Why Macedonian Books Are Important - Speech for Launch of Picture on the Mantelpiece
By Victor Bivell
Melbourne, 1 February 2009
Thank you Vasil, and thank you also to Lazo and Lena and the family for putting on this terrific launch and for inviting me to speak. It's good to see such a great crowd for a book launch and it makes me glad I made the trip down from Sydney.
I've had relatives in Melbourne for a long, long time, and I used to joke that every Macedonian has a relative in Melbourne, but the more I speak with Macedonians overseas the more I think it might be true.
Picture on the Mantelpiece is Pollitecon's tenth Macedonian book, and four of those books were authored by people from Melbourne, so Melbourne is an important centre for Macedonian culture.
One of those four books, Pollitecon's last book, was The Contest for Macedonian Identity by Nick Anastasovski. The Contest is a great book, a prize winning PhD, and I've read it a few times, but the part that still gets me, that still rankles, that I still think about, around the middle of the book, is where the Patriarchate in Constantinople did some wheeling and dealing with the Ottomans to abolish the Ohrid Archbishopric. And when they succeeded and the Ohrid Archbishopric was abolished, the Patriarchate priests took over the Macedonian churches and one of the things they did was destroy the books and records. Some of these would have been unique old manuscripts done by the priests. But destroying Macedonian books was not new. A Russian academic says there is evidence that all old Macedonian religious books before the end of the twelfth century have also been destroyed.
My point is this - if Macedonian books are important enough to destroy, they are important enough to create. They are important enough to read, and they are important enough to write.
But there's a catch.
Not all Macedonians are free to read and write, to create books. We don't get a steady stream of Macedonian books from Greece, for example; in fact we get hardly any at all. And we all know the reasons why.
That is why we shouldn't take our freedom for granted. Those of us in Australia, in North America, in Europe, who are free to create books should use that freedom. We have a responsibility to use that freedom. Perhaps some of us even have an obligation to use that freedom.
In Picture in the Mantelpiece it was freedom that Stefo fought for as a partizan. For a Free Macedonia. For the freedom to read and write.
So let's not take it for granted. Let's use it. That's how we give continuity to our culture and how we can pass it on to our children.
And there's another reason why we should value Macedonian books.
The period from 1900 to 1950 is one of the most important in Macedonian history. There was the Ilinden Uprising, the Balkan Wars, the colonization by Greeks from Turkey, Metaxas, and the Greek Civil War.
But the Macedonians who lived through that period, especially the early part, have passed on. We can't say "Baba, dedo, tell me about the Ilinden Uprising. Baba, dedo, tell me about the Balkan Wars.". Those people have gone and those events are now out of our living memory, out of our direct reach. We only have secondary sources. Also gone are their many thousands of stories that were never written, never published.
But at the other end of that period, we do have people who can remember. That's why, Lena, it is such a wonderful thing that you and Stefo have done, not just for your family but also for the Macedonian people. We can say "Baba, tell me about the Civil War, tell me about the Macedonian Freedom Fight, tell me about life in the village." And baba, you can go one step better than that. You can sell them the book.
So thank you Lena, and to Stefo, for telling us your story. Despite the hardship and suffering, it's a tremendous, positive story about hope, strength and family.
Thank you also to Pandora. A great job. Another great book. And I hope it is as successful as Children of the Bird Goddess.
But we need more people like Lena ad Stefo to tell their story. We need more people like Pandora to write those stories. And we need more publishers. It would give me great pleasure if we had another five, ten, twenty, fifty Macedonian publishers. There is certainly enough material out there. And perhaps then I could retire.
So thank you to everyone for helping to launch this book. It's a good book. I guarantee it. So please - read it, enjoy it, talk about it with your family, and with your friends, and let's give it the life, the continuity, the longevity it deserves.