Exhibition in Brussels of so-called Macedonian Manuscripts is met with uproar
The republic of Macedonia is on of the odd results of the break-up of former Yugoslavia. Officially it was recognised by UN 1993 under the provisional reference of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, sometimes abbreviated as FYROM. Macedonia is a member of the Council of Europe. Further, since December 2005 it has also been a candidate for joining the European Union and has applied for NATO membership.
However the use of the epithet “Macedonia” has consistently met with opposition from the surrounding countries – as Macedonia is also the name of a wider region, transgressing the current national borders, which were the result of the civil war in Balkan.
One of the thorny issues has to do with the question of whether there exists such a thing as a distinct Macedonian language and culture; a question of paramount importance for Balkan people who insist of their different national identities as respectively Serbians, Albanians, Bulgarians etc. as well as for the Greeks, which in the North encompasses a region simply called Macedonia.
From a scientific perspective there is no doubt that it pays off to regard nationalities as “Imagined Communities” (as famously phrased by Benedict Anderson”).
However, from a popular and political point of perspective such grandiose and sweeping ideas do not seem to have taken hold of the Macedonian imagination. Instead a very conscious effort is constantly being made to develop a specific Macedonian culture and identity in this small landlocked Balkan nation and to market it in a global and European context. All in order to secure a future official recognition in the EU and the “right” to market the nation under the name “Macedonia”.
One of the building blocks in this endeavour is the idea that there exists a special Macedonian alphabet as well as language. Central to this effort was the work of Mirsikov, a linguist and dialectologist, who in the beginning of the 20th century wrote extensively about the Macedonian language, as it was spoken in the valleys of present Macedonia. Misirkov – although a controversial figure – is regarded as a national hero in FYROM. However most agree that this was a very inventive example of what in a scientific context might be classified as “an invention of tradition”.
Nevertheless Macedonia has succeeded in bringing this matter to the public agenda by contributing to an exhibition in Brussels of the so-called “Macedonian Medieval Manuscript Richness”; exactly how this has come about is naturally a well-kept secret in the scientific community studying these manuscripts and whishing to make the public aware of them ( in themselves and apart from the controversy they are of course quite interesting).
Nay says the Bulgarians – such a “thing” as a “medieval Macedonian manuscript” does not exist. The manuscripts, which will be showcased, are in fact nothing but Bulgarian, claims Bulgarian Politicians and historians. According to some Bulgarians this is nothing but a “Cultural Theft”. As opposed to this politicians and historians from Skopje are pushing ahead with the exhibition as a pars pro toto of claiming the existence of a “Medieval Macedonia”, issuing statements from the The Council for Macedonian Language, which vigorously tries to countermand the official opposition of the Bulgarian government voiced through its embassy in Brussels.
The exhibition will be showcased at the Royal Museum Mariemont in Brussels in October. Already the controversy has engendered a change in the exposition, which as of the 30th of August has been entitled a very bland “Traditions d’Ecriture” instead of the original title “Manuscrits macédoniens du XIII au XIXe siècle”. This has been followed up by an even more bland and non-controversial introductory politically cleansed text – so far not translated into English. According to this the exhibition will showcase 31 church manuscripts from Skopje, chosen among the collection of 270 old manuscripts.
Don’t say medieval history and studies has no importance!
Musée royal de Mariemont
Chausée de Mariemont