Whose Macedonia?

A few days ago I went to a party of a friend who was celebrating his Master’s study graduation and encountered a very interesting argument between a Bulgarian friend of mine and a Macedonian girl. Basically as soon as my Bulgarian friend knew the girl is from Macedonia, he started to question her about their ethnic identity. “So you are from Macedonia, then you are Bulgarian.” The girl reacted in such a shocking way that she couldn’t even wait and cut off my friend, “No, I am Macedonian.” And the most shocking sentences I heard at the time as an observer is when she started to explain her Macedonian identity, “The Macedonia, you know Alexander the Great? I am not Bulgarian.” The first part was like a thunderbolt, suddenly caught my full attention in their argument. I bet if there were any Greeks heard this at that time, it would be a tornado to them. But the presence of my Bulgarian friend was enough to ignite the tension to a much higher level, “You said you are related to Greeks?!  How dare you betray your roots? What language do you speak, do you use Cyrillic or Greek alphabets?!” My friend was raising his tone to a new level and then started talking in I-assume-Bulgarian in front of her. But that girl is just as stubborn and angry as him, “No, I speak Macedonian and I am from Macedonia, a great nation!” At the same time my friend also couldn’t wait for her to finish, “You are Bulgarian, even if you said you are Macedonian, no way Alexander the Great is related to you. Greeks won’t even call you Macedonia, wake up and face your own roots!” Apparently both sides got provoked all of sudden to a level where you could even smell the outbreak of the Third Balkan war. Luckily more friends started to notice the unwanted tension in the party and pulled apart both sides. Just like any other Balkan identity discussion, this one ended abruptly with both sides got unconvinced and pretty much pissed (luckily this one didn’t escalate into anything physical like many of the similar arguing).

Balkan, Balkan, Balkan. This was not the first time I witnessed such high tension in the middle of a casual conversation about Balkan. I’ve seen friends who got extremely upset and angry on the surge of Montenegrin nationalism, and and I have helped one time to pull my friend from a potential bar fight over Serbian and Kosovo Albanian. I have also overheard very unpleasant conversation regarding Greek Macedonian and Bulgarian Macedonian (between a Greek and a Bulgarian). And now this. Over so many times whenever I (a Chinese, not even remotely related to Balkan) intended to intervene and flaunt my smug dilettantism about the Balkan region to my Balkan friends, a slice political incorrectness would drag me down to the no-man’s-land, SHOOT ON SITE at any time…

And most of the time they are right about their own history. As an outsider I do have little clue about what’s going on in the Balkan peninsula. So I start reading about their history, their struggle, their anger, and their pain. One couldn’t possibly grasp the messiness of Balkan history, but what I could understand from my increasing understanding of that particular region is, the existence of any ethnic, sectarian, and civil conflict could never be simplified as the good vs evil. Most of the times perpetrators and victims could be the same group of people. Having said that, it is simply amazing to see the level of resentment in between different groups of people over the place. I am really interested to see how European Union would unite this part of Europe, where European culture stems from.

By the way, that Macedonian girl was indeed brainwashed by her government propaganda, modern Macedonians are predominately the descendants of Bulgarians from the first Bulgarian Empire and second Bulgarian Empire (or admixture of Bulgarian and Greeks that assimilated into Bulgarian culture), long after the demise of Greek dominance in the region. Bulgarians took the name of Macedonia from Greeks (while Bulgarian in modern Bulgaria abandon the Greek name of Thrace and use Bulgaria instead). Then Ottoman Turk came and screwed all of the Balkan people. Skirmish persisted in the early 1900s between Greeks and Bulgarians in Macedonia. Then in the first Balkan war Serbia took over and engulfed the territory as part of the former Yugoslavia. Bulgarians were not happy about it. Greeks didn’t like it either. Then second Balkan war broke out, and Bulgaria got served by virtually everything from everywhere. So Macedonia stays in Serbia till the dissolution of former Yugoslavia in 1991. It’s interesting to point out that the rise of Macedonian nationalism is actually quite recent. And indeed those people are quite struggling with their own identity themselves (together with Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgarian’s struggle on Macedonia). So at least in this latest heat debate about Balkan I support my friend and pity the ignorance and pathos of this girl’s Macedonian identity (if she is other ethnic background in Macedonia she would definitely claim her ethnic rather than Macedonian, e.g. Albanian, Turk, or Serb). Sentimentally I would support the unification of Bulgaria and Macedonia, but I don’t like that is ever going to be a realistic option on the diplomatic table.

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8 comments

  1. “Over so many times whenever I (a Chinese, not even remotely related to Balkan) intended to intervene and flaunt my smug dilettantism about the Balkan region to my Balkan friends, a slice political incorrectness would drag me down to the no-man’s-land, shoot on site at any time…”

    I don’t know if you intended it to be, but that was very indicative of what any traveler goes through when dealing with an indigenous population…it was also funny as hell, smug dilettantism my ass…LOL

    “By the way, that Macedonian girl was indeed brainwashed by her government propaganda…”

    Aren’t we all to a point? It’s a struggle to talk to anyone who isn’t aware of the propaganda that surrounds them…and most aren’t…

    Good stuff, you’re keeping me inspired through my vacation…

    1. I remember one time I was in Croatia and literally terrified by all the men in the bar. I was intimidated to talk to the beautiful girls there only because all those damn ultra-built muscles stared at me as if no one should steal their women. And later I witnessed a wedding on an island where people literally shot AK-47 to the sky… War mentality still remains. Their mind clearly profoundly impacted by the recent unpleasant history of Balkan.

    2. “Aren’t we all to a point? It’s a struggle to talk to anyone who isn’t aware of the propaganda that surrounds them…and most aren’t…”

      To a point yea, but the thing is I realized the propaganda of my own government, and could jump outside of the box and look it in a more critical way. It’s a struggle to talk to anyone who isn’t aware of it, but on the same time it’s also a learning process for me to know other perceptions, regardless of right or wrong, and learn about how this works on individual beings.

  2. Let me tell you a joke I know:

    An american and a russian were drinking in a bar. At some point they became a bit tipsy so they started arguing: which is the greater country – USA or Russia. The bartender was just listening to them.
    In the middle of the fight the american looked at the Moon and said “Look at the Moon. It belongs to the USA because we were the first to go there”
    -”What?Are you crazy?”-asked the russian..” WE WERE the FIRST there”
    The bartender, who happened to be macedonian, looked at the Moon and mumbled:
    “Ahhh Moon, land of Macedonia, we shall also fight for you as I see”…..

    I think this says it all :)

  3. OK Simon and u Martina.I’m Bulgarian( Martina could be as well) with a lot of Macedonians friends. So my talk is me and a friend of mine(Macedonian) weare r joking all the time about the same topic. He is telling me all the Bulgarians are Macedonians and my answer is: all the Macedonians are Greeks.Its a never ending storry, but during our conversations( with the same friend) he told me:” Ok Greeks are telling Macedonia is ours, Bulgarians are saying Macedonia is ours, so what? Look at the map. Is it there a country called Macedonia.There is, so end of the story.”And he is right.We all go back in the history trying to make the past a ID card for our present.Thats not gonna happen.What it was it what it was.Me as a Bulgarian can feel only sorry about one thing.That thing is Ohrid.Nothing else. Wont to congratulate all The Macedonians with the biggest statue of Alexander the Greatest and the “wise” spended money (9 million eouros) of our goverment.They really know how to piss off the Greeks in the “cheapest” way possible:))))))).

  4. Dimitar, you are right, I am Bulgarian and that is why I have a special opinion on the topic. First of all, I would like to make it clear that I do respect Macedonia’s identity and independence. I am not even thinking of convincing the people there that they are Bulgarians or Greeks. They are Macedonians and that is more than obvious.

    The problem for me is that we want them to accept their past, to agree that we have common roots. But Macedonians are trying to control our present – according to them Dilma Rouseff and Dimitar Berbatov are Macedonians, Bulgaria is a part of Macedonia. Isnt it a brainwash?

    Bulgarians have never denied their past and this is the only thing we want from our “brothers” (as you know we call every Macedonian). :) I am sure you agree with me, brother ;)

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