Macedonia’s constitution would never be changed and that any new name agreed to with Greece would not apply to Macedonia, at least domestically. Pendarovski, like Zaev, is an elected politician and as such, he should be judged on his actions, not his words.
As Macedonia lurches towards summer, with curfews still in effect, parliament in limbo, elections in doubt, the economy in shambles, and the Government providing no clarity or guidance whatsoever (while still working to remove the Star of Kutlesh from public places) Macedonians continue to be rightly worried about their very future as Macedonians, speaking Macedonian, with a Macedonian history, heritage, culture, and much else. And they should be because identity is national security.
Is there a Macedonian memory? Or will Macedonians allow their community of memory to become a “Bulgarian memory?”