I want to live in a country where we don’t have to count our blood cells

[dropcap font="arial" fontsize="45"]I[/dropcap] simply didn’t want anyone, in between their bites of musty cheese and sips of decades-old wine, to argue, or – God forbid – to fight about who helped the last survivor from Macedonia the most, whether it’s the biblical or the ancient version, the world’s navel or anus, however you want to call it.

I was wondering whether to enter this debate because I consider everything that defines my identity as my personal right, an intimate part of me. On the other hand, following the catastrophic predictions that with the Prespa Agreement the ethnic Macedonians would irreversibly lose their identity despite their constitutional name being recognized by over 180 states, in an atmosphere of boiling emotions, it is very difficult to lead a rational debate… Nevertheless, in both public appearances and published texts, I have continuously advocated for finding a solution that will offer the new generations of Macedonians a future! And the current solution, although clearly not ideal, does offer some escape from a dead-end. Especially since not a single other serious and well-founded solution has been offered for decades…

Is the Prespa Agreement ideal? Clearly – it is not. But, could a better and more correct agreement have been reached after 27 wasted years, in this situation that political elites have pushed Macedonia into? At the moment, a better agreement is not possible, and I think that the chance to solve the open issues – burdened with history and with blood – had to be used to turn towards (let’s hope) a more or less better future. Is Macedonia’s sacrifice too big for entry into a military alliance, with vague promises that it may at some point become a member of the desired EU? In my opinion, still – no, although the compromises, simply, did have to hurt. Does history have to be touched up in agreements for future cooperation and friendship, so that currently the “stronger side” does not feel insulted by their own past? Of course not, it is precisely because of the new spirit of friendship and neighborly relations that the historical facts must be respected, and all sides must mature enough in order to face the past and move forward. The Balkans have, unfortunately, yet to mature, but Macedonia was not in a position to dictate the conditions. Macedonia used the chance and the momentum –because they weighed the international forces and the increased interest of the powerful in its geographic position and its status. The governing structure simply made a decision… and accepted to drink “a glass of wine and a glass of sourness”.’

But even when I laid out my arguments, the question remained: what exactly is my identity?

A human being, male, born more than five decades ago in post-earthquake Skopje in one country, though currently living in another. Born to parents belonging to – at least according to the definitions of their time – two distinct peoples, brought together by the Yugoslav union, but with plenty of blood intermixing in both parents’ family histories. An unrealized theater director with 34 years of experience as a journalist, mostly freelance – a correspondent and editor of weeklies, a husband, father, uncle, great-uncle, an author of a couple of books, a long-time renter, a best man and a godfather, a grumpy neighbor, an acquaintance to thousands, a colleague to hundreds, a friend to tens, and a best friend to a handful. A lover of fine food and a good drink, and once, long ago, silver-tongued and nifty, though now reserved and more often cynical to the core, previously good-looking and young, now just good-looking, but this too is fading with the years…My identity is built in the family in which I grew up, with books, music and films, in the family in which my better half and I raised our son, on the streets, in primary school and in high school, at working actions, with scouts, with the YNA, at college, at smugglers tours in Italy and Austria, at the Cretan beaches, in the dozen editorial offices, on trips, interactions with all kinds of people…

And all this made me the way I am. Well, I think that as such I/we will not lose the identity, no matter how open-ended the “or” is in the title of the debate – “Building identity, or…? I will give two examples from the period of the beginning of the fight for the name, events that I’ve written about…

In the mid-nineties, when Bosnia was drowning in blood, in the castle where in 1965 “Sound of music” was recorded, one of the editions of the Salzburg Seminar titled “Is Europe losing its way?”, featured an eminent professor – the future ambassador from Serbia – alongside two young diplomats from Croatia and Montenegro, also with experience from the YU embassies, and two journalists – one from the national TV service of Slovenia and myself, from the magazine “Pulse” from Macedonia…

Because of very justified reasons there was no representative from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Still we did have a Bosnian, a janitor and keeper of the courtyard, who beautifully played the guitar in the beer cellar, and all of us no-longer-compatriots, every night with songs of “our people and nationalities”, tried to cover every bit of the YU-table with empty beer bottles…

During the day, on the topic of how Europe managed to wander precisely onto the Bosnian mountainous land, in front of the entire auditorium filled with diplomats from the then two Europes and the US, with a mix of colorful titles and black tuxedos, it was exactly us, the ex-Yugoslavians, who spoke…And we shocked those who were present with the harmonious views that emerged from the black and white picture created by the politics and the media for the country in which we were born…

With a bitter taste in our mouths from the dinners where I struggled with the silverware (but was comforted by one of the dozens of wines), at the “Bosnian” session, I (Zinisa Stankovic from FYR Macedonia) was retelling the Sarajevo TV-story, with the dark-humored predictions, about the fight at the festive table between representatives of the international community, arguing which one of them had most helped the only surviving Bosnian who managed to get out of the high walls around Sarajevo…And I watched how part of the audience was trying to swallow my bitter morsel. And it didn’t please me at all that I “scored” with them, nor did their applause meaning anything to me…

In Skopje, in 2017 / 2018, I simply didn’t want anyone, in between their bites of musty cheese and sips of decades-old wine, to argue, or – God forbid – to fight about who helped the last survivor from Macedonia the most, whether it’s Macedonia the biblical or the ancient, the world’s navel or anus, however you want to call it. I didn’t want that…

Again in the mid-nineties, about fifteen journalists from the third-world and from Northern and the Republic of Ireland, mainly from conflict regions, were being trained in journalism and democracy, several weeks in US media on both coasts, according to then-valid American definitions (which died in 1999…).

With my colleagues from Ireland, Oman and Papua New Guinea, we decided to joke around a little, so at two events we switched our nametags. The journalist from Papua New Guinea, with the darkest skin color that I have seen in my life, introduced himself as Tom from Ireland, the “Sultan” from Oman – as Ziki from Republic of Macedonia, no – FYROM, the Irishman Tom from Dublin – became Mohamed or something similar, and I, after exercising the accent for my replica for several hours, became Jonathan from Papua New Guinea…Dozens of proper ladies and gentlemen, who, in order to understand better, asked us to show them on a globe where each of us came from (I barely found Yugoslavia on the outdated globe – Macedonia was not even drawn yet), and led conversations with us about “our countries”. And they smiled bitterly, when at the end, we returned the real nametags with our names and the names of the countries, and told them what it was all about. They never lost even a bit of the arrogance…

In Skopje 2017/2018, I simply didn’t want anyone redrawing or erasing the country on some globe at some fancy tea party…

I wish for North Macedonia to become a real country in all aspects, one in which we will truly all be equal before our God and before the law, so that we’ll never hear phrases like “someone among us is not one of us” again…, and for everyone, like respectable people to be able to live with the neighbours in their neighborhoods, without counting their blood cells.

 


The article is part of the project “Identity Loss or …?” implemented by CIVIL in cooperation with the Heirich Böll Foundation.

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