Lecture at the University of Wrocław on: “Bridges of friendship and cooperation: Macedonia – Poland”
Tuesday, 04 December 2018 16:18   

predavanjeYour Magnificence,
Distinguished Mr. Rector,
Distinguished deans, professors, students,
Esteemed attendees,
Ladies and gentlemen,

As President of the Republic of Macedonia, it is an honor to address the prestigious University of Wrocław in the friendly Republic of Poland. Poland is a country that was a symbol of freedom in the darkest periods of the European continent. In a time when the European countries were annexed by Hitler one by one, Poland was the first country to resist it, consequently encouraging the civilized world to stand resolutely against the evils of fascism and Nazism.

The Polish society helped end the Cold War. Solidarity marked the beginning of the end of the Warsaw Pact. In 1981 the famous Yugoslav rock band "AZRA" wrote the song "Poland in my heart" expressing the sympathy and solidarity of the Yugoslav youth with the authentic movement for freedom and justice.

The care that the Polish country provided sheltering the Refugee children from the Greek Civil War was also embraced by the Polish science by showing considerate interest in their mother tongue – Macedonian. It is no coincidence that precisely your prestigious university conferred an honorary doctorate degree to the academician Blazhe Koneski in 1973, 45 years ago, which represents the first such title ever awarded to a Macedonian in Poland (Sokołowski, 2001).

Moreover, we are only three days away from the day Blazhe Koneski passed on 25 years ago, in 1993. Therefore, I will start my address with the end of his life.

Shortly before his death, the exhausted Koneski called his colleague, the acclaimed Polish-Macedonian Slavist Zuzanna Topolińska and dictated his last published testimony to her (Koneski, 1993). In that very brief, but profound epistle to his and future generations, he addressed, for the last time, the issue that haunted him almost his entire life.

As a linguist and a writer committed to the development of the Macedonian literary language, he was aware that there are three things that were casting shadow over his life's work. First, the Macedonian language is spoken by barely two million people. Second, the full codification of the Macedonian literary language was only finished in 1945, after the Macedonian state was formed. Third, the Macedonian language was and it is still disputed.

Faced with these three facts, Koneski had the courage to publicly ask a very difficult question: What is the point to write, to create in such a small language?

This question meant re-examining his whole scientific and literary work, and overall, the meaning of his life.

Regardless how small it is, the Macedonian language has its own greatness.

It is the language that was geographically closest to the source of the first written Slavic language – the Old Slavic. We know that in 855, based on the spoken language of the Slavic tribes Sagudates, Drougoubitai, Belegezites and Rynchines inhabiting Macedonia, st. Constantine – Cyril and Methodius created a new alphabet – the Glagolitic. With the aid of the Glagolitic alphabet, they did not translate, but recast the Bible into Old Slavic. And, recasting is always much more difficult than translating. That shows the copiousness of the language and their ingenuity.

Using that written language, St. Cyril and Methodius and their disciples, among which St. Clement and Naum of Ohrid, banished the spiritual darkness and the fog of ignorance and they unlocked the immense spiritual, intellectual, cultural and creative potential of the Slavic peoples. Accordingly, in 1980, one of the great Slavic sons, Karol Wojtyła - the Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Egrigae Virtutis declared St. Cyril and Methodius co-patron saints of Europe.

Nevertheless, the Slavist Reginald De Bray writes: "By an irony of history the people whose ancestors gave to the Slavs their first literary language, were the last to have their modern language recognized as a separate Slavic language, distinct from the neighboring Serbian and Bulgarian" (De Bray, 1980).

Why is it so? Max Weinreich humorously noted that "a language is a dialect with an army". Throughout the long centuries of foreign political and spiritual governance, our language was systematically repressed and prohibited. During the 19 and the first half of the 20 century alone, hundreds of Slavic inscriptions were erased, thousands of Slavic manuscripts were destroyed, hundreds of thousands Macedonians were coercively renamed and their identities forcibly changed. That also includes Koneski's identity whose last name was once changed to Konevikj, then to Konev, depending on which neighboring country was ruling his fatherland Macedonia.
Faced with such conditions, in 1939 Koneski sets down the famous verses: "So much did woe cry out within me / that I was born into a tribe in need" i.e. into disenfranchised people.

However, that changes with the conclusion of World War II. Using their sovereign right to self-determination, the Macedonian people established the modern Macedonian state on 2 August, 1944. One of the first documents of the Macedonian republic is the resolution "to introduce the Macedonian language as an official language of the Macedonian state."

In order to implement the resolution, a Commission on Language and Orthography was set up. As one of its members, Koneski was aware that the language issue is one of the most important in resolving the Macedonian issue. Same as Krste Petkov Misirkov, he knew very well that the affirmation of the Macedonian literary language is a prerequisite to the completion of the Macedonian's national consolidation.

Therefore, he dedicated his whole life to a single goal. And that is to help his people develop and affirm their Macedonian literary language.

Koneski was one of the most active participants in the codification of the Macedonian standard language. He had a pivotal role in the production of the key documents for the Macedonian linguistics – the alphabet, orthography, grammar, vocabulary, historical phonology, language history (Vidoeski, 1986, 2013). As a linguist, poet and translator he drew the attention of the world linguistic and literary public to the Macedonian language. As one of the founders of the most important academic institutions and magazines, he contributed to the thriving of the Macedonian studies.

Through the efforts of Koneski and his generation the Macedonian language ascended to a modern European language with a bright future in very short time.

However, that kind of success woke the old Balkan phantoms of denial. The Macedonian language is still facing many deniers today, who in their attempt to erase or rename it they are conducting a type of symbolic oppression of the Macedonian identity.
Koneski, experienced these circumstances personally. I will provide an example.

In 1968, 50 years ago, Koneski became an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at the University of Chicago. However, the American Slavist and Macedonian specialist, Prof. Victor Friendman revealed that a real political drama surrounded that doctorate (Friedman, 2011).

Namely, back in 1964, the Polish-American Slavist and Head of the Department of Slavic Languages at the University of Chicago, Prof. Edward Stankiewicz proposed conferring an honorary doctorate to Koneski. The proposal quickly found its way to the agenda of the competent Committee on Honorary Degrees which was seriously considering the matter. Nonetheless, some of the Committee members were afraid from the Greek reaction. They believed that such an award can be considered as a hostile act by the Greeks, which were denying the existence of the Macedonian language, Macedonian identity and, in general, the Macedonian people. Therefore, the decision on the honorary doctorate was postponed until 1968. That may be the only recorded case of postponing a decision to confer an honorary doctorate at the University of Chicago, solely due to the great fear from a small language.

Although, the fear was partially justified, because just right after the ceremony the president of the University started receiving protest letters expressing dissatisfaction over the recognition of a "non-existent language" from a "non-existent people" (Friedman, 2011).
Precisely half a century has passed since that incident. However, that very same fear, unfortunately, is still present, and not just in America. If you search for the documents regarding our region on the official web-pages of the European Union institutions, you will notice something peculiar. Most of the documents are translated in the official languages of the countries in our region. Yet, only in our case, instead of Macedonian language, it says "the language of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". As far as I know, there is no such language in the Slavic studies.

In the official vocabulary of the Brussels' bureaucracy and diplomacy, the terms "Republic of Macedonia" and the adjective "Macedonian" do not exist. Instead, many Brussels' virtuosos of political correctness use the most beautiful epithets for my country and my people, with one purpose only - to avoid the terms Republic of Macedonia, Macedonian language, Macedonian people, Macedonian identity, and Macedonian culture. So, if you hear someone talking about a very beautiful European country and in the same time avoiding mentioning its name, the chances are that they are talking about the Republic of Macedonia.

This practice became so alarming that I sent a letter in 2011 to the President of the European Commission at that time, Barroso, where I stated that I will not accept a European Commission Progress Report on the Republic of Macedonia if that report does not contain the adjective "Macedonian". That practice is not in the spirit of "unity in diversity". Moreover, the European Union is not the only one. Several years ago, there was an attempt to erase the term "Macedonian language" from the official United Nations Multilingual Terminology Database. I had to send a letter to the Secretary General at that time, Ban Ki-Moon, in order to prevent such unprincipled intention.
What does all of this tell us? Those who deny the Macedonian identity and the Macedonian language perceive through a crooked mirror. Instead of adjusting their distorted image to the factual reality on the field, they are trying to adapt the reality to their crooked worldview. Worldview where it seems there is no place for the Macedonian language and identity.

Faced with these experiences, Blazhe Koneski exposed the logical fallacy of the deniers.

Double standards lie in the core of the problem. There are nations, Koneski says, whose rights to history are not disputed, and on the other hand, there are nations whose rights are disputed. The powers that do not make peace easily with the independent development of the peoples are prepared to utilize a whole scientific apparatus in order to protect their non-scientific and unprincipled positions (Koneski, 1968). Yet, a politicized science is not a true science. For that reason, on an occasion he says: "no matter the approach used to create the Macedonian literary language [...] they would still find a fault in it. Because from the depths of their souls they oppose the Macedonian language itself, not just some specific form of it" (Stojchevska-Antikj, 2017).

The people and the language are historical phenomena and as such they have a right to their own history. Therefore, refusing to acknowledge the historical right to linguistic independence of a certain people is equal to tyranny. The solution, Koneski says, is not in petty bargaining with those who tend to hold the key of the past of a certain people, and with it disputing its right to history, but in acknowledging the right to history to all peoples that mustered strength to shape a modern nation (Koneski, 1968).

Why do I speak of Koneski so much? Because his life reflects the life of the Macedonian people and the Republic of Macedonia.
That is exactly why he warned, that for us, the Macedonians, "more than to any other in the world, the language represents, with everything that was created using it, both spoken and written text, the closest we can get to an ideal fatherland, it is, actually, the only complete fatherland of ours" (Koneski, 1986).

The best indicator of the values of a certain nation is the consensus over the things that are not for sale, the things that cannot be bargained or negotiated with.

Today, unfortunately, some of the major gains he fought for are being put to question. Generations have come who seem to have forgotten the legacy of Koneski and started bargaining with those who tend to hold the key of our past.

While I am speaking here, the Republic of Macedonia is possibly facing the biggest challenge since its formation – to renounce the right to history and the right to self-determination.

The right to self-determination means that the nation has a right to decide its own fate, and that no one is authorized to forcibly intervene in its life, to destroy its schools and other institutions, to commit violence towards its customs and habits, to eradicate its language or to deny its rights. The right to self-determination means that the nation can regulate its life in accordance with its own will. It has a right to regulate its life autonomously. It has a right to a full secession (separation). The nations are sovereign and they are all equal.

From the right to self-determination emerges the right of the people to choose their own name and the name of the country they have established, as well as the name of the language they speak. The right to choose a name is an inseparable element of the right to self-determination.

Nevertheless, with the Prespa Agreement, Greece imposes us a new name and demands erga omnes application of that name – both for international and national use. A change of our Constitution is stipulated. Under this Agreement, Greece will gain constant supervision over how we name ourselves, but also how the other countries address us. The Agreement renames our institutions, censors the content of our children's textbooks, and prohibits the right of the citizens to express their own Macedonian identity. It regulates how we name our Macedonian language. A really important part of our way of life will depend on the will of Greece. It is a censorship on the world and a self-censorship on the collective consciousness of the Macedonian people. That is violence against our historical memory. The same thing the Greek state did to the Macedonians in Greece, now, under the Prespa Agreement, they want to do it to the Macedonians in the Republic of Macedonia.

Modern history has shown that the Balkans is a birth place of precedents. If harmful precedents limiting our sovereignty and political independence are established, then it is a matter of time when those precedents will be used in other countries as well.
In contrast to the politicization of science by many European and world centers of power, we have the example of Poland, the Polish science, and the Polish Slavic studies.

I have already mentioned that Poland opened the doors for the Macedonian Refugee children from the Greek Civil War and became a second home to the homeless and shelter to the persecuted. Today, these people represent a firm bridge of friendship between the two countries and peoples. One of them, Kole Simitchiev, was even a professor at this University.

Our two countries established diplomatic relations 25 years ago. The first democratically elected president Tadeusz Mazowiecki defended the right of the Macedonian people and the Republic of Macedonia to self-determination and human dignity. The relations were strengthened in 2005 when the Republic of Poland decided to use the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia in bilateral communication. We are sincerely thankful for that decision made on principle.

The Republic of Poland is a great friend, a sincere partner and a vocal supporter of the Republic of Macedonia in the European Union and NATO.

Their support was put into practice during the European migrant crisis. The Republic of Poland was one of the few European Union member-states that correctly realized that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. On the European continent, that link is the Republic of Macedonia. My country persevered through the migrant wave influx thanks to the help we received, not from Brussels, but from the Visegrád Four and the countries alongside the Balkan migrant route.

While I am speaking here, there are Polish police officers patrolling the southern Macedonian border. They help the Macedonian Army and the Macedonian Police in safeguarding Europe from the threat that comes from European Union territory. That is a paradox – police officers from a European Union member-state are deployed on a territory of a country that is not a part of the EU in order to protect Europe from the threat that comes from the territory of an EU member-state – Greece. For that reason, as President of the Republic of Macedonia, I publicly express our gratitude to Poland and the other countries that help us safeguard Europe.

Besides the Polish country, we are grateful to the Polish science as well.

The Polish science has shown a lively interest in Macedonia and the Macedonian language. In a time when the neighboring propagandas were appropriating the Macedonian language, the renowned Polish Slavist Mieczysław Małecki unequivocally stated that the Macedonian dialects should not be treated as Serbian or Bulgarian, but as a separate language. Małecki systematically studied several archaic Macedonian dialects from the surroundings of Solun shortly before the Greek state wiped them out from its linguistic map. By doing so, not only did he confirm the theory of the origin of the Old Slavic language, but he also left a permanent testimony about the presence of the Macedonian language in that area (Vidoeski, 1977, 2013).

The great Mieczysław Małecki was one of the founders of the Macedonian studies in Poland. His work was carried on by the renowned Slavists Zbigniew Gołąb, Włodzimierz Pianka, Zdzisław Stieber, Krzysztof Wrocławski, Zuzanna Topolińska who is now the first lady of the world Slavic studies, then Mieczysław Karaś, Jan Sokołowski, Mira Solecka, Stanisław Karolak, Irena Sawicka, Iwona Łuczków, Anna Когуtowska and many, many others.

Through the Seminar on Macedonian Language, Literature and Culture, the Republic of Macedonia became a destination for hundreds of Polish linguists.

A circle of trust was built throughout the years where the Macedonian specialists from the Republic of Macedonia pose the most difficult questions for the Macedonian language without a shadow of doubt over the sincere intentions of their Polish counterparts. Part of that intellectual bouncing of ideas is the project "Grammatical Confrontation of the Polish and Macedonian language", led by the academicians Zuzanna Topolińska and the late Bozhidar Vidoeski. This joint project between the Institute of Polish Language of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Linguistics Department of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts is closing on four decades of existence. I am grateful to the Rector Jezierski who helped publish the last volume of this project. We have the professor Jan Sokołowski with us today who at the moment is running this project within the University of Wrocław.

As the Republic of Poland takes the side of justice, likewise Polish science resolutely stands on the side of truth. That is exactly why I feel free to convey the following to you: 25 years since the epistle of Koneski, still the Macedonian language is spoken by a small amount of people; some circles still consider it as young language and due to that they still dispute it. The same question is asked 25 years later: Is there a point to create and communicate in a small language?

I believe it is worth it for at least two reasons.

First, as an intergenerational code for communication, the language is a link between the ancestors and the descendants. The language, its semantics, the symbols and grammar are formed based on the perception that the peoples and the communities had of reality. It is worth it to speak and create in a small language that has a unique perception of the world because that makes the world richer. Our Europe is richer.

Second, the Macedonian language is lingua franca, and thanks to it a member from one ethnic community can understand the members of the other ethnic communities in the Republic of Macedonia. It is part of our social contract. Our strength is in our diversity, and our diversity is guaranteed by our unity. That unity is articulated through the Macedonian language.

Preserving and creating in Macedonian language is an obligation towards our past and an investment for our future. All of the Macedonian specialists, especially the Polish Macedonian specialists, are guardians of that language and that legacy. The Macedonian Studies Workshop by the Institute of Slavic Philology at the University of Wrocław, which is the most serious partner of the academic institutions in the Republic of Macedonia, takes an exceptionally important place (Topolińska, 2016).

Thus, in these times of serious challenges for the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian people, we need our friends again to safeguard what we can so easily lose ourselves. The Polish Macedonian specialists and the Macedonian specialists around the world are the guardians of our complete fatherland because, as Koneski said, "our fatherland reaches as far as our language does."

Thank you.