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On Macedonian Identity ( 22.06.2011 )

During the night Paul had a vision
of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him,
Come over to Macedonia and help us.
(Acts 16:9)

Each nation has its own major identification idea upon which it creates its own identity as well as its temporal (I would say, under certain conditions, also, eternal) national unity, in order to realize its temporal (I would say, under certain conditions, also eternal) national aims. Based on this major identification idea, its identity can be further enriched by other, supporting identification ideas and symbols. To put this more clearly, without continuously creating these supporting identification ideas – of global importance and value today – the identity of a nation is in danger of extinction.

Why do we say identification idea, and we do not say that the thing people identify with on a national level could just as well be something of purely material nature (although this option is never excluded for some)? There are two reasons why: firstly, because usually the idealized fatherland (i.e. the projection of it) appears and is promoted as a major identification idea, and within it there is often some idealized historical person (as history normally consists of persons), or a historical event or sometimes a symbol connected to this person; and secondly, because ideas cannot be divided and can be simultaneously and fully adopted by everyone with no conflict of interests, while material objects are dividable and their adoption always brings forth discords and disagreements, even wars between people. Therefore in the realm of ideas there is freedom, whereas in the realm of things (i.e. in the material world) – strictly formed rules.

The identification idea does not necessarily depend on the DNA, the kinship or the mother tongue (the USA for instance; although language may appear as a major identification idea), nor does it depend on borders (for example the Jews through history and today, who seem to be an exception from the rule for determining one's identity) etc. The identification idea is also not temporally determined: it could be either from a recent age, or from quite an ancient time. The identification idea does not depend on artefacts either, and that is why it should not be confused with antiquisation. The identification idea is not determined once and for ever, it is susceptible to changes (Yugoslavian, European etc.). The identification idea is independent of whatsoever. The identification idea can be followed either consciously or unconsciously. In our case, in accordance with all of the above mentioned, it is pointless to debate whether Macedonians are Ancient or Slavs, or whether that is the same thing (there is never a clean situation), or whether there may be some artefacts or not.

The identification idea has still another feature which, due to its great national influence and significance, must be mentioned here. Namely, the identification idea, as something that cannot be divided and as something that can be simultaneously and fully possessed by anyone, entails a filial relationship towards the fatherland and a friendly or fraternal relationship among the people united around it. Once consciously accepted, the identification idea takes its roots firmly into people's emotions, so that they are even prepared to lay their own lives for it (the idea – the fatherland). Such a person can never be frightened or bribed, with anything whatsoever.

This is not the case with the material. When people identify with the material (as something dividable, by the adoption of which only divisions and enmities are created), it entails only mercenary or mercantile relationship towards the fatherland and among the fellow citizens. He who keeps only a mercenary or mercantile relationship towards his fatherland is never able to lay his life for it. To him, each country that ensures some bigger interest is a fatherland. However, both types of relationship (the filial one and the mercenary one), based upon a narrowly horizontal identification idea, represent a psychological – not a spiritual process or state.    

There is a horizontal identity, about which we have talked so far and there is a vertical identity, determined by our faith. The Orthodox faith cannot be only narrowly horizontal, i.e. it is not a national identification idea, as promoted by some nominal Orthodox nations. The Orthodox faith does not have a narrowly national dimension. The identification idea of Orthodox Christianity has above all a horizontally universal and a vertically eschatological dimension: There is neither Jew nor Gentile (Macedonian, or Albanian or  Vlach etc.), neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ. (Gal. 3:28). This state is spiritual and can be achieved through an appropriate process of spiritual development. Sts Cyril and Methodius as well as Sts Clement and Nahum are mainly part of the vertically-eschatological dimension of the Orthodox-Christian identity in Macedonian people, into the foundations of which lies the mission of the holy apostle Paul. The horizontal identity must never be set in the mind and heart of Orthodox Christians prior to their vertical identity. If that happens, the identification idea i.e. the identity turns into an idol.

Each nation has its own major identification idea as well as a number of supporting identification ideas and symbols, that comprise its identity; consequently all the nations of our neighbouring countries have their own identities as well. Bulgarians have their own identity, Serbians – their own, Greeks – their own and Albanians – their own. When we are talking about historical identification ideas, particularly the supporting ones, it is irrelevant how genuine they are or how believable they are (anyway most often these are myths – winners create history), or how amusing or serious they are, or how much we like them or not, or how familiar or unfamiliar they seem to be etc. It is patriotic to respect both one's own identity and the free declaration of other nations' identities. This attitude is theoretically guaranteed by international law and within international organizations. On the other hand, nationalism and ethnocentrism praise one's own identity and depreciate someone else's identities denying the right to a free declaration of one's own identity. This attitude is theoretically disapproved by international law.

The name of the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian identity (as already accepted by the majority of its people; and according to the last census) are irrevocably connected with the idea of Ancient Macedonia, and within these frames with the idea of Alexander the Great [Macedonian], as well as with all its accompanying symbols. No other identification idea can justify the name R. Macedonia or the name Macedonian. Even the Greek proposals and neologisms Upper or North Macedonia or Slavomacedonians are inconceivable without this identification idea of Ancient Macedonia. Therefore, no Macedonian or no citizen of the country named R. Macedonia, or no foreigner should ever find disputable (just for the sake of it) the placement of the symbol of this identification idea – the monument of Alexander the Great [Macedonian], as an identification feature – on the main square “Macedonia” in the capital, i.e. in  Skopje. That is the logic of this topical act. Or perhaps someone knows about some other horizontal identification idea, I would really like to hear? The most important thing is that this identification feature, i.e. this monument, is in accordance with this identity that we have, with the internationally acknowledged laws on self-declaration and in accordance with the current logic, and that is why I think that political parties are uselessly disputing over it.

Certainly, not everything done by the governing party is good, and not everything criticized by the opposition party is bad. An opinion or action opposite of what was said in the previous sentence is a lack of political culture and democracy. According to me, it is politically correct to argue over the necessity of the other elements or objects from the project Skopje 2014 (from the aspect of finance, style, content etc.), but it is needless and even harmful, from the point of view of national interests, to argue over the monument of Alexander the Great [Macedonian] named “Warrior on a horse” on the central square, in the capital of a country named R. Macedonia. Alexander the Great (as he is depicted), with his ideas about a global world (multicultural and multi confessional society and tolerance) is part of the existing horizontal identification idea close to all the citizens of R. Macedonia, to all its peoples and ethnic groups as many as there are in R. Macedonia, even outside its territory. The idealized fatherland Macedonia, (according to modern tendencies) instead of only ethnic, can also be a civic identification idea.

Now I will try to explain the practical meaning of what I have previously presented theoretically. So, what is an identification idea or identity to us, whether horizontal or vertical, should not be a subject of arguing among Macedonian political parties. I just do not know whether the political parties see that here we still may not be able to perceive the red line about this topic. And if the red line is not perceived, then it is questionable how this country will survive or how it is going to exist further. For instance, it is not appropriate, under the influence of the political parties, that some people like the monument on the square and some dislike it, to such an extent that they become divided. Or, it is also not appropriate that some people like the idea of building a church at Plaoshnik and renewing the University near it, or the idea of religious education classes, and others dislike these ideas etc. It seems that our brothers Albanians are acting in a much smarter way than us, Macedonians, and we should by all means learn some lesson from them. For example, which of the Albanian political parties was against the monument of Skanderbeg or which one of them was against religious education or against the idea of building a mosque on the square in Skopje, while naturally only one of them was the initiator and had a direct political use of it? How come that Albanians are able to perceive what is important for their horizontal and vertical identity and Macedonians are not? 

I know that many of those who, either out of ignorance or out of political partiality, have not thought about it in this way, are going to question: “Well, if this is so, was it necessary to erect the monument right at this very moment? How about somewhat later or earlier?” I think that the answers to these questions may as well create divisions; do think about it and you will see – who would place it? Therefore, it is better that we unite our strengths around what connects us, rather than infinitely and uselessly and pointlessly waste our strengths on what is of less importance and divides us – in any case socio-political life is a continuous upgrading. In the Scripture it is written: “...Every city or household divided against itself will be ruined” (Mathew 12:25). And about entering EU or NATO you do not need to worry at all; if they survive, we will surely enter them (with or without Alexander) – in the worldly process of globalization very little depends on us. So, almost each raising the subject of Euro-integrations by the political parties in the media in this context is abusing the subject for daily-political needs. The political parties do have an abundance of other, economic and social issues upon which they could justly debate with concrete projects and suggestions, not just empty words; first of all for the benefit of citizens and then on behalf of our entering the EU.

There is still another question: Who can be directly in charge of the projects that are of identification importance, and who can be indirectly involved in them? Normally, directly – it is the governing political party, regardless of the fact which one it is at the moment. It has been given the mandate from the majority of the voters and it will take care of any project; especially if the project had been already announced and known to the citizens before the elections took place. Everything I am writing now is by the books for rules of democracy. On the other hand, it is best that the political parties first reach an agreement among themselves when projects of identification importance are in question. The issues or the projects of our identity must never be a basis for purely political promotion of the parties; this is inappropriate to their general national importance. Certainly, these historical questions of our identity should be solved once and for all so that the parties could work much more devotedly on providing a more qualitative and a more dignified life for the citizens, i.e. to help create – in a much more devoted way – modern supporting identification ideas of global importance, that would be of much greater significance for the survival of our identity in these modern times.

The supporting identification ideas of local, regional, and in particular of global importance, enrich and strengthen the major identification idea. In fact, without them the major identification idea would gradually disappear. Therefore we can simply conclude that it is the lack of supporting identification ideas of global importance for science, culture, economy, sport etc. that make Macedonia inferior in the negotiations for entering the EU, and not the Macedonian identity by itself. It is this wherein I see the role of a modern and progressive Macedonian government: to constantly take care about creating conditions for new supporting identification ideas to appear, which would be of global importance and through which we would be recognized and known by everyone. Furthermore, let us not forget: the future of our horizontal identity entirely depends on its relationship towards the vertical identity. It is from it that the horizontal identity draws its true inspiration necessary for our existence within history, within time. In fact, we always draw our true personal identity from it, from the vertical identity. That is why the renewal of monasticism is the most important vertical supporting identification idea that happened to Macedonia at the end of the twentieth century.

 I am writing as an Orthodox Bishop worried because of the divisions in his country and among his people, trying to prevent any further divisions that could be more dangerous than the political ones. The Orthodox Bishop is impartial to any ethnic or political divisions, he is obliged to be all things to all men: to the Macedonians – a Macedonian, to the Albanians – an Albanian, to the Vlachs – a Vlach etc., just to save someone for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:22) – that is the pastor's identification upon which his worthiness relies. He is not called to divide or to please the political parties or the ethnic groups, but to bring together and to unite. But when politics crosses the borders of what is allowed, he is obliged to intervene, not paying attention to the discriminatory stereotypes such as: The Church is not to interfere into politics! His intervention does not mean being partial, but witnessing the truth. The Orthodox Bishop has only a vertical-eschatological identity, in order to be able to identify with anyone's narrowly horizontal identity, and to be all things to all men. Someone has to stay and show the way towards our Heavenly Fatherland – mutual for all of us, and towards our Heavenly Father – One and only for all of us.

                                                                                                                    Nahum, Metropolitan of Strumica