Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Bulgarian-Macedonian brew

Author: GOD: “If in my hands I had a gun and a bullet and before me - a Serbian and an Albanian, I would shoot the Serbian with a smile! I hate the Serbians because of Macedonia!”

Author Vasilev explains GOD’s ill will: “Kosovo is to Serbians what Macedonia is to us. In 1918 Serbia did all it could to tear Macedonia off Bulgaria. It will not stop at anything to wipe the Bulgarian spirit out of Macedonia. Now it is being paid back to. With the interest rate! Kosovo will never again be part of Serbia! There is a God!”

Author: Umko: “What the Serbians have done with Macedonia is irrelevant. If Kosovo splits from Serbia, some day the Kurdjali region will split from Bulgaria. The precedent will be set. That is why we should unreservedly support Serbia.”

Author Pitbulla is more clear-headed: “You are wrong, my man... no precedent will be set because we have not been at war against the Kurdjali region, as were the Serbians against Kosovo...”

This comes from a Mediapool forum following an article about Kosovo’s difficult status that was originally published in Der Berliner Zeitung under the headline Embers of a Balkan fire (the translation is The Sofia Echo’s).

So why quote bloggers on Balkan issues?

Because Bulgarian-Macedonian relations, that politicians would call excellent and that ordinary people would call historically strained, have been brewing rather awkwardly lately, with dubious results.

And because the above has such reminiscence of the unhealthy Balkan speculation about who might do what to whom if this or - God forbid - the other, happens.

This article is dedicated to the Gorani who, along with some Serbs and many Kosovars, also live in Kosovo. And which Albanian linguist Skender Gashi recently called the historical and political apple of discord of the Balkans (in a lecture given at the Bulgarian cultural institute in Vienna).

The Gorani are 2000 or so people who live in 24 villages in the Gora region in the Shar mountain in Kosovo, mostly, but also in Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia (see map). And also sometimes in central Serbia, Italy, Turkey...

The Gorani, geographically and linguistically, are an island of Slav-speaking population, Gashi says, but actually speak an archaic version of Bulgarian, and - even more actually - Bulgarians Vlachs, Gashi says.

But Macedonians claim them also. And so do Bosniaks, and Serbs. And, then, in the old Balkan way of things...you know.

For the sake of political correctness, let’s just say that they have the potential to upset.

So, each party claims the Gorani. But we are concentrating on Macedonia and Bulgaria.

On August 14, the Democratic Movement for the Restoration of Macedonia (DOM) said that the question of the Gorani should be included in Kosovo status talks. “This issue is of interest to the Republic of Macedonia because (the Gorani speak) the Macedonian language and are of the Muslim confession,” said DOM leader Liliana Popovska. The Gorani should be guaranteed the freedom to use Macedonian in schools and mosques because that, among all else, would prevent them from being assimilated, Popovska said.

Her statement would seem to prove that, as Director of the Bulgarian National Museum of History Bozhidar Dimitrov says, Macedonians, unlike Bulgarians, have a state policy regarding minorities.

Another thing - Popovska’s statement comes eight months after the Gorani themselves demanded that they be included in status talks. That happened at an international conference of the Gorani in Skopje that Gorani people from Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and Albania attended, according to Macedonian internet site Prespa Sky.

Apart from being included in status talks by both Serbians and Kosovars, the Gorani asked to receive the status of a Macedonian national minority with an Islamic confession; to have Macedonian passports; to have a cultural centre opened; and get a better infrastructure (more specifically, a Skopje - Dragash bus line).

But, Prespa Sky also noted, on December 26, the Gorani also asked the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to register “yet another Bulgarian national entity” (the wording is theirs) - that of the Gorani and Muslims from the Gora region.

And also formed a Culture and Education Association Bulgarians - Muslims. The Association, according to the head of the Bulgarian diplomatic mission in Kosovo Nikolai Kolev as reported by Prespa Sky, was not founded with Bulgarian participation.

Ethnic specialists consider the Gorani to be Islamized Macedonians, the publication continues.

When forming their association, the Gorani had sent a note to the Serbian state television, saying that their initiative had never had the ambition to change their age-long national identity, Prespa Sky said.

Also, they were receiving documents proving their Bulgarian descent from the Bulgarian diplomatic mission in Kosovo, but not with the intention to get a Bulgarian or any other country’s passport - because no institution in Kosovo issued passports anyway, Prespa Sky said.

Of course, the Gorani do get Bulgarian passports. “They don’t like getting Macedonian citizenship so much,” Dimitrov says.

For understandable economical EU reasons, “not to speak of this trade (in passports) going on,” a representative of a cultural institution in Sofia told The Sofia Echo, but - let’s say - for language and historical reasons too.

Unfortunately, this touches on another tricky subject - that Bulgaria has of late been issuing an inordinate number of passports. This was described in an August 13 report in the Sunday Telegraph (authored by a Skopje and a Bucharest correspondent) as “a give-away passports bonanza”

The context of the Telegraph article makes it overly important for Bulgaria. The UK is now bracing for about 40 000 to 60 000 (the optimistic version) or up to 400 000 (the pessimistic version) Romanians and Bulgarians expected to arrive in the country after January 1 2007. Some of them criminals. Both scenarios would trouble the British labour market, predictions go. British immigration authorities are reported to be now preparing regulations to temporarily ban the entrance of immigrants.

So, the Telegraph article mirrors the urge to keep hordes of Bulgarians and Romanians away from the UK. And smears Bulgaria’s image.

And what does this reporter, as a Bulgarian, do about that?

This reporter gets upset and angry and goes home. On the way home, thinks about the problem, and then asks an Albanian friend to agree to being quoted that if he was offered a job in Bulgaria, he would jump at the idea, partly because he had become, while living in Bulgaria for four years, somewhat Bulgarianised. And the Albanian friend answered: “You have fallen into the vicious trap of the cheapest form of journalism in the Balkans, the one flared with nationalistic fervour that demonises the other nationalities.”

I suppose that I did fall in the trap, somewhat. And I guess that the Balkans do suffer from their black hole nationalist traps, journalists included.

But, as head of the Macedonian Culture and Information Centre in Sofia said, stupidity affects all people, not specific ethnic groups.

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