Vojvodina Macedonians, a people with two homelands

Source: Macedonian daily Utrinski Vesnik 

Translated by UMDiaspora Staff

“I was born on February 17 1946, the first child to Macedonian immigrants in Vojvodina (a province of Serbia). My parents Petrush and Stana had come to the village of Jabuka from German (a village in the northeast of Macedonia), just a month before my birth. They made a home for themselves here, and so here we are today.”  Such is the story of Ljubica Jovic, one of many Macedonians who attended the 60th anniversary commemoration of the emigration of Macedonians to Vojvodina in the 1960s, held in Jabuka.  Hundreds of inhabitants of the village and the surrounding area, with talks of the past and present awaited, with bread and salt, the arrival of Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski and his Serbian counterpart Borislav Tadic.  A varied cultural program accompanied the event.

“One can never truly leave one’s homeland.  As long as we speak the same language and cherish the memories of our heritage, we will always be a part of Macedonia.  It is you, my fellow Macedonians in Serbia, who warrant and foster the good neighborly relations between our countries.  You are the true ambassadors,” President Crvenkovski said, addressing the participants.

President Boris Tadic, in his part of the address, encouraged the ethnic Macedonians in Vojvodina to foster their own identity and protect their culture and language: “I value your commitment to Serbia, but I also appreciate your attachment to Macedonia.”  He went on saying that, just as once Vojvodina gave hope to many for a better future, so today European Serbia can guarantee their minority rights.

The Mayor of Pancevo, Srgjan Nikolic, notified the members of the National Council of the Macedonian Minority in Vojvodina that he had launched an initiative for bilingualism in the village of Jabuka.

The village has some 7,000 inhabitants, some 2,500 of whom are believed to be Macedonians who speak their own language.  Vojvodina has six official languages, but Macedonian is not one of them.  Mayor Nikolic’s initiative means that Macedonian will soon be incorporated as a language of the province together with Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, Croatian, Romanian, and Rusinski.  According to the 2002 national census, 11,785 or 0.58% of the population of Vojvodina declared themselves as Macedonians.  The actual number of ethnic Macedonians, however, is estimated to be twice as high.  The group had a difficult time when they were reduced to an ethnic minority with the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

The consequences were hard felt in Jabuka, as classes in Macedonian were discontinued and the Nova Makedonija newsstand closed, cutting every access to the Macedonian press.  The uncertainty of those turbulent years forced many people, particularly the ones in mixed marriages, to declare themselves as Yugoslavs.  In Jabuka and some surrounding villages there are 17 different nationalities, of which the Macedonians are a majority.

There is no accurate statistics as to the number of people who emigrated to Vojvodina after World War II.  Some estimates claim that some 2,000 families, amounting to around 11,000 people from the east and north of Macedonia settled in the province.  Stanko Stamenkovski, who was born in 1922, was among the first to arrive in Jabuka.  He says that he has many friends with whom he speaks in Macedonian and that he has never experienced any problems.  He says that, as of recent years, the younger generation has demonstrated a flagging interest in their language and their country.

In the 1990s, the Radio Pancevo program in the Macedonian language, as well as the Macedonian page in the Pancevac weekly newpaper were suspended.  It is now one of the highest priorities of the National Council to restore them.  Starting in June, Pancevo TV will feature a 30-minute program in Macedonian, while from 21 October Novi Sad TV will also start broadcasting a show in Macedonian.  In the coming days the first issue of the Makedonska Videlina monthly magazine is expected to be circulated in the print media.

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