THE VIOLENCE OF RACISM AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR MINORITY WOMEN
By Malina Stankovska and Pandora Petrovska
In this paper, we aim to examine the nature of institutional and physical violence against the Macedonians in Australia, borne out of racism. In so doing, a means of identifying and defining the sources of oppression which minority women such as those of Macedonian background endure are outlined. The fear which is a way of life for the Macedonians is exposed as a major factor in the "culture of silence" which pervades this people. The detuning process is central to equality issues and this is exemplified in the context of this paper. The healing process and the development of a positive collective identity and self image is only possible with the opportunity to state one's reality and to begin her story and it is for this that this paper is written.
In order to understand the Macedonians it is first necessary to provide some basic background information about them and their homeland.
Macedonia has existed within the present political borders of the Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Albania since its political partition in 1913 and the Treaty of Bucharest. The ethnographic map of this Balkan region is presented, defining the area of the Macedonian speaking population. In the context of this paper, this divided nation will be referred to as the Republic of Macedonia, Aegean Macedonia (Greek dominated), Pirin Macedonia (Bulgarian dominated) and Prespanska Macedonia (Albanian dominated). It is only within the Republic of Macedonia that the Macedonian people have been free to develop as an ethnospecific nation with a recognised official language, education system, literature and socio-political life. The Macedonians in the other sections have at best national minority status and have been subject to systematic denationalisation. (1) The term "multi-statal nation" is used by Van Den Bergbe (2) to define divided peoples such as the Kurds and Armenians, and this is also relevant to the Macedonian people.
Ethnographically Macedonia exists as a "multi-statal" nation where only within the Republic of Macedonia the Macedonians have the freedom of self expression. In the neighbouring countries, they exist as unrecognised, divided minorities and commonly experience negation if they self identify as Macedonians because a "public" political identity has been suppressed by the dominant groups in their homeland. Macedonians have thus been subject to the usual power play observed between the colonizers and the colonized. Generations of racism have nurtured an "oppression culture" which has become a part of the collective psyche of the Macedonians. In order to overcome the burden of oppression culture, it is necessary to have the opportunity to tell their story without fear.
The racism which envelops the Macedonian people has primarily evolved as a means to maintain territorial acquisition. Their exploitation and denationalisation has occurred via suppression of the language and identity. The use of racist ideologies in order to determine government policy is common and emerges in order to justify the domination of one group over another. We do not have to look too far in Australia's treatment of the indigenous population in terms of institutional racism to exemplify this point. Until the recent Mabo legislation, Australia's indigenous people had not been acknowledged in any legal or meaningful way as having any legitimate claim to this land. Similarly, the Macedonians in Aegean Macedonia have not been acknowledged as the original inhabitants despite the fact that they are referred to as "endopi" a Greek word which translates literally to indigenous.
Unlike the racism of apartheid which is based on the biological premise of "I'm white, you're black, therefore I am superior to You", the racism endured by Macedonians is more insidious. It rests on the premise that Macedonians do not exist; they are invisible, they have no language, no culture, no history, not even a name. There is therefore no need to justify any forms of racism, violence or human rights abuses.
Defining the parameters of equality and evolving a feminist perspective for Macedonian women cannot occur until the ideology of racism is explained, understood and thereby demystified. Indeed, it has only recently been realised that the feminism defined in the 1960s and 70s was mainly a phenomenon of the white educated, middle class woman who had the time and opportunity to discover her oppression and to realise that it was gender based - a situation vastly dissimilar to many other women who experience other forms of oppression more keenly than sexism. White middle class women were able to define their oppression. It is similarly up to all other women to define their oppression and to develop their own feminism even though this may include issues which extend further than the term "feminism" normally encompasses. As Ramazanoglu states, "it is not clear how sexual oppression can effectively unite women whose lives, work, life expectancy and children's futures are structured by the hierarchies of racism, ethnicity, nationalism " (3) and class.
Generally speaking, two forms of oppression (class and racial) are shared between both Macedonian males and females. This creates a solidarity between them and renders less visible the problem faced by women and which are peculiar to their gender. "As both males and females share this form of oppression relations between them arc not reducible to sex oppression...but [are] often characterised by solidarity in resistance to racial oppression." (4) Western approaches to feminism thus become less relevant for women of various oppressed groups? Particularly those battling to overcome forms of racism which produce a culture of silence, and this will be elaborated upon later.
Macedonians began migrating to Australia pre 1920s as itinerant migrant workers. They were followed by their families in the 1940s and 1950s in large waves. These immigrants were political refugees from Aegean Macedonia who fled from the effects of the Greek Civil War and the oppressive conditions imposed on them by the Greek Government. In the late 1960s and 1970s they were followed by Macedonians from the Republic of Macedonia which was then within the Yugoslav Federation. They were permitted into Australia, as other migrants, to provide industry with a cheap and expendable pool of labour and it is upon this that Australia's immigration program is based.
Once here, they had to adjust to a system and bureaucracy which is totally different from those in their country of origin. They had to find lodgings, secure an income and accustom themselves to a new lifestyle (with many coming from a rural to an urban environment). They found that new values surrounded them (as reflected and espoused by the dominant culture here) and that often they had to learn to live in a different family structure where the support of the extended family was no longer available. They had to adapt to this in an unfamiliar and incomprehensible language. Generally speaking, once these difficulties had been overcome, they found Australia to be a land of freedom, a refuge from the violence and oppression which had earlier been their way of life and which had marked the history of these people since time immemorial.
Migrants in general face an inbuilt racism in Australian society as our institutions and most practitioners are anglocentric, "constructed by and for the English speaking population". This originates from the racism of the colonialist tradition which assumes that other cultures and values are not valuable and thus should be changed. This is not a conscious form of racism, rather it is a result of perceived social reality.
Australian bureaucracy bases service delivery for migrants on one's country of origin. This has been consistent for all migrants and only in recent times has there been any recognition that factors such as ethnicity or language spoken at home are relevant. Basing services on country of origin becomes problematic for the Macedonians who derive from four countries. For example information is often not translated into Macedonian; there have been instances where people in need of interpreters are asked their country of origin and allocated either Greek or Serbian interpreters. Furthermore, as a result of the absence of any diplomatic ties with Macedonia, there are no cultural or educational exchange programs which facilitate community development as for other ethnic groups. Simple matter requiring attention by a diplomatic office are impossible in Australia as the establishment of a consulate has been disallowed - an unprecedented action upon recognition of a nation. Effectively there is no reference point for migrants from Macedonia when dealing with the Republic of Macedonia
Similarly, Macedonians cannot be recorded statistically with any great accuracy as the means of determining the origins of migrants is via their country of origin. Clyne has discovered a serious potential source of underestimation of speakers of the Macedonian language by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Where respondents have indicated that they used more than one language other than English, the ABS selected one, namely the one whose name had been printed on the Census form. In the case of Greek-Macedonian bilinguals, Greek was counted and Macedonian was not. In 1976, 39% of Macedonian speakers in Melbourne also spoke Greek. (5) The upshot is that Macedonians have not had the same access to services as other migrant groups because their numbers are enormously understated and this consequently impacts heavily on the distribution of resources to them.
A further problem Macedonians have to contend with is the promulgation of misinformation as to who they are, that is, like many other oppressed peoples, they are defined by others who have power over them. This has been illustrated very clearly with the position taken in recent times by the Australian Government to impose a nomenclature of "Slav-Macedonian" on the people originating from the Republic of Macedonia. That this directive applies to Macedonians only from the Republic sets in place artificial divisions between them and those from the other parts of Macedonia. The directive was adopted, according to the Underdown report, in order to placate the Greek community following the decision to recognise the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The Federal Government held a meeting with the Greek community leaders on 10th March, 1994, (6). "Following protests from the Macedonian community that its views were being ignored completely a meeting was hastily convened for the following week, when a further condition was added to those already imposed: Australian Government departments and agencies were to be instructed to refer to people living in, or originating from, the FYROM as Slav-Macedonians. Those of Macedonian background from within the borders of Greece were to be referred to as "individuals associating with Slav-Macedonians". The effect of this action is to leave a section of our community without ethnicity and without a name. The terms Slav-Macedonian or, as appropriate, FYROM was to be used as a geographic descriptor where country of birth or nationality data was required to be recorded for the Government's program administration or service delivery purposes. (7)
Recently, the Department of Human Services and Health issued a record of hostels for the aged which had been approved in principle for funding. There are two Macedonian categories - one with an "S" beside it designating Slav, and another with a "G" beside it, designating Greek. It is clear that the Macedonian community receive a portion of resources both as Greeks and as Macedonians (8). The unfortunate thing for those who come from Greek dominated Macedonia is that they are unrecognised, unacknowledged and will continue to be inappropriately serviced (if they are serviced at all).
"While accepting that it was not the government's intent to use an ethnic/linguistic designation, this for many is precisely what it has done." (9) Their rationale that this is not ethnic labelling but a geographic indicator overlooks the fact that once this directive is implemented by Government in dealing with people from the Republic of Macedonia, it becomes ethnic labelling.
Let us consider the implications of the action by the Government in terms of the upcoming census in 1996. In the past, statistical data collection by Government asks a number of questions from Australian families, accepts the information, and then collates it. When people of Macedonian origin from the Republic of Macedonia express their ethnicity, via language, it can be expected that the government will implement the directive and those people will be collated as Slav-Macedonian, and for those originating from Aegean Macedonia as "people or organisations who associate with Slav-Macedonians". In that sense the responses of Macedonians will be treated differently to that of all other Australians. This could be construed as institutionalised racism where the adoption of a foreign government's internal policy, which does not recognise the existence of a Macedonian minority, has taken place. (10) The discriminatory means of data collection once resulting from lack of awareness of government appears to have become overtly racist.
A further development which is unprecedented in linguistic scholarship has been the redesignation of the Macedonian language by the Victorian Premier as Macedonian (Slavonic).
The Kennett directive states that this is in keeping with the Federal Government directive on the Macedonians, despite written assurances from Senator Bolkus Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs that "the Government's decision regarding FYROM contains no stipulations on the Macedonian language and therefore there is no reason why [the] community cannot continue to use [their] language for all purposes". (11) Nevertheless, Victoria is the only state in Australia to rename an internationally recognised standard language. The Premiers decision regarding the Macedonian language is unprecedented in the world as it is "not the prerogative of an Australian State Premier to change the name of a language from the name which linguists and international bodies designate it". (12)
A clear ramification of the Macedonian community experience has been that as a group, Macedonians have had to expend energy, not on developing as a community, but in defending their right to self-definition, and collectively coming to terms with the negation of their existence in multicultural Australia. Macedonians do not want to appear in the media and be discussed to people who know very little about them without being consulted or having direct involvement. (Eg Federal government did not speak to the community until after the decision about the nomenclature was made with the Greek community). Not being a part of the processes which are used in democratic countries like Australia denigrates those being excluded so that they experience an unfair disadvantage in the power relations between them and a Government purporting equal representation for all. In an unprecedented way, one ethnic community has been allowed power over another. The Australian government, by aligning itself with the policies of a foreign government, has adopted a paternalistic approach in their dealings with the Macedonian community. Decisions about the management of the Macedonian community have been made according to the same power relations as between a father and child. The foreign government in this case has a policy towards the Macedonians which transcends the inequality of paternalism to the extremity of denying the existence of the child.
In the Macedonian case, the Federal Government was a disapproving father "not even all that courteous to be honest" (Victor Bivell, Aegean Macedonian Association of Australia (13) after discussions with the Government following the renaming of the Macedonian community). And the Prime Minister states "I mean personally, I'd prefer to see them call themselves Australians". (14)
As a disobedient child, the Macedonian community have not been listened to and have been censored as their reality has been prescribed by others. The truth was lost in the debate about symbols and about ancient history which had absolutely no bearing on the real issues. The government decision was based on the relative electoral significance of the two communities. This story is really about racism and denationalisation - Hellenic fundamentalism, and this has been left unsaid. A point stressed by the founding father of multiculturalism, Mr Jerzy Zubrzycki "Regrettably this tension between these two opposing drives is being stirred by irresponsible politicians ... who are seeking temporary electoral advantage by appealing to divisiveness." (15)
If we paraphrase the Leader of the National Party, Mr Fischer's contribution to the debate, both groups should go home and sort out their differences. The unsuspecting Aussie would not know that the Macedonians from Greece who self-identify as Macedonians in Australia would not be allowed to return to their homeland. So where do they go? Helsinki Human Rights Watch has outlined such examples. One of their recommendations is that the government of Greece "permit ethnic Macedonian political refugees to return to Greece to regain their citizenship, to resettle and visit on the same basis as political refugees who identify themselves as Greek". (16)
The recent actions of the Australian government are clear examples of violence of institutions. What is the effect of this type of violence on the individual and the group? The feeling of absolute and unadulterated powerlessness and political impotency, followed by self-hatred, self denial and the internalisation of marginalisation. It is a violation of the individual and collective psyche. We have experienced as third generation Australians the oppression that our grandfather had fled from in the 1920s but in Australia some seventy years later. This has led to feelings of inadequacy, exclusion and total dispossession of basic rights in our place of birth - democratic Australia. Our family and many thousands of others were dispossessed of their land in Aegean Macedonia, and this was then allocated to refugees who were part of the population exchanges after the Balkan wars. The reason for the population exchange was, to use today's terminology, to undertake ethnic cleansing. Simultaneously cultural and linguistic genocide were being attempted through a gross form of xenophobia known as hellenization which promotes only one culture at the expense of all others. Freire when he states "each man [and we will add each woman] wins back his/[her] right to name the world" (17) refers to the power of defining ones own reality and self-definition. In line with this concept, we define the abovementioned violence as "Hellenic fundamentalism". This form of mono-culturalism is totally at loggerheads with Australia's policy of multiculturalism.
The National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia states that "All members of Australian society should be able to enjoy the basic right of freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or culture. This includes not only overt or conscious discrimination but also unwitting systemic discrimination Multicultural policies seek to eliminate such discrimination. They aim to protect the rights of all members of society to enjoy their culture and language Fundamentally, multiculturalism is about the rights of the individual - the right to equality of treatment; to be able to express one's identity: to be accepted as an Australian without having to assimilate some stereotyped model of behaviour " (18)
The realisation of the above rhetoric is clearly something that the Macedonians can only aspire to achieve. Whilst all other groups are able to enjoy the freedom of engaging in the principles articulated.
Having investigated institutionalised racism, let us turn our attention to other more overt forms of violence which were perpetrated against various Macedonians during the course of this year.
On 20th and 21st February, 1994 two Macedonian Orthodox churches were fire bombed - St. Nikola in Preston and St. Dimitrija in Springvale. These were followed by the Macedonian Christian Church, also in Preston, which resulted in the destruction of a community facility used by the wider community. There was also an attempted arson on St. Georgi which is the first Macedonian church to be built in Australia and outside of the motherland. Of the four Macedonian Orthodox churches in metropolitan Melbourne, three were targeted.
Nowhere in the Australian media was there any mention about the effect of this type of violence on the cultural life of the community which is primarily the domain of women. For this community whose culture is transmitted by women, in the form of ritual which centres around the church, the effect was devastating.
In Australia, Macedonian women are responsible for the continuation of customs and traditions as well as passing them on to their daughters. Not valued as having any sort of viable contribution to the overall political situation of Macedonians, cultural activity is often disregarded. The reality is that the labour of women's work ensures the transmission of culture even to this day. What is not recognised is the stability that this brings to Macedonian life. Put in the context of a people living in an unstable political environment and having to deal with forms of racism, adherence to traditional cultural ritual afforded women a way of maintaining their heritage and enabling a normality and control of their lives in the potentially explosive situations which surrounded them. As Macedonian women are the keepers of the culture, this was thus able to counter political oppression over the centuries, and it was also women's weapon for survival as well as expression. To the extent that that it achieved this, it also provided a cultural matrix for the survival of the males also. The culture was the creative and artistic outlet and Macedonian women were totally responsible for the outer persona of the Macedonian people. This is carried on in Australia, amongst other things, in the form of decorating and maintaining their church with offerings of sprigs of basil, (never eater or cooked as it is considered a ritual plant), embroideries, handmade floor coverings, oil to be used in anointments, towels given for health as well as general maintenance.
With the destruction of the St. Nikola church, and the damage to the other churches, the women both old and young went into ritual mourning. There was the sound of women's wailing which was an articulation of grief in respect of the life of the deceased - in this case, the church symbolising the persona of the Macedonian community. The older women experienced this violence also as an attack on the one source of power availed to them - the performance of cultural ritual, which has its roots in pre-Christian civilizations which were linked to the land. The ancient songs of spirits are superimposed in a rich folklore. This is the oral stigmata for a people unable to have literacy in mother tongue. The rituals which transcend the Church are very much the realm of the ancient Goddess religions linked to the fertility of the land and the spirit of the people, as highlighted in early agrarian civilization. It is very misguided to believe that cultures without an extensive literary culture are somehow backward. There exists a total belief system from birth to death and beyond, which is transferred from one generation to the next by way of song and story. This is women's role in oral cultural transmission. (When there is language suppression in this context, it may be described as cultural genocide).
The wailing ritual is an oracle upon death. There is given a ceremonial meal for the dead, which is eaten by the graveside. This is a Neolithic ritual based on ancestral worship which is now encompassed in the Christian ritual in Macedonia. (19) The extensive death ritual helps people accept death and deal with the reality of their situation, whereas the wailing ritual was a verbalisation of their innermost feelings and was psychologically a good process for acceptance and healing during the grieving process.
Three days, nine days, three weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, nine months, one year, and three years after a death a special ritual was carried out by loved ones which featured a meal by the graveside. At these times, wheat is boiled, small breads are baked and taken with a small bundle of food including fish, cheese and olives in a basket to church and the wheat, wine and bread placed on a special table. At the end of the church service a special service is always held for the dead. A candle is lit in the bowl of wheat and a special liturgy performed by the priest, mentioning the names of all the dead in that family in the form of ancestor worship. Yellow candles are lit for our dead and placed in the special trays for the dead, which are always placed at a lower level than those for the living. Once the service ends, all go out to the graves, where there is yet another ritual at the grave. Then food is eaten at the grave and is given to those who happen to be around. This food is thought to be food for the dead souls and whatever is eaten and given as "bog da prosti" soul food finds its way to the soul in that other life. Once the official three years of mourning is over, this same ritual is carried out on another two Saturdays of the year called "Mrtva Sabota" Saturday for the dead.
It was precisely this ritual which is of great significance in this culture, as well as those associated with births, christenings, marriages and funerals which were disrupted with the violence. People were ambivalent about attending Easter evening mass as they were afraid of the churches being targeted again. This fear is exacerbated with the following situation where a wedding party is prevented from leaving the narrow one way street where Sv Georgi is situated when a group of Greeks blocked the exits of the street. The situation was relieved only by the arrival of police after a tense fifteen minute stand off. The church also received anonymous phone calls warning of future attacks. (20)
Imagine the scenario for the community if all of the attacks on the churches were successful? Could this be construed as a form of cultural abrogation? Could this vandalism really be an unplanned, ad-hoc campaign of violence? For example, Mr and Mrs Sucevic, owners of the "Macedonian restaurant" in Fitzroy said that following a series of threats regarding the restaurant's name followed by attacks, they have been forced to sell up. "Just before midnight on February 19th, a brick wrapped in a Greek flag was hurled through the front window. Five hours later, St Nikola's Macedonian Orthodox Church in Preston was damaged by fire..." [followed by] threatening phone calls to the restaurant owners saying "You see what happened to your church, the same thing will happen to you " (21)
There have been personal attacks on key community figures. Such as the example of the fire bombing of the Fairfield real estate office of Angelo Pateras on 9th March, 1994. Angelo is the brother of Jim Thomev, who represented the Macedonian community at a conciliatory meeting chaired by the Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commissioner, Prof. Trang Thomas. This also raises the question about the randomness of the attacks. As Angelo stated, "I haven't done anything wrong to the Greek people. I have just expressed my ethnicity and my basic human rights which my parents did not have when they lived in Northern Greece That's all I've done." (22) It must be mentioned that the family has continued to receive threatening calls and letters after this instance. Sophie Pateras, wife of Angelo stated "As a woman when you are placed in a situation where you fear for the safety of your children, you want to disassociate yourself from everything our life has changed as a result of the attacks, certain people think that we are at fault for the attacks, but we have done nothing wrong. On the day of the attack I was in a state of shock but kept my appointment and carried on as normal with work. It really hit me the following week especially after receiving a death threat over the phone. After hanging up I started to cry and shake. At the same time I felt outraged that this should be happening to us in present day Australia."
The fact that some elements of the Greek community have problems with Macedonian self-identification and the public display thereof was evident long before Australia's bid to recognise the Republic of Macedonian in 1994. Before this spate of attacks there have been other threats which have been documented in newspapers. For example, at the 1992 Moomba, the frivolous occasion where all Australians are encouraged to get together and have fun, threats were received by Moomba organisers. There was "the suggestion that the Macedonian community drop any reference to its name entered (for the) Moomba parade after Moomba organisers received a threat against Macedonian participants. The Chairperson of the Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commission, Dr Franco Schiavoni, revealed the telephone threat was made to Moomba's General Manager, Ms Maggie Macguire who "sounded terrified when I spoke to her". (23)
Another incident raises the question of family history. The head of SBS's Macedonian language program, Ms Margarita Vasileva, was reprimanded because she was quoted in an SBS publicity brochure, approved and distributed by the station, as saying her parents came from the part of Macedonia that is under Greek occupation SBS's station manager, Mr Peter Horton, confirms there was a Greek community view that Ms Vasileva should be fired. He says SBS acknowledges a mistake has been made the brochure (was) scrapped and (the station) disassociated itself from the Vasileva statement." (24) Apparently, SBS station management know better than Ms Vasileva the origin of her parents! Any attempt to define one's own history in the Macedonian context and outline it is not acceptable and Ms Vasileva was basically reprimanded for stating the reality of her familiar past. It is the same as accepting only the white version of Australian history and refusing to acknowledge the historical past of the indigenous people of Australia, and worse still, censoring any such expression.
At this point we must acknowledge the existence of a very right wing Greek element, stressing that not all Greeks seem to be afflicted by the same form of paranoia regarding the Macedonians - this we will define as "Macedonophobia". Indeed, liberal minded Greeks who have spoken out against Greece's policy to the Republic of Macedonia and in dealing with the non-existent Macedonian minority in Greece have been vehemently targeted by their own people. Of particular significance is the example of a Greek woman by the name of Anastasia Karakasidou, who in America dared to write an academic thesis on the existence of a separate Macedonian language in northern Greece. As a reward for her research, she was publicly ridiculed and amongst other things threatened via the pages of the right wing Stohos newspapers in Greece. Her interview on the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program along with other prominent Greek politicians who had fallen out of favour because of their opinions regarding the Macedonian issue showed clearly that the Hellenic fundamentalists were prepared to attack their own if the anti Macedonian platform is not adhered to.
Dr Alexander Zaharopoulos writes that "the Greek position on Macedonia is born out of beliefs and attitudes which are instilled throughout childhood" particularly through the education system. (25) He goes on to state that whilst "Greeks are expunging old racisms, in respect of the Macedonian issue, there has been precious little dissent from the official government line One would like to believe that dissenters are keeping low out of fear."
The use of the Stohos newspapers as a tool for promoting fear and censoring free speech on the Macedonian issue in Greece as well as in émigré communities, has been used to identify Australian Macedonians (whose homeland is in Northern Greece) who have made the gross mistake of self-identifying as Macedonians in Australia.
A 2/6/93 article states, "we are stating the names of the gypsy Skopjans who are active in Australia." The purpose of listing the individuals is to stop their entry into Greece, so that the authorities and locals are aware of them (presumably to give them a hard time once they come back to visit their homeland). The plea to Greeks goes something like this, "All of you, open your eyes and do not allow any traitor to set foot on our land; and for those who decide to, show them that there are Greeks who do not accept their position" (presumably those whose self-identification is Macedonian). "Fire and axe to the traitors and brainwashed. Greece is big and will be bigger." (26)
So what does this mean for Macedonians who have lived in Australia since an early age, to see their names printed as traitors who should be prohibited access to their motherland? This is supposed to frighten them into submission and to stop presentations such as todays. If you recall the reaction of Sophie Pateras to the death threats and the fire bombings, and the instance just cited, it is clear that the purpose of such threats is to engender a climate of fear which results in the culture of silence.
What is the culture of silence and how has this developed in the Macedonian context?
It is best exemplified by an excerpt taken from an English woman's journal at the turn of the century. Lady E. Thompson outlines relief work undertaken by the Macedonian Relief Fund established by the Balkan Committee after the Ilinden Insurrection of 1903 (when Macedonia was under the Ottoman Empire). She outlines the following observations about the devastating state of being the Macedonians found themselves in.
"There is too, an illness, more or less serious, and sometimes fatal, peculiar to Macedonia, openly avowed by the sufferers and recognised by the same name by doctors - straf (fear).
How many women, and men too, did we not see this winter literally bent to the ground unable to lift up their heads, unable to work, unable to speak and yet organically sound and uninjured." (27)
The culture of silence is a means of enduring the burden of oppression. It is a state of total disempowerment whereby a psychological phenomenon can manifest itself with physical symptoms. It is an unpledged vow of silence which sufferers are resigned to so that their loved ones may live and it is an effective form of self-censorship. This is the environment of the past and the present.
For the first half of this century Macedonians have had to endure the following wars in their homeland which actually helped to maintain the levels of fear and the culture of silence: the two Balkan wars which precipitated the expulsion of the Ottoman empire from the Macedonian region, followed by the division of Macedonia, the first and second World Wars and the Greek Civil War. In light of this type of history, which did not facilitate socio-political development much less education and literacy in mothertongue, the Macedonians have a very rich oral culture, and it is in this way that values, belief system and history are transmitted from generation to generation.
The question that must be asked by feminists is what are the implications for publishing oral history and her story for Macedonian women in this type of environment?
Oral history as a tool of empowerment for women is very potent. The transformation of the spoken word into a literate form gives the context a dimension which is unattainable in oral culture. When oral culture, like that of the Macedonians, is transformed into the literary form of a world language like English, a very specific empowerment process takes place. The healing process and the development of a positive individual and collective self image for women and oppressed groups can only occur with expository revelations and documentation of their story. Rather than bowing to imposed definitions and fear, Macedonians must exorcise the devil from within; namely the despair that comes with transgenerational passivity, by individually or collectively writing their own history. In this process they begin to map out their own reality and this is outlined by thinkers like Gramsci as being central to the empowerment principle in biography.
Women have played a pivotal role in this past, yet they are rarely acknowledged. Furthermore, as a result of the political division of the region, forced immigration and resettlement programs and wars, many Macedonians live outside their homeland. The negation of Macedonian ethnospecificity is a reality experienced by Macedonians all over the world. When one's identity is being constantly challenged as a result of the denationalization process, one's very existence as a human being is being challenged and is problematic for the individual and the nation as a whole. It is precisely for this reason that gender oppression becomes secondary to racial oppression.
It has particular ramifications for the women of the group as they are endowed with the unenviable task of cultural transmission to ensure the survival of group identity. So what happens if the centres of cultural life, in this instance the churches, are attacked? Women's domain is directly threatened. This is further complicated by the effect of racial oppression on the male psyche, which when internalised was and to some extent is vented in the form of patriarchy. Hence women bear oppression with a double edge; both racial and gender simultaneously.
Oppression has a layered nature, effecting the humanity and spirituality of a people, eventually leading to the total degradation of a people both collectively and individually. The remnants of oppression manifest itself in "passivity" and a people who look down on themselves as second rate. In the case of the Macedonians, they are not even good enough to have a name. Women the world over understand this feeling well.
Saying the words our way and in our language is the first step towards the Freirian concept of conscientization that comes with the understanding of our socio-political reality and enabling us to prescribe our reality. For Macedonian women this is also the first step in the much broader struggle for gender equality. The wailing chants are women's form of expression and articulation as well as total control over culture and ritual.
However, until such time that the Macedonian women can tell her story without fear of political persecution (namely the safety of loved ones) the culture of silence which has developed as a result of the violence of racism in Australia cannot be permeated and will never be broken. By telling her story she tells of racial oppression and the way that this has impacted on her life and by doing so, she enters the political arena, which has been volatile of late. This is unfortunately happening in Australia. The courage to tell her story in these circumstances is undeniably great. It is understandable that not many books have been published containing women's life stories in the Macedonian context.
This is yet another challenge for feminists.
1. Popov, C. and Radio, M., Contemporary Greek Government Policy on the Macedonian Issue and Discriminatory Practices in Breach of International Law, Central Organizational Committee for Macedonian Human Rights, Australian Sub-Committee, Melbourne, 1989, p1.
2. Van Den Berghe, P., The Ethnic Phenomenon, Elsevier, New York, 1981, p62.
3. Ramazanoglu, C., Feminism and the Contradictions of Oppression, New York, Routledge, 1989, p127.
4. Bottomley, G. and de Lepervanche, M., Ethnicity, Class and Gender in Australia., Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1984, p266.
5. Clyne, M. Professor of Linguistics Monash University Letter to Macedonian Teachers Association of Victoria 12 October, 1994.
6. Underdown, M., Parliamentary Research Service, Current Issues Brief 11, Background to the Macedonian Question, 23 June, 1994, p11.
7. Underdown p 11
8. Approval-in-Principle NESB Hostels (as at May 1994, Melbourne) Department Human Services and Health, 1994
9. Underdown p11.
10. Hellsinki Human Rights Report - Denying Ethnic Identity - The Macedonians of Greece 1994, p61.
11. Letter from Senator Nick Bolkus Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to the Macedonian Senior Citizens Group of Thomastown, Lalor, Epping and Mill Park - 1 July, 1994
12. Clyne, M., Professor of Linguistics Monash University letter to Macedonian Teachers Association of Victoria 12 October, 1994
13. Sun Herald 15.3.94
14. The Age 17.3.94
15. The Age 19.3.94 p.15
16. Hellsinki Human Rights Watch, Denying Ethnic Identity - The Macedonians of Greece, 1994, p61.
17. Freire, P., Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1968, p13.
18. Office of Multicultural Affairs, National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, AGPS, Canberra, 1989, p15
19. See Gimbutas, M., The Civilization of the Goddess, - the world of old Europe, Harper San Francisco, 1991 for a complete overview of Neolithic ritual and some ritual that is still continued today.
20. The Age 10.3.94 p10
21. Sun Herald 15.3.94 p4
22. The Age 10.3.94 p2
23. The Age 10.3.92
24. The Age 12.3.94 p20
25. The Age 24.3.94 p12
26. Stohos Newspaper 3.6.93
27. Ilieva, A., "The British Relief Mission in Macedonia" in Macedonian Review No. 2 Volume VII, Skopje, 1997, p144
Pandora Petrovska is an education administrator with an interest in oral history and the writing of expository biographical works about the experiences of Macedonian women. Her articles and essays on Macedonian language, women and identity issues are published in the Australian Macedonian Weekly and the Panorama Journal, Adelaide, 1988.
Malina Stankovska is a community worker involved in empowering ethnic
communities and working specifically with those with psychiatric disability.
She is currently completing a Masters of Social Science in Social Policy.
This paper was presented at a Lilith Feminist Conference in Melbourne and was published in the Lilith Feminist History Journal.