- CULTURAL CRISIS IN MACEDONIA - expert says
interview with Dr Ico Najdovski-Perin about the crisis in Macedonia.
Dr Najdovski-Perin hosts the influential Macedonian language program on 3ZZZ ethnic radio in Melbourne. He is known for his no-holds barred views and is the Australian-Macedonian version of Melbourne radio broadcaster Neil Mitchell.
He has Bachelor and Masters degrees from Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia and a PhD in history from the St Cyril and Methodius University (UKiM) in Skopje, the Republic of Macedonia and authored a number of books on the Australian-Macedonian community. He was born and raised in Macedonia before emigrating to Australia in the mid 1980s. He has spent half his life in both countries and regularly travels to the Balkans region to keep up to date with political developments.
Question 1: Your thoughts on the political situation in the Balkans, especially the political crisis in Macedonia and human rights issues as a whole? And your thoughts on the role of the European Union. Overall, has the EU's behaviour towards Macedonia been hypocritical?
Dr Najdovski-Perin: The Republic of Macedonia is in a very deep political crisis and how that crisis will play out, only God knows! We know today Macedonia hasn’t got a government; there is a caretaker government established under instructions from the United States and European Union. Besides the political crises we know Macedonia has deep ethnic problems with the Albanian minority, and an element within its leadership which wants to federalise Macedonia and in the near future and probably proclaim an independent Albanian state called "Ilirida".
I think the problem in Macedonia lies with the Macedonian people; they still cannot accept the fact that Yugoslavia does not exist anymore. The majority of the population is pro-Yugoslav nostalgic or pro-Serbian, including the Macedonian media and, some of them are pro-Bulgarian.
For example, for the 2016 New Year's Eve celebrations most of the Macedonian television stations broadcast hours and hours and hours of Serbian music and entertainment. It has got to a point where the local Macedonian entertainment and music industries are being deliberately killed off by a handful of powerful people, who have a financial interest in Serbian turbo-folk, and local Macedonian musicians are out of work and can't feed their families. Some are then forced to perform in Serbian in order to put food on the table and feed their families. Shameful. Very shameful.
On the other hand there are a number of ethnic Macedonians have made the cynical choice to obtain Bulgarian passports, because Bulgaria is a member of the European Union. This is a deliberately and clever ploy by Sofia to gradually "Bulgarianise" Macedonians.
Regarding human rights in The Republic of Macedonia I think there is a double standard. Activists in the republic have never ever raised questions about the human rights of the Macedonians in the neighbouring countries-Greece, Bulgaria, Albania or the ethnic Macedonians in Macedonia who were displaced during the ethnic Albanian uprising / war in Macedonia in 2001. However, these activists, have brought up the issue about a corrupt, so called, ”Archbishop” Jovan - Zoran Vraniskovski, a fanatical pro-Serb nationalist priest in Macedonia who is openly funded by the nominally secular Republic of Serbia to destabilise Macedonia.
The role of the European Union is hypocritical. The leading countries of the EU have the same political and territorial strategies about Macedonia and its people as its predecessors did - going back to the Berlin Congress of 1878.
Also in 1878 was the “Prizren League” which called for the creation of a Greater Albania. Today we can still see the double standard of those countries and implementation of the resolutions of the Berlin Congress and later the Bucharest Congress of 1913 when Macedonia was physically partitioned. In recent times the EU, created and recognised Kosovo as an independent country and, on the other hand, it doesn’t recognise Macedonia under its constitutional name because of EU member Greece's veto.
One of the issues which does unite both Macedonians and Albanians is the genuine fear of domination by Belgrade and Sofia. Rather than focus upon that to unite both Macedonians and Albanians, the scenario by both the Left and Right in Macedonia is to deliberately provoke a "fight" between Macedonians and Albanians whilst keeping Belgrade's or Sofia's hands "clean." This also plays into the hands of Albanian nationalists. So it becomes a vicious cycle which then feeds upon itself.
Question 2. In Australia amongst the Macedonian community, in the early 1990s you had a kind of “consensus” between supporters of the two major political parties VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM. That consensus has now disappeared in Australia. Why is that? The community is divided.
Dr Najdovski-Perin: In the 1990s we had established common national goals - an independent country. The Macedonian Community in Australia fought for years and years against the intelligence services of Yugoslavia, Greece and Bulgaria. We had a number of demonstrations in front of the Yugoslav, Greek and Bulgarian Embassies or Consulates which kept us together and strong. Also, we had built strong national feelings through the culture, traditions and the Macedonian language.
The elite in Macedonia deliberately portray Macedonians in Australia as “extremists” even though not one Australian-Macedonian ever committed an act of terrorism on Macedonian soil, unlike say Ali Ahmeti. Nor did Australian-Macedonians ever bomb Yugoslav, Greek, Bulgaria or Albanian Embassies in Australia. It was both the Yugoslav and Greek secret police which threatened violence or death towards Macedonians in Australia during the 1970s and 80s.
No Australian-Macedonians are fighting in Iraq and Syria for ISIS. However, there are growing numbers of Kosovar Albanians and Albanians in The Republic of Macedonia who are fighting for ISIS. The question is when they return will they buy the European “utopia” that is being pushed by Brussels? These people will pose a threat to both the Albanian community as well as Macedonians and the West in general. So it seems strange that the Macedonian diaspora is being unfairly demonised.
In the Kosovo War in 1999 and in the ethnic Albanian uprising in Macedonia in 2001, a large body of fighters came from the Albanian diaspora. These are indisputable facts.
Question 3. The current crop of “human rights activists” in the Republic of Macedonia seem to have some puzzling or confusing or contradictory views - for instance they confuse Belgrade urban Serb culture or former Yugoslavist culture with internationalism, but with a slight Western veneer on top for public consumption. For instance, one 'activist" defends an ultra Serb nationalist priest in Macedonia, Zoran Vraniskovski, who is being openly funded by Belgrade to destabilise Macedonia and whilst another activist strangely calls ultra nationalist Serb journalists as “respected colleague (poshtovane kolega)” and incites people to violence by using swear words on Twitter.
Many of these people who now claim to be human rights activists were no where to be seen back in the 1980s. For instance, they never complained to Amnesty International or the United Nations or Helsinki Committee over the illegal imprisonment of Macedonian dissident Dragan Bogdanovski. None of these people ever visited Bogdanovski in jail or brought him food.
Some of the views of these "human rights activists" such as their Yugoslavist nostalgia is deeply authoritarian as SFR Yugoslavia was a one party state and opposition parties where banned in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Are you concerned at the inconsistency?
Dr Najdovski-Perin: I said this in my previous answer that the majority of the Macedonians are pro-Yugoslav or pro-Serbian and Bulgarian. They have been flooded through the media with Serbian music every day. The culmination of this was on the eve of 2016 when four Macedonian national television stations broadcast only in Serbian; a person would think that they were living in Serbia.
In terms of those so called human rights activists in Macedonia I think either they are very misguided or they don’t know their tasks very well. It’s not possible to be more concerned about Zoran Vraniskovski, Ali Ahmeti [Albanian nationalist politician who started the war in Macedonia in 2001], Serb nationalists Vojislav Seselj, Draza Mihajlovic, Marshal Tito, Albanian nationalist Hasan Prishtina and many more foreign people than say the Macedonians such as political dissidents Dragan Bogdanovski, Blagoja Shambevski, ex Army General Vasko Karangelevski killed in mysterious circumstances in 1977, political leader Metodija Andonov – Cento imprisoned on false charges in 1946 by the Tito regime in Yugoslavia, and more recently Macedonian Priest, the Archimandrite Nikodim Carknjas from S’btsko Aegean Macedonia, the Macedonian minority in Albania (Golo Brdo and Gora), the Macedonians in Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia), the Macedonians in Greece and the Macedonians in Serbia who are not even allowed to worship in the Macedonian language. In Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece there is not even a single church where the Macedonians can have their services. It seems the human rights activists are more interested about their own lifestyle and future prospects than about people who had suffered or still are suffering because of their national identity.
4. Do you think it strange that neither the Macedonian government or opposition, including human rights activists or Macedonian patriots condemned the 14 May 2015 decision by the Serbian High Court to officially rehabilitate ultra Serb nationalist leader Draza Mihailovic who was anti Macedonian?
Recently, the Macedonian Foreign Ministry reacted to the provocative nationalist posturing of Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic over a controversial road sign. There was silence from Macedonia's normally very loud human rights activists.
In your opinion, why does Serb cultural hegemony get a free pass in Macedonia? Are you concerned by Macedonian Opposition party, SDSM, consulting a controversial Serbian Public Relations firm, Ruskin & Hunt or the fact that the Macedonian government has handed a large chunk of media ownership to a foreign citizen, Serb-American businessman Veselin Jevrosimovic?
Dr Najdovski-Perin: I am not surprised at this behaviour from both the ruling party and from the opposition. They refuse to see the obvious - which anyone can see from outside the country.
Instead of condemning the Serbian High Court decision, or the road sign in Serbia where Macedonia is presented as the insulting FYROM, there is strengthening of the Serbian culture in Macedonia. I think the mentality and the political connections have not change much since Macedonia became independent from Yugoslavia. On Macedonian national Day “Ilinden” they have “popular” singers from Serbia such as Ceca Raznjatovic – Arkan, Miroslav Ilic, Saban Saulic, Lepa Brena etc singing.
Question 5. Likewise, many current Macedonian “patriots” were no where to be seen in the 1980s. Why do you think that is?
Dr Najdovski-Perin: When we were fighting for the Macedonian cause in Europe, Australia, US and Canada the Macedonian “patriots” had a luxurious cafe life within Yugoslavia which was financially supported by the West. They never thought that one day they would live independently. Having an independent country is a very difficult task. These young and inexperienced Macedonian politicians have no idea how to run a country nor understand vital strategic national interests.
Question 6. Why do you see the need to defend Macedonian national identity and the name?
Dr Najdovski-Perin: Macedonian politicians proved themselves incapable of governing an independent Macedonia. They failed to register Macedonia in the UN in 1991, in 1995 the Constitution and the national flag were changed in order to satisfied Greece, the war broke out in 2001; the absurd push to celebrate our national history with Bulgaria, opening joint diplomatic missions with Serbia etc…All these of crazy moves telling us we have to monitor every decision made by Macedonian governments towards changing the name. I am afraid of having a referendum in Macedonia where the name will be in the hands of those who have no feeling towards Macedonian identity. Some are more Internationalist than Macedonian, which in effect means they are de-facto Belgraders or Serbs, as they seem to confuse both. Also, the Albanian nationalist bloc would not be defending Macedonia’s name. It’s probably why the diaspora will be kept out of the decision making process, even though the authorities in Skopje, arrogantly and hypocritically interfere in the affairs of the Macedonian community in Australia; and are happy to take the money coming into the country from the diaspora.
Simply put if Macedonia changes its name, Macedonian identity is finished. It’s what Greece wants.
Question 7. Why is that Macedonia's cultural and ruling political classes remain largely silent on the rights of Macedonians in Greece, Bulgaria and Albania?
Dr Najdovski-Perin: Why? It remains a mystery. The elite doesn’t know the power and help it can get from the Macedonians in Greece, Bulgaria and Albania as a counter-balance.
Secondly, there still is prejudice and the underestimation of the abilities of ethnic Macedonians in the neighbouring counties. It's a continuation of the Yugoslavist era pushed by Belgrade. The elite needs to learn from the Jewish, Irish, Albanian and other activists in bringing and uniting people together.
Question 8. Are you alarmed at the creeping Bulgarianisation of Macedonian history; the rehabilitation of controversial figures such as Todor Alexandrov and the deliberate downplaying of Macedonia's partizan resistance during World War II ? Are you concerned at the deliberate sidelining of prominent Macedonian historian Dr Theodore (Todor) Chepreganov by Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in favour of the late Dr Zoran Todorovski, the Director of the National Archive of Macedonia, who played a leading role in the rehabilitation of Alexandrov?
Dr Najdovski-Perin: The Bulgarianisation of Macedonian history already started with meetings between Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MANU) and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAN) and joint church services at the highest level. This trend will not stop, it will continue in the future - celebrating as "one nation in two countries."
The controversial figure Todor Aleksandrov was rehabilitated from the then Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgievski and the Macedonian Orthodox Primate Archbishop Stephen (Stefan). The rehabilitation was more secret than public. This proves that Todor Aleksandrov was and is a controversial figure in Macedonian history. During the Second World War in Macedonia there where no Partizan resistance brigades named after him. The brigades were named with popular leaders from the “Ilinden Uprising of 1903”. ie Goce Delcev, Dame Gruev and so on.
The idea to rehabilitate Todor Aleksandrov, who was pro-Bulgarian, marked the beginning of one nation, one history in two countries concept. The late Director of the Macedonian Archives, Dr Zoran Todorovski, according to a number of workers employed in the Archives, falsified the original documents bought from the Bulgarian Archives to the Macedonian Archives.. If Todor Aleksandrov is not controversial than why there is no place for him in Skopje next to Goce Delcev, Dame Gruev, Pitu Guli, Cento and many others? His monument in Skopje was erected in secrecy and without his name because the authorities did not know what kind of reaction there would be.
We have seen the predatory behaviour of two Bulgarian ultra nationalist politicians, Kressimir Karakachanov and Angel Djambaski allowed to spread their nasty propaganda in Macedonia without any kind of intellectual response from the Macedonian government or opposition to counter some of the false views of Macedonian history and to whitewash Bulgaria’s role in the Jewish holocaust in Macedonia during the Second World War.
Question 9. Are you concerned at the “tribalisation” of Macedonian politics into two warring camps: VMRO-DMPNE and SDSM? If you criticise VMRO-DPMNE you get accused of being a spy for SDSM or if you criticise SDSM you get accused of being a spy for VMRO-DPMNE. In effect, any form of party neutrality is thrown out the window
Dr Najdovski-Perin: Very good question! If one would go visit Macedonia right now, especially Macedonians who live abroad, you are immediately forced to take the neutral corner. You cannot have an independent opinion or you will be labelled as a spy or someone who works for other countries' interests. Today we have more political parties members than during the Communist era 1945-1991 in Macedonia. The Macedonians of today are divided like two “tribes” or like two groups of rivalry soccer fans. Our people have a tendency to build cults glorifying their party political leaders than to fight for their rights and for better future. These “leaders” do not bring democracy. We have seen it in the past and we should know by now that the power is in their hands and not in the hands of the members of those political parties
Question 10. What are your thoughts of the nasty name calling and divisive use of the term “egejizacija” (ethnic Macedonians from the Aegean region which is now in present day Greece) as a pejorative? Opponents of Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski have used this term as an attack on him. In a democracy criticising any politician, including Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, should be encouraged but is it fair to tar a whole group with the same brush over one individual? For instance would you use the racist term “Africanisation” to target an Afro-American politician, senator, president etc.? On the subject of stereotyping, why is that Macedonia’s cultural elite, both on the left and right can’t relate to Macedonians outside the capital city, Skopje? Why is there an obsession with status, titles, degrees, positions etc?
For instance, ex Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska’s patronising comments about ethnic Macedonians in Mala Prespa, Albania and journalist Olivera Trajkovska’s disparaging comments about Opposition leader Zoran Zaev’s provincial city background..
Dr Najdovski-Perin: I will not comment on this as it is ridiculous and insulting talking about “egeizacija”. We are all Macedonians and I would like to advise our people not to mention this term “egeizacija’ in the future.
The second part of your question is about Skopjanisation of Macedonia which is a deliberate show of “superiority" over the other Macedonians from the small cities and villages. We know the consequences of Skopjanisation. It's noticeable in the way they, elite members, speak, read and write. The accent of the Macedonian standard language has been changed. It's noticeable even you watch television, listen to a radio or just very day simple conversation. This is changing our culture and traditions silently and slowly.
Question 11. Why do educated Macedonians from the capital city, Skopje, deliberately use the term "u" instead of "vo?" "U" could be construed as insulting or chauvinistic to a number of Macedonians who don't use "U." To give you an Australian analogy, no one uses the term "mankind" because it excludes women. The term "humankind" is used, likewise "spokesperson" is used as a generic term rather than "spokesman."
Dr Ico Najdovski-Perin: The influence of the Serbian language in Skopje is heavily visible and is used to demonstrate "cultural superiority” over other Macedonians. However, there many regions in ethnic Macedonia where “u’ is used instead of “vo”.
Question 12. Your thoughts on the Albanian nationalist bloc in Macedonia? Federalisation?
Dr Najdovski-Perin: Very short, the Albanian nationalist block has fulfilled the resolution from the “Prizren League of 1878”. They know the Albanian nationalist red line. Macedonia since 2004 is practically cantonised. It is a matter of time when they will put an ultimatum for federalisation of Macedonia. Even today they act like a separate Government led by Ali Ahmeti. Recently he visited Greece to negotiate our national name – Macedonia. It is absurd for him not to be reprimanded by the Government of Macedonia or the Parliament of Macedonia.
Even the Albanian people in Macedonia have been fooled into believing the extremist nationalist agenda pushed by the likes of Ali Ahmeti. It’s deliberately fanning divisions between Albanians and Macedonians and also further provoked by outside forces. It doesn’t help when the Macedonian media and elite buy into the nationalistic rhetoric from the Serbian tabloid media. It feeds the problem. Not solves it.
It was ex-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who said that an independent Kosovo would lead to the annexation of Western Macedonia, where this a large ethnic Albanian grouping. But this would be disguised as a “fight for civil rights.” We saw the 1999 war in Kosovo and two years later, elements from Kosovo invaded Macedonia. Then came the Ohrid Framework Agreement, pushed by the West, as a kind of settlement but instead has set Macedonia upon the path of federalisation. If Federalisation happens, that is there is an “Albanian Republic within a Federal Macedonia, Macedonia is finished as a nation-state. Whatever is left will out of desperation gravitate towards Serbia or Bulgaria, perhaps even Greece.
Greece has played a very large part in the destabilisation of Macedonia by blocking Macedonia's membership of the European Union and NATO. Greece has time on its side. It can just wait until Macedonia falls apart - though Greece’s own economic stability is shaky.
- ETHNOS-DEMOS: failed 1970s naive utopian social theory pushed in Macedonia ? -
Question 13. Why is Macedonian academic “Professor Doctor" Biljana Vankovska Phd (UKiM) fanatically obsessed with a failed 1970s utopian social theory called "ethos-demos" in Macedonia? The theory is that by stripping Macedonians of their ethnic identity, "utopia" will reign in Macedonia. But we have seen in the West where young people have been radicalised and joined the ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), where "ethnos-demos" has clearly failed. We saw in Yugoslavia, a kind of ethnos-demos also failed with Vladimir Gligorov, the son of Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, and Bobby Despotovski an "international" soccer player of Macedonian background, both embraced a Serbian identity, not an internationalist one. In Despotovski’s case, he was raised in the Yugoslavist diversity quilt showpiece of Vojvodina and instead of becoming an “internationalist” as it was naively intended, he became a hardcore Serbian nationalist who almost provoked a riot at a soccer match in Australia in 2001 making a political gesture. It was more an issue of Strong Identity, Soft Identity.
Dr Najdovski-Perin: We cannot today rely on “ethnos-demos” when we see the European Union member states are, hypocritically, building fences to protect their countries from the migrants who are coming from Middle East and Africa and holding moral lectures. Today we need to have a strong Macedonian identity in order to protect ourselves and our country called Macedonia.