by Bill Nicholov, President, Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
There is a typical Macedonian problem that is inadvertently aiding in our downfall – and that is the belligerent reluctance of wealthy or high-profile Macedonians to act in the face of adversity. Our country's name and identity have been forcibly changed and handed to our oppressors, our history is being rewritten, everything that our ancestors fought for is being wiped out, everything that we’re currently fighting for is being wiped out - yet they won't act. Why? They’re full of excuses. But before we discuss them, I have a question to those who refuse to defend their own people: What would your baba say?
Yes, I went there. You see, when it comes to Macedonian matters, Macedonians should be living their lives based on answering that question. If they did, no Macedonian politician would have dared to negotiate our name and identity. They wouldn't dare entertain Greek, Bulgarian or Albanian demands, much less appease them. They would be ordering the US to get their hands off Macedonia instead of letting them wipe us off the map and out of history books. And wealthy and high-profile Macedonians would be the first to defend Macedonia and demand that others, including the West, join them.
But, with very few exceptions, we hear silence. We don't see action. And I personally hear a lot of excuses – and I'm sick of it.
Imagine if a famous Western-born Macedonian athlete or celebrity made a statement denouncing the forced name change? This would instantly re-frame the debate into what it is – cultural genocide. It would no longer be referred to as a “diplomatic dispute” by the ignorant and/or Greek-romanticizing West. The snowball effect would occur and it would be delightfully appropriate if it began with a Macedonian-Canadian.
Unfortunately, it appears that we'll have to stick with imagining. While other ethnic groups jump to the defence of their own people, famous Macedonians claim that defending our basic human rights is “too political” or that they “don’t know the issues well enough”. Watching your ethnicity being stripped from you is pretty basic, and very horrifying. Watching your identity being handed to your oppressors and being given a brand new one, with your oppressors’ approval, does not qualify as “political” but it does meet the standard of cultural genocide. By the way, what if it is defined as “political”, does that preclude them from acting?
Now, let's discuss their equally belligerent refusal to contribute financially. “Regular” Macedonians have heard every excuse imaginable, such as:
“I already donate to a lot of charities” (Translation: “I choose Western causes over Macedonian ones”);
“My money is tied up in investments”. Teshko tebe. (sarcastically "What a heavy burden you carry");
And, one of my personal favourites, “I need a tax receipt”.
I will never understand people's obsession with tax receipts. All a tax receipt does is contribute to the reduction of taxable income, but they act like the federal government will reimburse them for every dollar they donate. Of course, when you're making millions of dollars, this does absolutely nothing for you. But they're forgetting the key thing about giving. And that is GIVING. Not “giving for the sake of receiving”.
Case in point, after my first of three diagnoses with cancer, I decided to contribute monthly to the Sunnybrook Cancer Centre in Toronto, where I was first treated. Ne mi tekna ("I didn't realize"– some things are better said in Macedonian) that I would be getting a tax receipt. When I did get one at the end of the year, it was nice, but it had absolutely no effect on the amount or whether I would make a donation. I donate to the hospital that saved my life for that reason only, not because I get a tax receipt...
I'm also involved in rescue dog and cat organizations, and I don't receive a tax receipt from either. And I have no interest in getting one. What am I interested in? Helping to save abandoned animals.
Needless to say, I donate to MHRMI. We not only organize and fund all human rights projects in every part of partitioned Macedonia, our members personally donate too. I know that I'm directly involved in opening a kindergarten for Macedonians in Korca, Albania. I take pride in helping Macedonians in Pirin Macedonia defy Bulgarian authorities and publish newspapers and books that teach the truth about Macedonia. I'm funding cultural festivals throughout Aegean Macedonia despite threats against Macedonians by Greek neo-Nazis and the Greek government (they're not mutually exclusive).
So, wealthy Macedonians, what are you doing to help? If your answer is “nothing”, then you need to prepare what you'll tell your kids and grandkids when they ask "Why are we being called 'Northern Macedonians' from 'North Macedonia'?" They'll ask why Macedonian heroes like Goce Delchev are being called "Bulgarian", why they're learning in school that “Macedonia is Greek” and why they're being told that our history “officially begins in 1991”.
Everything that our babi and dedoj fought for will be gone. What did you do to stop it?