Encouragement in Macedonia — and everywhere Macedonians live
“The Turks reigned here for 500 years and they didn’t make us Turkish, we remained Macedonians. And so Macedonia is going to stay Macedonia, and Macedonians are going to stay Macedonians. And that’s how we will stay; our heart and soul is in Macedonia.” — Jovan Kezharovski, church caretaker, Sveti Petar i Pavle, Galicnik, Macedonia
The above affirmation comes from a documentary film I was involved with ten years ago, A Name is a Name. If you haven’t seen it, I would encourage you to watch it. It is brimming with passionate testimonies from Macedonians from all walks of life and from all over Macedonia all attesting to the same truth: Our identity is Macedonian and our identity as Macedonians will remain no matter what. Turks, Serbs, Bulgarians, and now, apparently neo-cons and lefty imperialists from the US and EU have trodden through Macedonia and no matter what, we have always remained and always will remain Macedonian.
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” That’s Thomas Paine, the celebrated American pamphleteer from his best-seller, Common Sense, published on January 10, 1776 which made the case for American independence from the English; the American colonists declared independence from England on July 4, 1776. Common Sense became an overnight sensation in the American colonies and remains in print to this day.
“These are the times that try our Macedonian souls.” I can make that case today. It could have been made in 1903, 1913, throughout the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, in 1991 and again in 2001. You can come up with important dates and events in Macedonia’s long and rich history in which the same thing could be said. Trials that the Macedonians have gone through before, and come out intact. Tribulations that the Macedonians have endured before, and come out stronger. Sufferings that the Macedonians have withstood before, and come out better men and women than they were before.
That is where we are today. We can have a discussion about just how big the threat is to Macedonia right now, especially as compared with past threats. But what Macedonia is going through is a threat and it can become a bigger threat, an existential one. If you allow it to become one. As Macedonia and the Macedonians go through yet another injustice, it is vital to remember the lessons of history and what has been before, remembering the troubles and trials of the past, as well as successes and then building on those successes, working to improve on them. In Macedonia’s case, we know, because we have a clear record, what has happened in the past as well as what has proven successful in maintaining both the identity of the Macedonians, as well as the rich culture and heritage of Macedonia. In other words, we have a blueprint for going forward and not just surviving, but thriving.
Here’s a good example of an entire people under attack who have not just survived, but thrived. The State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948. Immediately after, four neighboring Arab states declared war on Israel, and the Jewish people had to fight yet another war of survival. Before that fateful day in May, the Jewish people had not had their own homeland for over 2,500 years. And while the history of the Jewish people during most of that period is not widely known (as history, in general, is no longer studied much these days), what is known are the horrors of the Holocaust. And yet not only did the Jewish people survive, they are thriving to this day. And not just thrived, but they have blessed the world and the peoples of the nations in which they lived. They remembered and passed on the wisdom of the past. The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, chapter 32 verse 7 reads “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.” That’s a good verse — for any peoples.
Let me go back for a moment to Paine because what he writes next is applicable to Macedonia today. Paine writes, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.” As long as you proclaim your land as Macedonia and your identity as Macedonians you will have freedom.
The Macedonian people finally achieved their long-held dream of independence on September 8, 1991 by declaring an independent and sovereign Republic of Macedonia, a day that will live long in the memories of Macedonians around the world as long as it is remembered and passed down from one generation to the next. .
You know the challenge before you. You have faced it before, and not just once, and have overcome it. You can do that again. Encourage each other with the truth that the Macedonian people and identity is resilient and ready to take on and overcome the challenges before you. If you believe this to be true — and I do — then you have a debt to your children, grandchildren, and generations of Macedonians not yet born, to rise to the occasion, give each other words of encouragement, and, importantly, do what you have always done — nurture your children, your church, your culture, your language and everything else that makes Macedonia, and the Macedonians, valued and unique in our world.