The nominally “Macedonian” nation of FYROM emerged as a byproduct of Yugoslavia’s dissolution in the 1990’s and suffered a major transformation of the internal relationships after the US-supported uprising of its Albanian population in 2001 which led to a de facto confederalization of the country. As of late 2008, it is led by the charismatic ex-boxer Nikola Gruevski surrounded by a clique of young politicians. Plagued by chronic unemployment standing at the rate of 35%, with economy characterized by collapsing light industry based on primitive technologies and decaying public infrastructure, the nationalistic government of VMRO-DPMNE failed to attract any substantial foreign investments. Most of its economic policies failed to raise the public standard based on average salary of barely 300 USD. At the same time analysts predict that the consequences of the Global financial crisis are yet to strike FYROM, raising the issue of further deterioration of the prospects for decent livelihood.
The main-although progressively marginalized ethnic group-in FYROM are the “Macedonians”, a nation postulated by the Communist internationale in 1934 and created by policies of Josip Broz, Communist’s Yugoslavia strongman after 1944. A basic historical review of their ethnicity reveals that prior to 1941, when the Bulgarian army, invading the remains of royalist Yugoslavia, was greeted euphorically by the local population, this population considered itself Bulgarian and led a combined struggle of civil disobedience and guerrilla warfare against Belgrade in order to achieve either annexation to Bulgaria or a transitional autonomous state with Bulgarian preeminence. Further exploration of the past reveals an ubiquitously attested in historical sources Bulgarian character, an impression complemented with the peculiar character of the local Slavic language which shares features with standard and dialectal forms of the Bulgarian language proper which set it quite radically apart from all Slavic languages. While this ethnic group to a various degrees assimilated in the last two centuries a certain number of Serbs and Vlach/Aromanians (the latter having historically a Greek consciousness), this is almost irrelevant to its ethnological and linguistic qualities which are almost identical as the Bulgarian vernacular.
The other large population in FYROM is the Albanian. Compromised from descendants of the Paleobalkan ethnic group of Dardanians which was to a certain extent influenced by Roman culture and Latin language and which took refuge in the mountains of present-day north Albania (“Ghegnia”) in late antiquity/early middle ages, the Albanians which converted to Islam under Ottoman rule spread to Kosovo and western FYROM in 17th and 18th centuries. Today, in FYROM, they number near 600. 000, with a compact presence in the towns of Tetovo, Gostivar and Debar and representing a significant population in Skoplje, Kumanovo, Kičevo and Struga. Cherishing an archaic formalized code of conduct based on family and clan loyalty, ethos of reciprocity and obligation, Albanians have been historically more successful than the Bulgarians/”Macedonians” in preservation of means of private entrepreneurship and achieving a more vertical socio-economic stratification coupled with elaborated social network designed to minimize contact with the “Macedonian” non-Muslim population.
Among both the “Macedonians” and the Albanians, collectivist, anti-individualist attitude is deep-seated. Within the daily affairs of both ethnic groups there is a strong reverence for authority and hierarchy. The notion of “state”, a concept held identical with the actual government, which has to be obeyed and respected and which represent the supreme reality in which any individuality is lost is particularity prominent among the “Macedonians” having its root in their quite recent and long-lasting premodern feudal historical phase. It is no wonder that having realized that after the 2001 conflict and the subsequent signing of the Ohrid Agreement they lost the privileged status and that both factually and symbolically they cannot cherish the FYROMian state as their own, the elite of the “Macedonians”, realizing that any confrontation with the Albanian factor would be too dangerous, designed a national idea with the purpose of keeping the wider “Macedonian” public mobilized against non-issues. This recent idea is composed of the recycled concept of “Macedonian autonomism”-Bulgarian idea that that any initiative of the Slavs of Geographic Macedonia has to be labeled “Macedonian” in order to gain sympathies by deciding external political factors and the concept of “Ancient Macedonism”, the idea that the Slavs of FYROM are direct descendants of Ancient Macedonians.
The idea of “Macedonian autonomism” needs no further explanation of its perfidiousness and absurdity. Regardless of the trick character of the concept it still remains a doctrine of the Bulgarian nationalist originating from FYROM: The Bulgarians of Geographic Macedonia should claim that although their singular ethnic identity is the Bulgarian one they are, nevertheless, the exclusive Macedonians. As late as 1960’s this doctrine was restated by the leader of VMRO Ivan Mihailoff with the words “the name Macedonia should be preserved because it is a thorn in the eyes of Greeks and Serbs”.
The enormous success of the idea of “Ancient Macedonian continuity”, which originated among the most primitive sections of FYRO Macedonian emigration in 1970’s (in Sweden, Australia and Canada) needs careful analysis. Although the fallacy of the crude ethnogenetic theory which claims that the “Macedonians” of FYROM and elsewhere speak the tongue of Phillip II and Alexander the Great and that their customs, folklore and other aspects of the culture are either intact or evolved form of the civilization of Ancient Macedon is quite easy refutable, this is not the case in the current conditions under which the national discourse articulates itself in FYROM.
Briefly, Ancient Macedonians were a Greek entity with Greek ethnic name, using exclusively a Greek Doric dialect and later Koine Greek and practicing the same Olympian religion with the rest of the Greek. Ancient Macedonians participated at the Olympic Games, where only Greek were allowed to compete and had theaters on the soil of Macedon, an uniquely Greek concept. All names of Macedonians (with several exceptions) are Greek as confirmed by their Greek etymology. Conclusive to 2008, no scholar outside FYROM has even remotely claimed that the language and culture of Ancient Macedonians are an ancestral type of the present-day FYRO Macedonians, which are descendants of Slavs, an ethnic group originating from North-East Europe. Slavs settled the Balkans from 5th to 7th century and the FYRO Macedonian tribes were homogenized under the rule of the Turkic horsemen tribe of Bulgarians. These Slavs never called themselves “Macedonians”, while Byzantine, Bulgarian, Serbian, Ottoman sources as well as western travelers and others failed to furnish any reference to a “Macedonian” ethnic group prior to late 19th century.
The issue of the ethnic, cultural and linguistic nature of the Ancient Macedonians deserves a wider and detailed expose, referenced and structured according to the scientific method. However, in light of the present state of knowledge, based on the enormous archaeological wealth and a plethora of historic sources, modern historiography universally accepts the conclusion that Ancient Macedonians were Greeks. The key issue with regard to the “Macedonian” nationalism is how the opposite and improbable conclusion could became a “valid” and all-pervading form of public discourse and the root of national self-identification.
The problems arouse with the way in which the totalitarian VMRO-DPMNE government energized the masses among which the national confusion brought by media exposure of contradictory data grew. Firstly, it reactivated the conflict with Greece by multitude of irredentist moves. Secondly, within FYROM it carried massive policy of introduction of Ancient Macedonian symbols (names of institutions, statues) after the expected and natural Greek negative reaction. The population, feeling threatened, mistook the attitude of aggressive “Macedonization” sponsored by the government as “defiance” against a hostile state (the hostility of which was precisely provoked by FYROM’s initial provocations). Capitalizing on the fact that the vast majority of the general population does not have neither a capability nor a will for sustained scientific research regarding ethnology, history and linguistics, the government managed to capture attention of the whole body of citizens. One can presume that the sheer authority the organized government yields in a conformist society where libertarian principles of critical thinking and individual self-reliance regarding the process of opinion-forming are practically absent is sufficient to impose an entirely absurd idea of identity. In FYROM it is unchallenged by organized bodies from which a better knowledge of the true state of affairs might be expected, including universities, institutes, museums etc. With the sole exception of Internet, all electronic and printed media are participants in government’s monopoly over identity dogmas. Only few individual voices of distaste and revolt against the lies have insofar voiced their concerns (Denko Maleski, Petar Hr. Ilievski) but they got a hostile, unsympathetic public response.
While the prospect of organized challenge of the pro-governmental stances regarding the identity issues is something expected given the conventional political dynamics within pluralist societies, this is not quite a case. Nikola Gruevski achieved dominance of his party by calling premature elections in 2008 at the time of peak in the approval rating of his first mandate caused by populist measures. That gave him an unprecedented might against which FYROM has no institutionalized mechanisms of control. Furthermore, in a state of affairs whereby the larger part of the Slavs have abandoned their Bulgarian and Serbian culture in belief that they represent a separate ancient ethnicity in a category of its own, creators of the policy of the opposition (led by the leftist SDSM party) must carefully measure their words of opposition to the lavish Pseudomacedonian rhetorics, since they may be branded as “traitors” given the appropriate circumstances. Consequently, in such occasion they would find themselves ostracized from the ongoing debate.
This leads to the conclusion that the solution to the Pseudomacedonian hysteria which totally dominates public life in FYROM is not only confined to the change in the internal situation which may come as a result of economic collapse or a full-scale civil war, but also from strong pressure from outside which would enable FYROM to conform itself to reality and to rational way of conducting cultural policy. The reign of VMRO-DPMNE, characterized by collectivist, group-centered policies, extensive role of the police in society, new legislature sponsoring religious education, subsidizing biological procreation with wealth redistribution, enforcing ethics of service to the “common good”, emphasizing the feral, folklorist and medieval aspects of local national culture in opposition to modern as well as apolitical high culture, is the greatest political catastrophe FYROM faces in early 21st century. A hope remains that the Slavs of FYROM will reject the artificial and overbearing attempts to instill a connection with chronologically and ethnically distant Greek kingdom as well as to make history the most important aspect of their everyday lives. Only through enduring action from within and from abroad the local state-worshiping, centrally-planned tribal way of life may be liquidated and replaced with a political system based on freedom, a change which will forever put the era of Pseudomacedonism behind, as a doomed ideology based on lies.