A window on Macedonia, from the Ilinden memorial, the Makedonium, in Kruševo

What should unite Macedonians?

Thoughts on Ilinden

As Macedonians remember, observe, and celebrate the Ilinden Uprising this August 2, and as you grapple with the tectonic changes that have taken place in Macedonia in three short years — many of those changes lacking support from a majority of the voters — I think a question needs to be asked: what should unite Macedonians?

To my mind, there seems to be two vastly different groupings among the Macedonians today, separating them, keeping them apart.

On the one hand, there is a small group who believe passionately that the only thing that matters in life is the GDP of a nation. These are people who, like their counterparts in other Western countries, look at the individual and believe that he or she is motivated solely, or mostly, by such base things as mere money and economic wealth. They look only at the material side of mankind and believe that the satisfaction of mankind’s economic wants, is superior to our other needs — the need of belonging, for instance. The need to earn a living and make money, it should go without saying, is absolutely necessary for an individual, a family, a society, to put proverbial bread on the table and do more than simply survive. But those who believe that we humans are motivated solely by money is not just wrong, it is grotesque.

This small group of Macedonians is not wedded to a past — any past — because they believe the past has no meaning, no importance, no relevance to today or the future. They are in constant search of something new, something shiny, something exciting that will give them their next reason to get up in the morning because, well, yesterday is past and boring. They believe that Macedonia must abase itself before the altars of others — primarily its neighbors — and that Macedonia must deny itself so that its neighbors will “graciously allow” Macedonia to join them in their clubs because, after all, GDP is the only thing that matters in life. And of course they believe that they are morally superior to those Macedonians who insist on retaining their identity, their history, their culture, their language, and much more. Again, this is a very small group but they have an outsized amount of power, for now.

On the other hand, there is a very large group, often silent in my opinion, who believe passionately in Macedonia, its unique history, language, culture, and faith who value the past and want to preserve it for the future. They put a priority on Macedonia being — and remaining — Macedonia and are rightly angry at the attempts of others to try to twist Macedonia into something it is not. While they recognize that change must occur in life, they do not believe that change which has the potential to destabilize or potentially destroy Macedonia is worth it. In this, they understand that if the Macedonian identity is constantly weakened, then the very stability of the Macedonian state — the homeland of the Macedonians — is under threat.

These Macedonians recognize that of course mistakes and missteps have been made in the past, and that, from time to time, perhaps wrong directions have been pursued, and that, yes, living on the Balkan Peninsula many countries and people share, to one degree or another, many things; ajvar, for example. But they also know that over the centuries, a Macedonian past, a Macedonian culture, and a Macedonian language — among other Macedonian things and attributes — have been forged in the fires of time, hardship, and sacrifice, to become uniquely Macedonian. And that is of vital importance to them. And they want to pass that down to their children, grandchildren, and generations of Macedonians yet to be born.

Macedonians can and should have a debate about the steps to take going forward as a people, and as a country, but when those paths are not agreed to by a broad swath of the community and when there is not a general consensus on such things, especially the really big things, then Macedonians should pause, take stock of what is at stake, and reflect on what it means to force through and demand monumental changes that much of society doesn’t want. Unfortunately, this has not been the case over the past three years and so, Macedonians are divided.

If Macedonians are divided, is there any one thing that can, perhaps, unite them?

In my opinion, the most important thing that should unite Macedonians is gratitude — gratitude for what has been accomplished in the past and built on that has brought us to the present. Gratitude for the men and women who sacrificed in the past, and not just the heroes and heroines of the Ilinden Uprising who fought and sacrificed for Macedonia and nothing else; Macedonians known and unknown, who have recognized that what they were striving for, fighting for, working for was for a place to call home, a land where Macedonians could raise their families and say, “This is our homeland.”

Gratitude is what should unite Macedonians.

Remember this: if you are not grateful for something, you don’t value it. And if you don’t value it, you tend to ignore it, forget about it, and search after other things. And then it is gone. Gone because it was overcome or destroyed by something else, gone because it was eroded to the point of being nonexistent, gone because….it was not loved.

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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