Vodno, from Kale, Skopje, Macedonia

Of history, memory, and taking back your country

Here’s a startling fact: British historian Andrew Roberts reveals, in a podcast with Russ Roberts (no relation) of EconTalk (a podcast I highly recommend), that high school students in the United Kingdom, today, spend 14 seconds learning about UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill in their entire history curriculum. Let me repeat that: 14 seconds. Andrew Roberts states this because Russ Roberts shares the statistic from a survey that 20 percent of British teenagers think that Churchill is a fictional character. Andrew Roberts relates that Churchill’s 14 seconds of fame appears in a video which those students must watch. He laments the fact that “We have cut the great men and great women of history out of the school curriculum. It’s a disgrace, it’s; incredibly bad for national identity….” (Andrew Roberts also reveals that in that survey 47 percent of students believe Sherlock Holmes was a real person and 53 percent believe Eleanor Rigby was real person. This, Roberts declares, is “moronic.”)

Now, let me challenge you: is it too difficult to imagine that at some point in the not-so-distant future, Macedonian schoolchildren might be taught about Goce Delcev for 14 seconds? And furthermore, might be taught that he was a “Bulgarian?” Given the current attitude and policies (for instance, having children learn a song about “North Macedonia”) of the Zoran Zaev Government, it is not such a far-fetched idea.

And yet here we are with the Bulgarians demanding that Macedonia acknowledge that Goce Delcev was a “Bulgarian” among other ridiculous demands.

This leads me to Hollywood, in a way, which generates a great deal of fiction. And yet sometimes there are words of truth in those fictional films.

One of those is the latest Avengers film in the franchise in which the baddie, Thanos, in justification of his evil deeds (I will not spoil it here for you if you have not seen it) states, almost wistfully, “As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those that are unable to accept what can be.” Let me rephrase that to Zoran Zaev’s thinking: “As long as there are those Macedonians who remember what was (the past), there will always be those Macedonians who are unable to accept what can be, namely, ‘North Macedonia’ and all that goes with this fictitious country.”

And then there is this: In May, Matthew Nimetz, the former UN “name negotiator,” resurfaced and gave an interview with Deutsch Welle, Macedonian service, in which he was challenged by the interviewer on the issue of the adjective “North Macedonian.” Nimetz says “…the name of the state is North Macedonia, so it is logical sometimes to use the term ‘North Macedonian.’ But the ethnic identity is Macedonian. You call yourself that.” Nimetz then gives the example of Korea — North and South — and states that the people simply call themselves “Korean.” Which is true: the Koreans call themselves Koreans. But the rest of the world refers to them as, respectively, “North Koreans,” and “South Koreans.” And when challenged that the legitimate fear of Macedonians is that they will increasingly be called “North Macedonians” Nimetz gives a doubly startling statement. Nimetz says “But Koreans call themselves Koreans, and you call yourselves Macedonians. You can correct people and [they will] learn to use the correct term. And if they call you North Macedonians in some context it’s not the end of the world.”

“Not the end of the world.” It is difficult to imagine a more flippant statement especially coming from a seasoned diplomat like Nimetz. He dismisses, out of hand, the legitimate fears of an entire people about their identity.

Now let’s go back, briefly, in time, before the name change which was only this past February. Way back then the world used the adjective “Macedonian” and called the Macedonians just that, along with everything else the adjective could and should be applied to. And now? Now the adjective is changing, and changing rapidly. And yet the Government of Zoran Zaev told the Macedonian people this would not happen, and, at least according to Nikola Dimitrov’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they have issued “guidelines” for the proper usage of the adjective. Except that no one is listening to him and many are adopting the adjective “North Macedonian.”

I maintain and update a list of examples (here) in which members of the media, and others, refer to Macedonians, and Macedonian nouns, as “North Macedonian.” Examples include:

North Macedonian Prime Minister

North Macedonian coin

North Macedonian capital

North Macedonian Orthodox Primate Stephen

North Macedonian politics

North Macedonian state

North Macedonian people

North Macedonian air space

North Macedonian daily newspapers

North Macedonian ground

North Macedonian leaders

North Macedonian President

North Macedonian artists and musicians

North Macedonian Philharmonic orchestra

North Macedonian cuisine

North Macedonian sunset

North Macedonian flag

North Macedonian broadcaster

North Macedonian economy

North Macedonian businessman

And many more….

The media outlets and individuals stating or writing the above include:

Reuters

TIME Magazine

Washington Post

BBC

Financial Times

Associated Press

VOA

RFE/RL

Balkan Insight

A sitting US Senator

An Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security

And many more….

And this list consists only of the ones I have managed to find and only the ones in the English language.

Let me leave you with this thought: whatever you might think about Steve Bannon, the former campaign manager for President Trump and then White House advisor, he can speak the truth. And this quote of his from February of 2017 addressing a British audience on the Brexit issue is completely apropos to Macedonia today: “If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.”

It’s up to you, Macedonia. Take back your country. Take back your name. Take back your identity.

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Jason Miko

Proud American & Arizonan w/Hungarian ethnicity & passion for Macedonia, Hungary & Estonia. Traveler, PR man, history buff & wine, craft beer & cigar enthusiast