Pride in your identity
In my last column, Gratitude and good things, I ended by noting that in my next column (this one) I would focus on more good things from Macedonia. I thought, for a moment, about writing about current events and but the dense fog of war makes that very difficult right now – I want some time to think through some things and reflect on the future, based on the history being made now.
So, continuing on: during my recent visit to Macedonia, I made the observation to two friends, when asked about my perception of how Macedonians feel about the past four years of a SDSM/DUI government, that Macedonians are worried, angry, and in a bit of despair, all at the same time. They countered with the idea that while all of that may be true, there is something else to consider: that because of the reckless, and frankly, illegal moves of the SDSM/DUI government with respect to Macedonia’s name and identity, Macedonians are actually taking more of an interest in their own identity, history, culture, language and more. Subsequently to that conversation, another friend – this one a retired diplomat from an EU country who has spent a great deal of time in Macedonia – made the exact same observation. He wrote, among other things, that “The vast majority of Macedonian have learned more about their history, identity, language, culture and (more) in just a few years than in decades before.”
And that makes sense – and is right – when you think about it. Macedonians – and the Macedonian identity, history, culture and more – have been attacked, almost more than ever before, during the years under the Zaev/Kovachevski/Ahmeti governments. Because of these attacks and this pressure, Macedonians, at every age, are learning more about their own past and then helping their children to learn about that past – so that they can carry this on into the future.
I have recently finished reading a new book by Irish author Os Guinness titled “The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom.” It’s an excellent book that I highly recommend but I want to quote here extensively from his chapter titled “Passing It On,” which, specifically, is about passing on our culture, memories and more to future generations. In this chapter, Guinness prefers to use the word “transmission” rather than “tradition,” and with good reason. He quotes the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020) who says “You can delegate history to computers looking it up when you need it. But you cannot delegate memory. Memory is inherently inescapably personal. It is what makes us who we are. If you seek to sustain identity, you have to renew memory regularly and teach it to the next generation.”
Guinness writes that “Such memory is essential to two things: a sense of identity and continuity. Without memory, we would not know who we are or where we have come from. And in the same way, the collective memory of remembered history is indispensable to the identity and continuity of a free people. If memory and a sense of history is lost, freedom too will soon be lost.” Guinness writes that “History for many people in the West has become dry, remote, and uninteresting.” But he also notes what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) has written, that “The best prophet of the future is our past.”
Again, Guinness: “…the Jews themselves have a simple explanation for their survival – their insistence on education and the importance of transmission. Their identity, their history, and their values were passed down safely from generation to generation. In Rabbi Sacks’s summary, ‘The Mesopotamians built ziggurats, the Egyptians built pyramids, the Greeks built the Parthenon, and the Romans built the Coliseum. Jews built schools. That is why we are still here.’” Sacks continues: “The great challenges of humanity are too large to be completed in a single generation…If any change in the human condition takes longer than a generation, education becomes fundamental.”
One more quote by Sacks: “…freedom is won, not on the battlefield, nor in the political arena, nor in the courts, national or international, but in the human imagination and will. To defend a country you need an army. But to defend a free society you need schools. You need families and an educational system in which ideals are passed on from one generation to the next, and never lost, or despaired of, or obscured. There has never been a more profound understanding of freedom…Forget it and you lose it.”
While I know that the current Macedonian government is attempting, through various channels, to change Macedonia’s history and then teach this profoundly wrong history in the schools, Macedonia’s true history can be taught at home, around the lunch table, while walking your children to school, when you are out with them at the park, and in 1,000 more ways. And it is the role of parents, grandparents, older siblings, uncles and aunts and more to do this – every day. And when a new government that appreciates and honors Macedonia’s true history comes back, then that will be the time to ensure that history is once again taught in schools.
On my trip I visited several restaurants with the roving band of musicians, singing traditional Macedonian songs. My friends joined in, as did tables around us, giving me a renewed sense that, indeed, this is just one way in which the Macedonian tradition is transmitted. From one person to the next, and from the parent to the child. Now is the time for all Macedonians to remember this and pass on that pride in your identity to the next generation.