broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the tag “Macedonia”

Anxious Adventuring: Balkan Dogs

balkan

Anxious Adventuring: Balkan Dogs

H. Bradford

5/23/19


While many places in the world have stray dog populations, it seems that Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia had more stray dogs that other places that I have visited.  These stray dogs, with tags in their ears, would laze about in the shade of statues or sniff the pavement in search of scraps. While there were many of them, nothing about them seemed threatening or worth noting.  I didn’t bother taking any photos of them, as I didn’t think that they would play any role in my travel memories. I regret this, as I wish I had photo evidence of the mangy mayhem I experienced. They were simply canine background characters in my adventures.  Even after a few guides warned me about them, I didn’t really think much about the warning. I thought that the guides were being overprotective or over concerned. I was wrong. This guy is finishing up an ice cream cone someone bought him

A dog eating an ice cream cone in Skopje: Image from: http://www.presentlynavigatinglife.com/skopje


My first warning about the Skopje dogs came from the leader of a walking tour.  As the group of walkers wandered around the statues of Macedonia Square, she casually cautioned that several people had been attacked by dogs in Skopje.  At the time, I wasn’t particularly concerned since the dogs seemed mostly disinterested in people. They meandered around the statues, minding their own business for the most part.  However, the threat is real.  While I don’t know the full extent of this problem, I did find a reference to a 67 year old man who was attacked by a dog in December, 2018 while walking in a park.  A 55 year old woman was attacked in October, 2018 while walking downtown.  Earlier in the year, a 17 year old girl had drowned in the Vardar River in the city of Gostivar while trying to escape a pack of dogs (A man and a woman attacked by wild dogs in Skopje, 2018).  In the town of Kicevo, about 112 KM from Skopje in western Macedonia, a four year old boy was killed by stray dogs in 2017.  His death unleashed a wave of vigilante poisonings of stray dogs, which prompted concerned animal rights activists to protest (Hundreds of protesters gathered to fight a spate of mysterious stray dog poisonings in Macedonia, 2017).  In 2018, over 1,000 bite incidents were reported in Skopje alone (Macedonia pledges action after girl drowns fleeing dog pack, 2018). While I could not find more recent data, the 2014 stray dog population of Skopje was estimated to be between 2000- 2400 animals. The 2014 population was down 25% from 2010, which may be due to efforts to euthanize or spay/neuter animals (Terzievski, 2014).


A man and a woman attacked by wild dogs in Skopje

Image from: https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/a-man-and-a-woman-attacked-by-wild-dogs-in-skopje/


My second warning regarding Macedonian dogs occurred on the way to Lake Ohrid at a stop at the sunken Church of Saint Nikolas.  The church was partially submerged in Lake Mavrovo and was abandoned to the lake after the construction of the Radika Dam in 1953.   This time, a guide warned of a dangerous dog that lived along the shore.   A muscular, black Rottweiler snoozed in some soft grass, but hardly looked like a threat.  I remained skeptical that the dogs were the problem that the guides were making them out to be.   It seemed like the sort of things that tourists were warned against by guides who were trying to show concern and be good hosts.  Later, I asked another guide why exactly there were so many stray dogs.  That particular guide was a dog enthusiast who owned several pets and who had once entered his pet dogs in shows.  He was happy to speak about the topic, and blamed the dog problem on irresponsible owners who released their pets to the street once they could no longer care for them.  This story matches the narrative of a Veterinary blog which also blames the problem on pet owners, but also that pet owners do not know proper pet care before buying a pet. The blog also blames the government, which does not enforce laws which fine pet owners for abandoning their pets and that Skopje only has one animal shelter.  Vardarishte, the only shelter in the capital, is a kill shelter that euthanizes the animals if they are not adopted in two weeks. Conditions in the shelter are poor, with 5-6 dogs kenneled together in unhygienic conditions.   The shelter also tags, vaccinates, and neuters animals for release.  Animal rights activists have organized against the conditions of Vardarishte and for control of their own animal shelter (The stray dogs in Skopje, Macedonia, 2018).  In April 2019, the shelter closed for 30 days after failing an inspection.  The shelter put a moratorium on capturing stray dogs while they were closed, taking in only dogs that had bitten someone (Main Skopje animal shelter closed for 30 days, 2019).  It should be noted that North Macedonia is not a wealthy country, so dealing with the stray dog problem may be beyond the budget priorities of the government.  Appropriate pet care may also be challenged by an unemployment rate of about 18-20% in late 2018 and the average monthly salary in 2017 was under $450.


Main Skopje animal shelter closed for 30 days: stray dogs will be left on the streets until they attack somebody Retrieved from https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/main-skopje-animal-shelter-closed-for-30-days-stray-dogs-will-be-left-on-the-streets-until-they-attack-somebody/


Despite the warnings about dogs, I really didn’t think much of them until the morning that I left Skopje.  I didn’t want to spend money on an expensive taxi to the airport and instead decided to take the airport bus.  However, my hostel was about 2 KM from the nearest airport bus stop. I didn’t think that walking a little over a mile before 6am was too big of a hassle, especially if it saved me over $20.  So, I set out with my bags into the early morning, determined to save some money and take a few photos of Macedonia Square. All was well until I arrived in the square, where dogs were still quietly snoozing.  It was a lovely morning and all very enjoyable until the sound of my small rolling suitcase awoke the dogs from their sleep. As I moved along, I was suddenly followed by an amassing pack of hungry dogs. The pitiful animals that had moved about the statues and tourists by day, now suddenly seemed far more menacing.  More joined them. They snapped and growled at each other. One nipped at my hand. The parade of dogs behind me and beside me might have been comical, except that I was alone and they were markedly unfriendly. I wanted to take a few final photos, but instead, I kept my face ahead, focused on the path along the Vardar river.  I passed by shops and cafes, where more dogs awoke from their slumber on the sidewalk. I moved head, dogs all around me. I ignored them, keeping a brisk and determined pace, but not daring to look at them lest they attack. In my head, I wondered what I would do if they attacked. A shaggy golden retriever looking dog seemed to be the head of the pack.  That was the one that snapped at my hand and growled the most at the others. I thought that if one dog made any sort of attack, they might start fighting each other in the chaos or commotion. I thought about kicking them or if I could swing my suitcase at them if they attacked. I hoped that maybe another human would appear and draw some of the dogs away.  But, no one else materialized and all of the shops were closed.


In the end, I arrived at the bus stop.  I loathed the idea of waiting there with a pack of dogs, but once I arrived at the bus stop, the dogs actually dispersed.  There was enough trash in the weeds and adjacent parking lot that the dogs could scout out their breakfast. I was no longer of any concern to them.   The whole thing seems rather unbelievable. It seems bizarre. But, in the moment it was very real and scary. I really thought that I was going to be attacked by dogs and that I might have to fight them.  It also changed how I felt about dogs. While those dogs had likely been pets at one time, in that moment, they acted like wild animals. They were not friendly pets or “dogs” in the way that I had always imagined and thought of dogs.  In the absence of human companionship and regular food, they behaved like unfamiliar predators. So, the gauntlet of dogs remains a scary memory, but in the end, nothing bad happened. An important lesson is that I should not have been as skeptical about the threat of dogs.  Thankfully, I wasn’t attacked, though in retrospect, I am not sure if I would have changed anything other than to try to be more prepared.


To avoid incidents with dogs, the CDC recommends never running from dogs, staying calm, avoiding loud noises, avoiding directly facing the dog, keeping a purse or bag between yourself and the animal, and curling up into a ball while protecting your ears and neck with your hands if attacked (Preventing dog attacks, n.d).  Other tips include avoiding eye contact with the dog, standing still in the face of unfamiliar dogs, telling the dog to go away in a commanding voice, and giving the animal a jacket or shirt to chew on if they attack (Cicetti, 2010).  In the United States, 60% of people attacked by dogs are children, followed by elderly people.  Each year, 800,000 people seek medical care from dog bites, so the threat of dogs is not simply a Macedonian problem (Cicetti, 2010). A 52 year old woman from Dallas was mauled to death by dogs and suffered over 100 bites.  There are 8700 stray dogs in South Dallas, which is more than four times the estimate for Skopje.  Rabies vaccinations are recommended for tourists to Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Slovenia and Turkey. Rabies is almost 100% fatal in humans (Problems Posed By Stray Dogs or Street Dogs Include Attacks and Bites, 2017).  However, the vaccine is expensive. I had asked for a rabies vaccination, but was told that it was over $3000 and that it was better for me to simply avoid animals. Getting a rabies vaccine is certainly a good preventative measure, if a person has the money for it! Though, the largest carrier of rabies in the Balkans are foxes, so the threat of rabid dogs may not be that high, especially since many stray dogs are vaccinated and tagged.  Tourists could avoid problems by getting vaccinated, listening to the advice of guides, not walking alone (as I had), spending more money on a taxi rather than walking at strange hours, and following some of the advice offered by the CDC.  I was fortunate that nothing bad happened, but I think it is something that tourists should take seriously.

The stray dogs in Skopje, Macedonia

From: https://iloveveterinary.com/blog/the-stray-dogs-in-skopje-macedonia/


 

Sources:

A man and a woman attacked by wild dogs in Skopje. (2018, December 24). Retrieved from https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/a-man-and-a-woman-attacked-by-wild-dogs-in-skopje

Cicetti, F. (2010, August 30). How to Avoid Being Attacked By a Dog. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/8525-avoid-attacked-dog.html

Hundreds of protesters gathered to fight a spate of mysterious stray dog poisonings in Macedonia. (2017, April 10). Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/stray-dog-posionings-macedonia-protest-skopje-animal-welfare-radmila-pesheva-anima-mundi-a7676236.html

Macedonia pledges action after girl drowns fleeing dog pack. (2018, November 06). Retrieved from https://www.apnews.com/766046e998f34c59bb583798fc04d8e1

Main Skopje animal shelter closed for 30 days: Stray dogs will be left on the streets until they attack somebody. (2019, April 06). Retrieved from https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/main-skopje-animal-shelter-closed-for-30-days-stray-dogs-will-be-left-on-the-streets-until-they-attack-somebody/

Preventing Dog Bites | Features | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/dog-bite-prevention/index.html

Problems Posed By Stray Dogs or Street Dogs Include Attacks and Bites. (2017, June 19). Retrieved from https://dogbitesohio.com/problems-posed-by-stray-dogs/

Terzievski, D. (2014, June). PDF. Bucharest: OIE Platform for Animal Welfare In Europe.

https://oldrpawe.oie.int/fileadmin/doc/eng/SDB_1/Country_Report_-_FYR_of_Macedonia.pdf

The stray dogs in Skopje, Macedonia. (2018, November 12). Retrieved from https://iloveveterinary.com/blog/the-stray-dogs-in-skopje-macedonia/

Advertisements

Anxious Adventuring: Nationalist Tour Guide

Anxious Adventuring_ guide

Anxious Adventuring: Nationalist Tour Guide

H. Bradford

10/8/18

While visiting Macedonia I decided to go on a day tour to Lake Ohrid.  It would have been far cheaper to take a public bus, but I had some worries that perhaps the bus would be overbooked or that I would miss the bus back to Skopje.  To make things less stressful, I booked a day tour to Lake Ohrid.  Of course, Macedonia does not have an expansive tourist industry, so most day tours are private tours.  Private tours are expensive, but they make it easier to learn about different historical sights than I would have learned on my own.  Another downside, besides price, is that it can be socially awkward.  After all, it means that the guide is your only company ALL day long.  That is a lot of social pressure on both parties.  Many things could go wrong.  What if the guide is weird?  What if the guide makes me feel unsafe?  What if we simply don’t get along?  I don’t often do private tours because of the price and the social component.  But, it seemed easier than making a mistake using the bus system in an unfamiliar country for a several hour bus ride that at least online was said to be often sold out… so I booked a guide.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, mountain, outdoor, water and nature

Beautiful Lake Ohrid…


I waited anxiously at my hostel for the guide to arrive.  When he arrived, I felt disappointed that it was a man, since it always feels safer to be alone with women.  I wasn’t entirely alone though, since he had a driver with him.  It made me feel tense, as these two men were to be my company for the day.  Oh well.  The guide was nice enough…and handed me some brochures about various Macedonian tourist attractions.  He gave me an overview of how the day would go and we set off towards our first stop, the mouth of the Vardar river.  Along the way, he shared his knowledge of Macedonia, which he was very passionate and knowledgeable about.  Based upon his particular slant on the information he shared, it became clear that he was….very nationalist. Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature

First stop…Vardar River (one of many photos of me that day…)


The guide, who I will call “A.” strongly believed that Macedonia was indeed the homeland of Alexander the Great and that the people of Macedonia, while Slavs, had actually mixed with the ancient Macedonian population.  He substantiated this belief with stories of how some villages continue to conduct group weddings.  He believed that group weddings  were a custom modeled after Alexander the Great’s mass wedding held in Susa wherein marriages were arranged between Alexander and his officers and Persian noblewomen.  This was an interesting theory, though there are many reasons to hold collective weddings (for instance, to save time and to share costs).  He was a strong advocate for a boycott of the referendum, as he felt that if it passed, Greece would have control over street names, statues, books, school curriculum, stadiums, or even outlaw the use of the name Alexander as a given name.  I didn’t quite understand why the referendum would be boycotted rather than simply “vote NO.”  Since the failure of the referendum, I now understand that voter turnout needed to be at least 50% for it to be valid.  To A., the very idea that the matter would be voted upon was insulting.  He felt deeply that not only were Macedonians the inheritors of Alexander the Great’s legacy, Greece had no business telling Macedonia what to do.  This was not framed as an anti-Nato or anti-EU sentiment.  A. also made no indication that he had a pro-Russian political orientation.  His position was, however, a vehemently anti-Greek position.  He spoke about the oppression of Slavic people in Greek Macedonia and believed that the majority of this population still spoke Macedonian (it is unknown how many speakers there are, but in 1951 it was 40,000).  I nodded along to his assertions, but didn’t know what to say when he went on a tirade about how Alexander the Great was not bisexual or gay and this was a myth propagated by Hollywood.  Nationalism, while it has reasonable aspects (yes, Macedonia should have the autonomy to determine its own name and interpretation of history) can also be deeply intolerant, angry, masculine, and homophobic… at least that is the brand of nationalism that I experienced with A.

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor


For my part, I mostly played dumb and asked questions, since that is often the safest way to act out the role of a non-threatening female around angry men.  In any event, I did not want to risk upsetting the person responsible for my safety and transportation.  The day had many awkward moments, as A. had a very pushy personality.  For instance, he insisted that he needed to take my photo at every stop we made.  At churches, rivers, lakes, statues, etc.  I politely told him many times that I was content to have just a few photos of myself, but he pushed to take my photo at every stop, harassing me with compliments about how I looked.  This was uncomfortable, but I lacked any power in the situation to escape this barrage of photos.  I did my best to make polite excuses not to take more photos of myself (usually I have the opposite problem that as a solo traveler I have to ask a stranger for a photo or use the self-timer on my camera).  This was to no avail and a familiar experience.  Consent and boundaries are only dimly understood among most people and part of living and traveling in this world is experiencing situations where these are violated, ignored, or pushed.  Likewise, A. was very devoutly Orthodox.  When we visited two monasteries, he insisted that I drink the water.  I didn’t want to drink the water, since I didn’t trust that it was not going to make me sick (untreated water contains unfamiliar bacteria that he might be used to, but I could get sick from).  He pushed me to drink the water, which he asserted was the purest water in the world.  I took a small sip to appease him and later found myself pretending to drink the water by cupping it in my hand, putting it to my mouth, but letting it slip through my fingers.  When asked about my religious beliefs, I felt it was best to lie- as he was extremely devout in his Orthodoxy.  I told him I was Protestant.  I don’t think I have ever lied about my atheism.  At one point, he told me to light the candles at the monastery.  I am not Orthodox, so I felt uncomfortable, but he was so adamant about it, I lit the candle.  Then, he quizzed me about what it meant.  I had no idea.  He said that the candles are lit because of the sins in the world.  I said something awkward about darkness and suffering, then moved on to ponder the miraculous dripping bone marrow of John the Baptist.

Image may contain: 1 person


Things became less socially intense when we arrived at Lake Ohrid.  I opted to spent some time alone there and enjoyed blissful social isolation as I strolled around the lake looking for birds and taking in the scenery.  At Lake Ohrid, the guide and I parted ways.  I appreciate that he was very candid about his political beliefs and I felt that it had been a unique opportunity to speak with someone with strong nationalist views.  On the other hand, I was relieved to no longer feel pressured for photographs or to sample water or any other thing that had made me feel uncomfortable during the day.  I survived!  The ride back to Skopje was less stressful.  I had an enjoyable conversation with the more politically moderate driver who was pro-EU and pro-NATO.  He was pessimistic about Macedonia’s future and largely indifferent to Greek’s demands, since Macedonia was too weak to resist it and Alexander the Great was not worth celebrating anyway.  The driver felt that Macedonia was a unimportant, doomed nation (so he lacked A.’s zealous confidence in Macedonia’s purpose and history).  It was interesting to hear this perspective, even if it came across as a dreary pro-Western defeatism.  Despite the polar opposite views on Macedonia’s history, both men agreed upon the horrible prospect of “Greater Albania.”  When I spoke to a very progressive guide the following day, she also feared Greater Albania.  So, oddly, that was the tie that bound the political spectrum- fear of Albanian territorial, economic, and population expansion.  I am not sure what to make of that…

Image result for albania flag

My guides often pointed out whenever they saw an Albanian flag…


I think it is both rude and privileged to put down my guide, as he was extremely hard working and passionate about his job.  In a group setting, I probably would have felt far less uncomfortable and anxious.  He was uncomfortably pushy in some regards and it was emotionally exhausting to try to balance politeness (for safety and a smooth day) and resistance (not wanting to drink unknown water, for instance).   I have had experiences like this before while traveling and living, which I have navigated differently depending upon my own perceived power in the situation (which is often little).  In any event, as trying as the day felt at some points, it was an opportunity to see and hear nationalism first hand.  Despite my support of Macedonian self-determination, on a personal level, nationalism feels smothering, assertive, and intolerant.

I am fairly certain that this AP photo by Thanassis Stavrakis of a Macedonian nationalist is a picture of my tour guide….

What’s in a name? Macedonia’s Referendum

What's in a Name_ Macedonia's Referendum

What’s in a Name? Macedonia’s Referendum

H. Bradford

10/7/18


I traveled to Macedonia this past September as a part of a three week trip that took me to several countries.   The trip occurred just ahead of Macedonia’s September 30th referendum to change the country’s name from Republic of Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to North Macedonia (among other things).  It was an interesting time to visit the country, since there were activists campaigning for a boycott of the referendum.  Some of them handed out fliers and others appeared to maintain an encampment near Park Warrior Woman.   On the surface, the referendum seems simple enough, as it asked whether or not Macedonians were in favor of NATO and EU membership by accepting an agreement with Greece.  The Prespa Agreement with Greece entails a name change, but also means that the constitution would have to acknowledge that Macedonians are not related to ancient Macedonians and there would have to be Greek review of maps and textbooks to make certain that that Macedonia did not claim Hellenistic heritage or Greek territory. While I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to many Macedonians on the issue, I did speak to three of them, each of whom had different opinions on the vote.  I also read several books on Macedonian history before the trip, which at least provided some context to the debate.  My opinion is informed by these experiences. Image may contain: one or more people, shoes, tree, sky, crowd and outdoor


Macedonia was one of the six republics of Yugoslavia and among them it was the poorest, with an economy centered upon agriculture.  Within Yugoslavia, Macedonian national identity was promoted through the development of film, theater, music, art, language, etc.  Nationalism was cultivated in such a way as not to promote independence from Yugoslavia or overt territorial ambitions against Greece or Bulgaria in the interest of uniting Macedonians.  The collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991 presented an economic and identity crisis.  In forging a new identity, Macedonia certainly has unique history and language to draw from, as the country is full of ancient Christian churches and monasteries and Macedonian language influenced St. Cyril’s Glagolitic script, the first Slavic alphabet.  Language and orthodoxy are two components of Macedonian national identity, and the Macedonian Orthodox church declared itself autocephalus in 1967.  However, its autonomy is not recognized by the rest of Eastern Orthodoxy.  While these are important parts of Macedonian nationalism, it seems that a great deal of Macedonian nationalism today draws from the ancient history of Alexander the Great, which Greece takes issue with.   And…Macedonia draws from this history to the extreme.  A visit to Skopje feels like a tour of an Alexander the Great theme park, with enormous statues of Alexander the Great, Phillip II, Alex’s mother Olympia, and Greek style buildings.

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor


Most scholars find little continuity between the Macedonia of Alexander the Great and modern Republic of Macedonia.  Alexander the Great was believed to have been born in Pella, in modern Greek Macedonia in 356 BC.  Of course, the division between Greek Macedonia and Republic of Macedonia is a construct of the Ottoman empire, nationalist struggles that aided the empire’s collapse, and borders drawn from the Balkan wars of the early 1900s.  In any event, the Macedonia of Alexander the Great or Phillip II appears to mostly cover Greek Macedonia, with parts of modern day Republic of Macedonia, Albania, and Bulgaria.  I have seen maps that extend this border further north as far as half way up Republic of Macedonia, but this doesn’t really matter as “Macedonia” as a place has encompassed different areas in different times.  The Macedonians today are Slavic people, who settled in the region in the 6th century, nearly 600 years after the death of Alexander the Great.  Therefore, Greeks argue that Republic of Macedonia has appropriated their history.  On the other hand, Alex, a Macedonian I spoke to, believed that Slavic people mixed with the Macedonian population, preserving some of their customs and history.   Macedonia would have experienced invasion from Huns, Visgoths, Vandals, as well as Roman rule prior to Slavs entering the scene.  History is contentious and while Republic of Macedonia is unlikely to be the geographic and cultural inheritor of Alexander the Great’s legacy, all nations are build upon myths and borrowings.

Image result for map of ancient macedonia and modern republic of macedonia

All nations are human constructions.  After all, the Earth, as seen from space, does not have neat little lines delineating borders or handy name tags for rivers, countries, mountains, etc.  These are things that we have named and given meaning to.  In the case of nation states, this is a fairly recent phenomenon of unifying peoples, cultures, languages, and geographical spaces into recognized political units.  This didn’t happen neatly, accidentally, or uniformly.  Africa consists of nations carved out and patched together by European colonizers.   The United States, as a nation, was built by genocide, warfare, slavery, colonization, civil war, imperialism, and also by accompanying and supporting mythologies of manifest destiny, exceptionalism, moral justification, pluralism, and democracy.  And, like much of the West, part of our national mythology draws from Ancient Greece.  We appropriate Greek architecture, as many of our government buildings and statues have Greek themes and columns.   Lighthouses, juries, theater, democracy, our alphabet, the Olympics, math, science, philosophy, art, libraries, etc. are parts of ancient Greek culture that have been widely appropriated by the West.  We created movies and television shows based upon Greek mythology which are often inaccurate or re-imagined for mass audiences.  Yet, Greece does not take issue with all of these borrowings from their history, even when many are likewise not accurate reconstructions of myths, ideas about democracy, architectural styles, etc.  Why Macedonia?  Why Alexander the Great? Image may contain: sky, cloud, bridge and outdoor

A very Greek looking Museum of Archaeology in Skopje…


From a practical standpoint, borrowing from Ancient Greece is so commonplace that much of it probably happens without thought or notice. On the other hand, Greece does not have the means to threaten the United States or most of Europe even if they were to misappropriate ancient Greek history.  For example, there is a replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, which, of course, is even more outrageously ahistorical than any Macedonian claim to Alexander the Great.  Suppose Greece took issue with this.  The United States has the largest GDP in the world, whereas Greece is around 50th.  While Greece spends over 2.3% of its GDP on military (for which it was praised by Trump), this spending (about 9.3 billion dollars) is dwarfed  by the $590 billion spent by the United States on defense each year.  Greece has little economic, political, or military power to challenge most other members of NATO or the EU for any misuse of Greek culture or history.   At the same time, Greece is in a much more powerful position than Macedonia.  Although Macedonia’s government has vowed to increase military spending as it seeks NATO membership, as of 2017 military spending was less than 1% of the GDP at just under 110 million dollars.   In terms of 2015 GDP, Macedonia was the sixth poorest country in Europe, after Moldova, Ukraine, Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia Herzegovina and a 27% unemployment rate.   Greece’s unemployment rate was also around 25% in 2015 and the population has suffered austerity measures and shaky EU membership in the face of a debt crisis that was spurred by the larger global financial crisis of 2008.  Nevertheless, Greece has more political and economic power than Macedonia for a number of reasons including its long established NATO membership (since 1951), EU membership (a part of predecessor organization the European Community since 1981), longer history as an independent country (Macedonia became an independent country in 1991 compared to Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829), larger population and area (population of 10 million versus 2 million in Macedonia), larger and better equipped military, etc.  In short, Greece is much more powerful than Macedonia and therefore far more able to enforce its claims to culture, history, and national identity.

Image may contain: people standing, sky, cloud, shoes and outdoor

Phillip II statue in Skopje…with scenes of Alexander the Great’s life


Since Macedonia’s 1991 independence, Greece has exerted its relative power to thwart Macedonia’s existence as….Macedonia.  In the 1990s, Greece imposed an economic embargo against Macedonia and blocked its UN membership.  In 2008, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s NATO membership and in 2009, its bid for EU membership.  In 1993, Macedonia agreed to the official name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in exchange for UN membership and in 1995, agreed to change the flag by removing the Vergina Sun used as the royal symbol of ancient Macedonia (Gjukovikj, 2018).  This past summer, Greek and Macedonian governments sought to come to an agreement which would pave the way for Macedonia’s NATO membership.  This agreement entailed a name change to North Macedonia,  renouncing any claim to ancient Macedonia history and Greek territory, removal of all public uses of the Vergina sun, recognition of Greece’s territorial integrity (i.e. no territorial claims to Greek Macedonia), committee oversight of textbooks and historical materials, and various articles more generally related to trade, defense, crime, treaty enforcement, etc.  The Prespa agreement can be read here: https://www.thenationalherald.com/204203/the-full-text-of-greece-fyrom-agreement-pdf/


I have a soft spot for Macedonia, as it very much seems like the underdog in this situation.  It is impossible to imagine an outside country setting the terms of how the United States can interpret its history or what symbols we can use on our flag or in our public spaces.  It seems absurd that Macedonia cannot be Macedonia….as if national identity is some sacred truth!  Certainly cultural appropriation is not a small matter, but generally the injustice stems from the powerful appropriating the history and culture of the oppressed.  In this case, Macedonia is the smaller power with less leverage to define itself or maintain an autonomous existence.  While Macedonians certainly appropriate Hellenistic culture to nationalist ends, Greece historically has extinguished and denied Slavic culture in Greek Macedonia.  After Macedonia was divided by Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria in 1913, Greece replaced Slavic geographical and family names in Greek Macedonia with Greek ones and designated the Macedonian population “Bulgarians.”  In 1936, Macedonian language was outlawed in Greece and many Macedonians, who often were also leftists, either fled the country or faced political repression.  In 1951, 40,000 people in Northern Greece still considered themselves Slavophiles despite the decades of repression. No census of Slavic speakers has been conducted since (Karadis, 1994).  As recent as 1994, Human Rights Watch called upon Greece to stop harassment of Slavic speakers and in 1998, the European Court of Human Rights called upon Greece to allow its people free association by granting permission for the formation of Slavic cultural associations (Karatsareas, n.d.).  Greece many not formally recognize what remains of its aging Slavic speaking population, but the assertion of territorial integrity in the Prespa agreement at some level admits that the 1913 borders (which included Greek Macedonia) is contentious.  Why?  Macedonia lacks the military, political, or economic means to challenge Greece’s borders and the Slavic population of Greece Macedonia has been Hellenized to the degree that there is little threat of an independence/unification movement.   It seems that rather than a real Macedonian threat to Greece’s national integrity, this aspect of the agreement is meant to establish that Greece has “won” at history or any debate to the nature of Greece Macedonia’s geographic or cultural makeup is over.


Unfortunately, Macedonia’s right to be Macedonia (i.e. its right to self-determination), is not supported in the West.  While I was visiting Macedonia, Angela Merkel came to Skopje in support of voting yes in the referendum.  NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also visited Skopje that week.  The U.S state department, former president George W. Bush,  U.S. secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and President Trump each encouraged Macedonians to vote yes.  In fact, $8 million was approved by congress to fund a yes vote (Tisdale, 2018).  I imagine that to most people, Macedonia’s path to EU and NATO membership is viewed positively, as becoming closer to the West is blithely viewed as a way to become more prosperous, progressive, globally integrated, or any number of positive things.  But, at what cost?  In this case, the immediate cost is self-determination on even the most basic issue of maintaining the autonomy to choose by what name the country calls itself! Increased military spending is another expected cost.  Of course, this is also part of a larger issue, since the referendum in Macedonia has been framed by Western media as primarily a naming issue!  No big deal, right?  What is the difference between Macedonia and North Macedonia?  But, this ignores the other aspects of the Prespa Agreement, including the auditing of text books and maps.  This framing also ignores the assumption that joining the EU and NATO are positive things.  It is really positive and progressive to join the West by increasing military spending or fighting in NATO’s conflicts?  In any event, while the Yes vote won, voter turnout was too low to validate the results (only 36% voter turnout).  For now, the matter remains at an impasse as the referendum failed. Image may contain: outdoor


Macedonia is still a fairly new nation with tremendous challenges ahead.  Navigating these challenges are nearly impossible.  Integration with the West almost certainly means compromising aspects of national identity in favor of an identity which is less threatening to Greece.  As a matter of self-determination, I believe that Macedonians should have the right to interpret their history as they please, even if it does not align with other histories.  The world is full of cities founded and named after Alexander the Great, which Greece does not take particular interest in.   There are statues of Alexander the Great in Scotland, Argentina, Germany, France, and Egypt to name a few places.  The Albanian military commander “Skanderbeg” was nicknamed after Alexander the Great.  I think that it is entirely possible for both countries to coexist while allowing for Macedonia to draw inspiration from this history.  At the same time, a Macedonian driver that I met made the excellent point that maybe Alexander the Great is not the best symbol for the nation, considering that his image and history celebrate warfare and conquest.  I would add that Macedonia is made up of many people, including Albanians, Roma, Turks, Vlachs, Serbians, Torbesh, and others.  Alexander the Great may not represent all of these people.  I think that is a matter for the people of Macedonia to decide and question.   No one in Macedonia benefits from costly statues and buildings when the population suffers from poverty and unemployment.  For instance, the “Warrior on Horse” statue (which is meant to depict Alexander the Great) cost over $13 million.  The structures built in Skopje between 2010-2014 cost over $700 million.  As a tourist, it is certainly bizarre and fascinating to stroll around the endless monuments, but these have a human cost in terms of money that could have been spent on social programs and labor power that went into their construction.  Therefore, the right to Alexander the Great should not be idealized, but should be allowed as a matter of national autonomy.  Likewise, nationalism can be ugly and is often misused to cow a populace into submission and can foster social division.  But, the experience of realizing national autonomy can be unify and mobilize a people towards progressive interests.  In the end, that is why I support allowing Macedonia to be Macedonia.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, outdoor and nature


Sources:

Bender, J. (2015, June 29). Greece’s military budget is getting bigger even as the country’s economy lurches towards mayhem. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/why-greeces-military-budget-is-so-high-2015-6

Gjukovikj, D. (2018, August 02). Analysis | After 27 years, Greece and Macedonia have resolved their contentious ‘naming dispute.’ Here’s how. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/08/02/after-27-years-greece-and-macedonia-have-resolved-the-contentious-naming-dispute-heres-how/?utm_term=.de83f58ce516

Kakissis, J. (2018, July 09). Greece Is One Of Few NATO Members To Have Met Defense Spending Goal. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2018/07/09/627417425/greece-is-one-of-few-nato-members-to-have-met-defense-spending-goal

Karadjis, M. (1994, April 27). Macedonia: What the Greek government tries to hide. Retrieved from https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/macedonia-what-greek-government-tries-hide

Karatsareas, P. (2018, September 14). Greece’s Macedonian Slavic heritage was wiped out by linguistic oppression – here’s how. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/greeces-macedonian-slavic-heritage-was-wiped-out-by-linguistic-oppression-heres-how-94675

Pamuk, H. (2018, July 11). NATO formally invites Macedonia to join alliance. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nato-summit-declaration/nato-formally-invites-macedonia-to-join-alliance-idUSKBN1K12AR

State Department official backs Macedonian referendum. (2018, September 13). Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/world/state-department-official-backs-macedonian-referendum

Tisdall, S. (2018, October 01). Result of Macedonia’s referendum is another victory for Russia | Simon Tisdall. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/01/result-of-macedonia-referendum-is-another-victory-for-russia

Western Leaders Line up to Visit Macedonia Before Referendum. (2018, September 09.). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-09-12/macedonia-opposition-says-name-change-an-issue-of-conscience

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Navigation