The origins of each nation is a historical tale based on facts and beliefs, filled with myths about its heroes, wars, liberators and educators. As much as that story appears to be vague or disputable, it, like any other myth, has two basic functions. The first is, as the French scientist Raoul Girardet noted, explanatory. It provides a key to understanding the past and the present. On the other hand, it has an incentive, mobilizing function. Keeping in mind the facts and beliefs about friends and enemies, the historical heroes and liberators, the injustices and the allies and the glorious past, it creates the basis for politically mobilizing the nation and its political directing into a certain direction.
Regarding the roots of the Macedonian nation, that is, the Macedonian national features and identity, it can be said that, in the spirit of political pluralism, there are three different scientific-historical or propaganda interpretations and stories.
One of them, which is dominant in Bulgarian historiography, is the story of the “Bulgarian roots of the Macedonian nation”. According to this story, based on the Bulgarian ethnic roots, after 1937, when the Comintern recognized the uniqueness of the Macedonian nation, a special Macedonian national consciousness began, primarily based on Stalin’s interest and Serbian propaganda in Macedonia. According to it, Yugoslavia was “a dungeon of the nations”. When Macedonia gained independence, conditions were created for changing and forging the history and creating the truth that “all Macedonian revolutionaries and educators felt as Bulgarians and proclaimed as such”.
According to some representatives of that story, only the Republic of Bulgaria is a guarantee of the existence of independent Macedonia, according to the model “two states, one nation,” and the problem with the aspirations of the Albanians in Macedonia can be solved by ethnic separation through the exchange of territories, as Georgievski proposed during the 2001 conflict.
The second scientific-historical interpretation of the origins of the Macedonian nation discusses its Slavic roots, and its national distinctiveness. This interpretation, which until the victory of Gruevski in the elections was the official history of Macedonia, starts from the conception that the Macedonian nation was created through the centuries-old resistance to denials of Macedonian national distinction from Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, which after the First World War divided the territory of Macedonia among themselves. According to this interpretation, the creation of the independent state of the Macedonian Slavs, who, like the Bulgarians and Serbs, came to the Balkans from behind the Carpathians in the 6th century, would never have ended successfully without their involvement in the joint struggle of the Yugoslav peoples, led by Tito’s communists against German and Bulgarian fascism. But part of that story, just before proclaiming the independence of Macedonia, was the assurances of some of its supporters that Macedonia, as an independent state, without support and close cooperation with Serbia, would hardly preserve its independence. Such conviction was explained by the “knowledge” that without solidarity and support from the Serbs “Albanians in Macedonia, including those who claim to live in territories occupied by the Slavs”, will easily create Greater Albania in the Balkans. And in that case, Bulgaria will not just stand aside and watch.
And the third scientific-historical or propaganda story about the origin of the Macedonian nation is the story of its ancient origin. According to this story, which became an official history after Nikola Gruevski’s victory in 2008, the Macedonian nation is neither a nation of Bulgarian ethnic origin nor a separate Slav nation that gained conditions for its independence in the 19th century as well as other Slavic nations The Balkans, but it has drawn its origin, name and identity from antiquity. It is a nation that has its glorious past, in which it defeated the Greeks, has its heroes like Alexander the Great, but also the heroes of the Ilinden period and the National Liberation War, and that this ancient past of the nation, these ancient roots create conditions for another kind of social and multiethnic cohesion in Macedonia, but also in the Balkans.
All these three interpretations and conceptions of the origin of the Macedonian nation live and take place simultaneously in Macedonia, and create some confusion in the national consciousness. Under the pressure of the neighbors, Macedonia has already accepted to change the Constitution in order not to mention the Macedonian national minority in the neighborhood, changed the flag for no “ancient symbols” on it, signed an agreement “in Macedonian language according to the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia” and is negotiating with Greece about the differences over the name of the state for the past 23 years.
When the relations with the neighbors started improving after the change in power in the last election, the question was raised whether this improvement did not happen on the basis of some reconciliation with the denials of the Macedonian national identity? And what is it that will be protected as a national identity when discussing differences about the name?
Zoran Zaev, after winning the election with the concept “Macedonia-one society for all, thus making a step forward in increasing the social and ethnic cohesion in the country, offered foreign policy on the basis of the concept: For a common future of the Balkan nations in NATO and in the EU.
Instead of maintaining the fear of the nationalist policies of the neighboring countries and the tear-knit tone we nurtured for years, Zaev offered a policy of heightened national self-esteem, fostering a tone of reconciliation with neighbors and a focus on the future, not a past that cannot change, but rather can only be interpreted in different ways. He says: Bulgarians are our brothers. We have a common history with the Serbs. With the Macedonian Albanians we share a common territory, state and destiny. And with the Greeks we have a common historical heritage, common historical myths, a common name in the territory on which our state was created. With all the neighboring nations, we have more in common than differences, and perhaps this is our national distinctiveness. In other words we, who are recognized by 130 countries in the world like the Republic of Macedonia, and whose Macedonian language, as distinct in the group of Slavic languages, is being studied at 50 universities in the world, we know who we are, we do not threaten anyone and are ready to build a European identity and unite in the diversity that is our advantage.
This approach receives international support for now, and seems to produce results. Whether it will be sufficient for a serious step forward to NATO and EU membership, we will soon find out. But it is quite certain that only our goodwill will be sufficient. It will be enough if the neighbors get rid of their unfounded fears and the desire to see Macedonia defeated.