The Ancient and Modern Macedonians are Related, says Author
By Victor Bivell
2 April 2004
Ladies and gentlemen, firstly I'd like to thank everyone for being here tonight, and I'd particularly like to thank Dushan Ristevski and the Grigor Prlichev Literary Association for the opportunity to launch this very interesting book, The Descendants of Alexander The Great of Macedon, by Alexander Donski. I'd like to speak for a few minutes in Macedonian and then for a few minutes in English. I hope that everyone here as well as the Macedonian people in general will have a good discussion about the book, the many ideas it covers, both historical and modern, and the political implications of the book for Macedonians everywhere.
It is not possible to say everything I'd like to say about this book in a few minutes so let me pick a few key points.
The Descendants of Alexander the Great of Macedonia is an important book because it starts to address some of the key questions that all Macedonians would like to know - are we descended from the ancient Macedonians, are there real links between the ancient Macedonians and the modern Macedonians, what are those links, and how strong are they?
And I think it is also important that the author, the person asking the questions and looking for the answers, is himself a Macedonian. For hundreds of years we have had other people telling us who we are, some friendly, most unfriendly. Finally, with this book, Macedonians can start to work out these questions for ourselves and to make up our own mind.
Mr Donski strongly believes that the modern Macedonians are descended from the ancient Macedonians, not purely but mostly, and also that many elements of the culture of the ancient Macedonians are alive today in the culture of the modern Macedonians.
In this book he has assembled a very substantial amount of evidence from a wide variety of sources that supports this thesis. Much of the evidence is drawn from the customs and folklore of the ancient Macedonians and how these have survived to become part of the customs and folklore of the modern Macedonians. If we want to see the ancient Macedonians, we should look at ourselves, he says. The influence of the ancient Macedonians is with us here and now in our everyday lives - in our language, in our weddings ceremonies, in our funeral ceremonies, in the stories we tell our children, in our traditional clothing, our superstitions, our dances, our customs and rituals, and so on. Mr Donski says all these can be shown to have some influence from the ancients.
So not only do we have a Macedonian finally leading the investigation, but much of the source material and evidence is drawn from the Macedonian people themselves. This is an approach that many foreign investigators simply do not have the skill and knowledge to adopt, and one that others have pointedly never used.
The evidence itself is quite accessible to the public and to public scrutiny, and there are many independent experts who would be able to comment on the quality of the evidence that falls within their respective fields of research. My own impression is that, overall, the quality of the evidence seems very good.
Also important is that Mr Donski has assembled such a large amount of evidence. He does not base the book, and his thesis, on one or even a handful of points, but gives example after example after example, so many examples in fact that the sheer volume of material and evidence is quite impressive and becomes a factor in itself. Even if some of the evidence is refuted, there is enough material here that even if only a portion of it were corroborated or proven it would be enough to maintain the credibility of the thesis.
The history of the Macedonian people is a subject of longstanding dispute, particularly with the neighbours - the Greeks, Bulgarians, Albanians and Serbians, and also with eastern Slavists and some very pro-Greek western historians, so in many circles to claim that the modern Macedonians are related to the ancient Macedonians is not an everyday statement but is in fact a radical concept.
So this is also a challenging book. The book challenges the version of the history of the Macedonian people as it was presented by the pro-Serbian and later pro-Communist and pro-Slavic governments of Vardar Macedonia. Mr Donski argues that during the Serbian and the Socialist eras, the history and influence of the ancient Macedonians was deliberately ignored or significantly understated, and certainly never explored. It is only with the independence of the Republic of Macedonia in 1991 that the question of the origin of the modern Macedonians could begin to be addressed openly by Macedonians.
Mr Donski also challenges the view that the modern Macedonians are completely unrelated to the ancient Macedonians and that they are purely descended from the "Slav" invaders of the sixth century. This view is most prominent among the modern Greeks, Bulgarians and Slavists for whom it is politically convenient. Mr Donski argues that the evidence for this view is unconvincing and that those who propagate it fail to give the full story, for example that Greece was also invaded by the same Slavs, and that the Byzantine empire removed a significant number of these Slavic people, allowing the indigenous population to remain dominant.
Mr Donski's attack on the theory of descent from the Slav invaders is in fact quite strong. Among other points he asks, why is Macedonian folklore rich with material that can be sourced from the ancient Macedonians but is lacking in similar material about the supposed homeland of the Slavs somewhere "beyond the Carpathian Mountains"?
Mr Donski also challenges another mainstream western belief - that so called "Greek mythology" is Greek. He argues that much of it is sourced from non-Greek writers and can be traced to other countries. "Mediterranean mythology" or "ancient mythology" as he prefers to call it, was an international phenomena to which many countries and cultures contributed, including the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Abyssinians, the Persians, the Romans, the Jews, the Anatolians, the Thracians, the Ethiopians, and, among them, the Macedonians.
The idea that the ancient Greeks borrowed or adopted or simply took over a lot of other people's ideas is not new, but Mr Donski adds his voice to what is a serious challenge to a longstanding idea that has served the Greeks well politically to the detriment of other peoples including the Macedonians.
To conclude, let me say why this is a good book. The Macedonian people have as much right as any other people to posit a hypothesis about themselves: in this case that the modern Macedonians are related to the ancient Macedonians. The real issue is the integrity and the honesty with which the evidence is identified, assembled and tested. I'm sure most Macedonians feel, as I do, that many Greeks do not approach their own hypotheses, particularly about the ancient Macedonians, in an honest and fair way. They look for the supporting evidence but ignore or misrepresent the contrary evidence. Such an approach is not self discovery, nor is it history. Simply it is either propaganda or self-delusion.
On the integrity scale I think Mr Donski does very well. He acknowledges the opposing arguments and their sources, and he presents his own arguments in a straightforward way and without the impression of guile. Certainly he is enthusiastic for the Macedonian cause, but this is tempered with wide research and his extraordinary knowledge of Macedonian folklore.
The Descendants of Alexander The Great of Macedon is an exciting book. It opens up new areas for research and I suspect it will be the beginning of a whole series of similar books. For me, one of the most exciting parts of the book is on the cover where it says "Part One - Folklore Elements". I believe the author is working on a Part Two and possibly a Part Three, while there are many other Macedonian writers capable of producing Part Four and Part Five and so on.
If I can finish with this quote: "Part of the Macedonian public seems to expect someone from outside to announce to them who the Macedonians are: yet it should be the opposite. Macedonians are the ones who should announce to the world details about their ethnic cultural roots."
With this book Macedonians can start to do that.