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A Macedonian History of Macedonia

By Victor Bivell

printable version

Thank you to Dushan Ristevski and the Macedonian Literary Association Grigor Prlichev for inviting me to launch this much-needed book, Short History of Macedonia, by well-known Macedonian Canadian author, Risto Stefov.

The book is 300 pages long but it seemed shorter than that as I enjoyed reading it. It's a very good narrative; it tells an interesting story; it held my attention; it was easy to read; and it's quite fast paced, almost racy in places. Overall it was very enjoyable.

The book is a good introduction to Macedonian history. The story is very accessible, and no prior knowledge is needed to understand it and enjoy it. So it would make a good introduction for young English speaking Macedonians, and for general English readers with little prior knowledge about Macedonia.

But the book also has a lot to offer more knowledgeable readers. Because the book is a "short history", many people, Macedonians in particular, may feel they know enough about Macedonia's history to skip this "short" version, but that would be a mistake.

For my own part, even when the book is talking about parts of history that I've already read quite a lot about, such as Alexander the Great or the Greek Civil War, I didn't feel any sense of repetition. Rather, I still wanted to keep reading because the story is told in an interesting way and with many facts and historical snippets that I didn't know. So the book has got a lot to offer those people, including Macedonians, who already have some knowledge or even a lot of knowledge about Macedonian history.

The book is useful for both knowledgeable and unknowledgeable readers because it does something that most books don't do - it gives a 2,800 year overview of the major events in Macedonia's history. Particularly its political history. It starts at around 800 BC and ends in 2007. In this massive time line, the author does a good job of picking the key events in Macedonia's political history and telling them in a logical, informative and interesting way.

A little over a third of the book is about the early Macedonians from Kings Philip and Alexander to the end of the Macedonian Empires. A little under a third is about the Roman occupation through to the end of the Ottoman occupation. And a little over a third is about the struggle for freedom in the modern period including the Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian occupations and the development of the Republic of Macedonia.

Although the book is a short history, the section on Philip and Alexander is crammed with action and facts and is quite detailed in places, enough to give me the impression the author is particularly keen on this part of Macedonian history and has spent a lot of time researching it. Even through I've read about Philip and Alexander before, I still found out many things I didn't know and found this section very interesting.

If I can quote one example of both the strong narrative and the plethora of facts:

"The news of Philip's murder attracted the attention of the whole world; especially the City States who rejoiced in knowing that he was gone. Alexander was quick to let them know that he expected from them the same loyalty that they had for his father. He reminded the City States that the Treaty of the League of Corinth was perpetual and gave him a legal claim to be Hegemon, the same as his father. But Alexander's words did not please the City States in the least, for in Athens they were dancing n the streets with joy. Demosthenes, intoxicated with the prospect of liberty, appeared in council dressed in white with a wreath on his head making offerings to the gods for the joyful news. The call to freedom from Athens spread like wildfire to the rest of the City States. The Aetolians recalled all those exiled by Philip, the Ambraciots expelled the Macedonian garrison, the Thebans took up arms to liberate Cadmeia and there were signs of rebellions in Peloponnesus, Argos, Elis and Arcadia."

As you can see - a fast, information-packed, action-packed and colorful narrative.

I particularly liked the section after the death of Alexander and the breakup of his empire, as it is a part of Macedonian history that for a long time I have wanted to read more about but I haven't yet had the chance. This section gave me a good overview of the main political characters and events, and the intense political intrigues and maneuverings of the era. With a better understanding of the times, I now feel I can come back to this period with more confidence and fill in the details.

In the middle section, the book gives an essential outline of the main historical events: the conquest and occupation by Rome, the coming of Christianity, Byzantine Macedonia, Sts Kiril and Metodi, Sts Kliment and Naum, Tsar Samoil, the Ottoman occupation, Marko Krale, the Karposh Uprising, the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the political instability of the 19th century.

Although this section covers a long time span and covers most topics briefly, it is full of interesting facts and colorful snippets about the characters and events.

For example: "It was during the reign of Byzantine emperor Michael III (842- 867) that Solun had definitely established itself as the religious and philosophical centre of the empire. This was the time when Kiril (Cyril) and Metodi (Methodius) set off on a series of missions to spread the doctrines of Christianity to various places in Eastern Europe and Asia.

"I just want to mention here that, by the eighth century AD, the Macedonian eparchy was controlled by a Macedonian Archbishopric with its centre located in Solun and bishoprics existed in eighteen towns including Lerin, Kostur, Voden and Serres."

Another example centuries later about the failed Karposh Uprising under the Ottomans:

"Karposh was brought before Selim Giray who at the time was standing on the Stone Bridge over the River Vardar. Selim used him for target practice and impaled him with his Tartar lances. He then had his body hurled into the Vardar River. Karposh died early in December of 1689 and with him the Karposh uprising.

For the rebels who survived the battles there was no salvation from the Ottoman backlash except to leave Macedonia. Many fled north beyond the Sava and Danube Rivers. Some even went as far north as Russia and joined the Russian military. There they formed the "Macedonian regiment" which became part of the regular Russian army. The failed Karposh uprising depleted the local population of northwestern Macedonia, opening the way for large scale Albanian immigration.

"Just as the Karposh revolt was winding down in Macedonia, on April 6, 1690, Leopold I issued a manifesto inviting "all peoples of Albania, Serbia, Mysia, Bulgaria, Silistria, Illyria, Macedonia and Rashka to join the Austrians in taking up arms against the Ottomans". Then on April 26, 1690 he issued a letter making Macedonia and her people his protectorate. It has been said that Leopold acted on the advice of Macedonians Marko Krajda of Kozhani and Dimitri Georgija Popovich of Solun. Among other things the letter stated that "we graciously accept the Macedonian people, in its entirety in every respect, under our imperial and regal protection". Another letter was issued on May 31, 1690 extending Austria's protection to Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania. Unfortunately, all these good gestures were too little too late for Macedonia which by 1690 was back under tight Ottoman control."

There are plenty other of these sort of easy-to-read and informative snapshots of history. Many, like the last two, also re-affirm the historical existence of the Macedonian people.

When we get to the start of the Ilinden Uprising and the Macedonian struggle for freedom, the book and the narrative contain so much information that again I get the feeling that, like many Macedonians, myself included, this is a period of Macedonian history in which the author is particularly interested. This also comes out in his biographical treatment of some of the key Macedonian revolutionaries - Damian Gruev, Gotse Delchev, Krste Misirkov, Nikola Karev, Yane Sandanski, and Dimo Hadzhi-Dimov.

This detailed interest continues with the discussion of the division of Macedonia in the First and Second Balkan Wars, the impact of the First and Second World Wars, the founding of the Republic of Macedonia, and the Greek Civil War. There is also a very good account of Macedonian leader and freedom fighter Mirka Ginova, and the evacuation of the child refugees from Greece.

The book ends with the independence of the Republic of Macedonia from Yugoslavia and the continuing struggle for recognition and human rights in Greece and Bulgaria and to a lesser extent Albania.

Overall, as a short history of a land with a very long history, the author has picked the right points of history to discuss. All the main events, characters and themes are here.

Another good feature of the narrative is that the author sticks to information and facts. The little commentary that accompanies it is usually short, relevant and credible.

This contrasts with histories of Macedonia written by some non-Macedonians, such as the Greeks and many Oxford-Cambridge University academics. The book is free of the history-by-assertions, history-by-cliches, and history-by-slogans that the Greeks are so good at. Examples are "Philip united the Greeks" and "Alexander spread Hellenism". There is none of that debatable propaganda here.

A final example. While the modern Greeks are committing cultural genocide against the modern Macedonians by asserting "There were no Macedonians in Macedonia" and "There is no Macedonian minority in Greece", their British academic accomplices are committing cultural genocide against the ancient Macedonians by writing them out of history. Instead of using terms like "Macedonian Empire" or "Macedonian Period", they use "Hellenistic Period" even though the term "Hellenistic" was coined less than 200 years ago, that is, nearly 2,000 years after the end of the Macedonian Empire.

If you said to Alexander the Great that he left behind not a "Macedonian Empire", not a "Macedonian Period", not an "Alexandrian Empire", not even a "Post-Alexandrian Period", but a "Hellenistic Period" he would not know what you were talking about. Given that Alexander founded a large number of cities and named almost all of them after himself and none after anything in Greece or anything Greek, it is unlikely that he would have named his legacy to mankind after anything but himself. He would certainly not have named it a "Hellenistic Period", that is, a "Greekish Period".

There is none of that politically motivated cultural genocide here. This is not a Greek history of Macedonia, not a Bulgarian history of Macedonia, not a British ivory tower history of Macedonia. It is a Macedonian history of Macedonia. This book is a strong affirmation of the unique history and identity of Europe's first nation state and its much-loved land.

Short History of Macedonia can be purchased from the Macedonian Literary Association Grigor Prlichev by contacting Dushan Ristevski on dristevski@optusnet.com.au and phone 0425 231 335.

Published in Australian Macedonian Weekly, 30 September 2008

Source: http://www.pollitecon.com

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