The Prespa Agreement is a monstrosity. It’s moral and political spew on every ground. Every one of its pages imbues the Orwellian warning, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history”. Not only does it suffocate the cries of ethnic cleansing from the not-so-distant past, but it also attempts to draw a moral equivalence between the parties as being co-equal aggressors and transgressors in this dispute.
Effectively, Macedonia will become the first politically correct state in Europe. Pride in one’s people, culture, and heritage, nowadays seen as embarrassing and vestigial relics of a bygone era, will be steamrolled by an unstoppable train of progress and social engineering. These new “Macedonians/Citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia” (Somehow, I don’t think that will translate well into our folk songs) will wake up to a Macedonian state in name only. Macedonia will no longer be seen as the nation-state of the Macedonian people and a home for all of its minorities. It will be a modern, censored political construct—wholly disconnected from its roots and past for the sake of a rootless transnational agenda agreed upon in the upper echelons of power in Brussels.
That being said, this is not the worst we have been dealt. The Serbian authorities under the Kingdom of Yugoslavia attempted to erase Macedonia from the map, and relentlessly uproot all remnants of its non-Serbian past. Bulgarian fascist terror in World War II made even the German Nazis fare better in the eyes of Macedonians by comparison. And lest we forget the terror of the Metaxas regime in Greece, where speaking Macedonian or even mentioning Macedonia could result in physical torture, if not outright death.
The Prespa Agreement is nowhere near the level of brutality we have seen in the past. However, it can be—if we let it. If we sit back, continue complaining vocally but doing nothing, and thus allowing our children, grandchildren, and posterity to be eradicated. This won’t happen overnight; it’s an ever-so-slow drip of complacency and indifference that accumulates over time to a nightmarish reality.
However, according to recent reports, 68% of Greece is against the agreement. To us, this may seem odd. Why would hyper-nationalistic and paranoid Greece be so opposed to an agreement that secures their claims to the legacy of ancient Macedonia, as well as control over our use of symbols and history textbooks? Well, despite all the footnotes in the Prespa Agreement about our language, and the convoluted formulaic ways of expressing our nationality, Greece still technically loses out. Outside the narrow bubble of international law—NO ONE, and I repeat NO ONE— will mentally disassociate our people, who speak the Macedonian language and are called Macedonians, from the past heritage of Macedonia. Think about it. Do you think the average Western traveler when hearing that the Macedonians live in “North Macedonia”, will think to immediately refer to Article 8 of the Prespa Agreement to see that the terms “Macedonian” in this context refer to a different people, history and culture, than those of the ancient period? Of course not, but this won’t dishearten Greek Twitter from trying.
By agreeing even to a quasi-recognition (notice, I don’t mean a full recognition) of a Macedonian language and nationality, Greece has opened its appropriately-named Pandora’s box. Despite all the attempts over the years by Greek keyboard warriors to correct BBC or CNN headlines with “FYROM” instead of Macedonia, Greece had already lost the battle to remove Macedonia from outside usage in the late 90s. Now it will take on the Herculean task of explaining how their recognition of a Macedonian language and nationality does not amount to a recognition of an ethnic Macedonian people. Not to mention it will also have to explain how some of the people in their own borders who speak that same Macedonian language they recognized are not in fact of the same stock of people as their neighbors to the north. In a word, it can’t. As stated in a Greek article, “However, these distinctions do not change the fact that, no matter what the Greek government is saying, people with the Macedonian nationality, who speak the Macedonian language, will automatically be considered ethnic Macedonians.”
This is where the diaspora, the church, family and community have to truly show their worth. None of the intended and malicious outcomes of the agreement can come true if we do not let them.
Our history books will eventually be revised and mandated to call all place-names in Aegean Macedonia by their Greek names. Kukush (the birthplace of Goce Delcev) will thus become Kilkis to our students. However, even after the Greeks physically razed it to the ground and renamed it Kilkis, it never slipped away from the collective memory of the Macedonian people–our greatest junak was born there. Why should it now?
The state will be forbidden from using the 16-rayed Macedonian sun in a public capacity. Even when our flag was forcibly changed, the Macedonian people have not given up using this rightful ethnic symbol. Not one iota. In fact, it has fantastically increased in its usage, and I encourage ever-more use.
And most importantly, no faceless bureaucrat in Brussels can ever compel anyone to call themselves anything but Macedonians. No one can forbid us from privately teaching our children our true history: the glorious conquests of Alexander; the holy work of St. Cyril and Methodius; the terror of the partition of our lands.
As in Ottoman times, in the face of adversity, we have to return to our roots. The church, not the state, has to become the glue to our community and culture. We have to strengthen our family units—invest heavily in ensuring our traditions, culture, language, and history are transmitted to future generations. Furthermore, diaspora groups must join forces to act as a vanguard for the interests of Macedonians. This means not allowing any utterance of “North Macedonians” or “Slav Macedonians” by uninformed commentators. This means aggressive and targeted marketing to sell the beauty of our land, culture and true history to everyone interested. Even when our government will ask us “in good will” to reconsider using the name “Macedonia” for our private businesses we, of course, have to act and politely show them the door. In a word, we have to be subversive in the name of injustice.
Is the Prespa Agreement a garbage fire of an agreement? Yes. Will it solve any of our problems? Probably not. Can the agreement do anything to curtail a united and subversive Macedonian people? Well, you tell me. Are you ready to move away from patriotic Facebook posts and put your money where your mouth is? Preserving our identity for our posterity, especially in the diaspora, will not be an easy task. Subverting the intended goals of the Prespa Agreement will be even harder. But out of this chaos, we have secured an infinitely strategic starting point–a Macedonian language, nationality, and state recognized by Greece. No matter the legalistic jargon about the actual scope of the Greek recognition, this trifecta offers the opportunity for us to control the optics and narrative surrounding our identity. Only an apathetic and disunited people can let mere words on a paper trample on them and extinguish all hope.
The views of the author may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Macedonian Diaspora and Generation M.