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.