Macedonians and gratitude
I can’t think of a more appropriate way to begin this column than with a quote from Prime Minister Zoran Zaev from earlier this week. Regarding this Sunday’s referendum and those who intend to stay home and boycott, he said, “Those who don’t vote don’t even count.” This is what Zoran Zaev, the Prime Minister of Macedonia, thinks of citizens who want to keep Macedonia’s name, identity, Constitution, culture, heritage, history, and dignity. Let that sink in. He is not even pretending to be the Prime Minister of all Macedonians — just certain ones who agree with him and his agenda.
His condescending attitude leads me to this next thought and it’s based on gratitude, on the act of being grateful. I think that Macedonians who want to keep Macedonia’s name, identity, dignity, history, culture, tradition and so much more — these Macedonians are truly grateful for what Macedonia is. They have gratitude. They know what it took to attain these things — hard work and sacrifice (even the sacrifice of life) — and they are grateful for having attained them and so they want to keep them. These Macedonians have a deep and abiding love for Macedonia and all that it means — they’re genuinely grateful. And that’s one major reason why they oppose the Zaev agreement and will boycott the vote on September 30. True, there are some people who are grateful for Macedonia and who will vote for the referendum because they honestly believe the government’s line that peace, prosperity, and security will be theirs once the agreement is ratified — if they truly believe this, I can’t fault them, though they believe in something that is very doubtful.
I also believe there are some people in Macedonia — perhaps many — who actually dismiss, almost gleefully, what generations of Macedonians have sacrificed for and fought to achieve — an independent Republic of Macedonia with a unique culture, heritage, traditions, identity, and dignity. They are not grateful for this achievement because they fancy themselves as “citizens of the world” and urbane, sophisticated, and part of the international jet-set that sees itself as future global governors in an era of global governance. And while I believe they are ungrateful for Macedonia and all that it is, the ironic thing is that the opposite of gratitude is not ingratitude; it is envy, greed, and resentment. When you start taking Macedonia and the ideals it took to create it for granted, you are less likely to defend these things and if you don’t defend them they then become susceptible to corruption and decay over time. And after what is good and right has been destroyed through corruption and decay, envy and greed set in and these are tumors on the soul; inevitably, resentment follows.
Here’s another provoking thought: some of those who support the Zaev agreement want to escape from Macedonia’s past and its present, believing it holds nothing for them. They look at the past and say to themselves “Macedonia has an ugly past with a great deal of flaws, sins, and skullduggery. We want nothing to do with that and we know that Zaev will lead us into a promised land where everything is perfect, everyone becomes wealthy, everyone is equal.” The problem with this thinking is that it is simply not true. All of human history is a non-stop reel of the brokenness and flaws of individuals — all of us — because that is the human condition. We are all fallen. Those who champion and support this agreement see themselves as the “saviors” of Macedonia by bringing it into a glorious future. But again, what they think they can achieve through this is not true nor is it possible.
A key part of gratitude is memory — the simple act of remembering. The great authors of the last century tell us what happens when we forget or allow others to destroy our memory and heritage. George Orwell wrote “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history” while Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asserted “To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots.” And Milan Kundera, in “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” told us “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.” (It is worth noting that Kundera signed a letter arguing against the Zaev agreement last month). We must remember the past and celebrate the many good things given to us including how we achieved our freedom and sovereignty, remembering what was sacrificed to achieve it.
Macedonians want the country to progress, of course. But the best way to encourage progress is to defend the traditions of the past that allowed Macedonia to achieve what we have today — an independent Republic of Macedonia. The best way to defend tradition is to be grateful for what works, and then work hard to preserve it. Preserving and sustaining the ideas and ideals that created an independent Macedonia are then keys to progress, and remembering, sustaining and being grateful for those ideas and ideals starts with individuals, families, and communities and then expands in ever-widening circles to the rest of society.
-Be grateful for the past and tradition and what works in Macedonia — and then build on it, don’t tear it down.
-Generations have worked and sacrificed for an independent Republic of Macedonia which was achieved on September 8, 1991 — remember and honor their sacrifice.
-A great deal of wisdom is contained in Macedonia’s past and in the structure of customs and institutions created and refined over time by generations of Macedonians — don’t trample on that and throw it away — remember it, be grateful for it, cherish it, and pass it on to your children, grandchildren and generations of Macedonians not yet born.
Gratitude is fragile. Remember this on Sunday, September 30 and after you give thanks to God for Macedonia and all that it is, spend time with family and friends reminding each other of these things, being thankful for what Macedonia has achieved.