In this paper, I will attempt to explore the following question: If we accept the premise that master historical narratives are shaped by “great people”, how can we truly know about the past? Are there enough sources to know the truth? By looking at contemporary Macedonian history (since 1991) and its master narrative (post-Yugoslav, sovereign), particularly focusing on one key stake holder, namely former president Kiro Gligorov, I plan to examine the Gligorov biography using available sources: web sources, Kiro Gligorov’s memoir Macedonia is all we have, TV and newspaper sources. In this text, Kiro Gligorov’s biography is represented using available, revealed resources.
At the present moment the most single narrative is his autobiography and it mostly influences to shape the historical representation of the last twenty years as well as Gligorov’s contribution towards the independence of Macedonia. There is no contemporary historian or work that has researched the topic of Kiro Gligorov’s life from a neutral and analytical position. Hence the lack of primary resources is obvious. It is evident in this case that interpretation of recent past events is insufficient, meaning that “history is less than the past and that only fragments can be recovered” as it is suggested in Keith Jenkins’s Re-thinking History.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that contemporary Macedonian national history compares the person and personage of Kiro Gligorov to that of US’s Thomas Jefferson or even the Czech Republic’s Vaclav Havel. Needless to say, time will tell whether in fact Gligorov’s presidency was as strong and as sovereign as current historiographies suggest. However, as a contemporary young male interested in exploring the relationship between my own recent past and my country’s recent past vis-a-vis the active and prevalent discourse on it, mostly by national historians, I would like to use the case of former president Gligorov’s representation in the recent annals so as to gain a better understanding at why the distinction between the past and history is rendered innocuous, although most contemporary national history do seem to understand that “history is a discourse about, but categorically different from, the past.” (Jenkins, 7)
Gligorov’s life is described in his books …, specific historical events are recorded on television, the period of the second world war is described in a few historical books, interviews exist and a few documentary shows where the life of the former president is presented. These documents are the only documents available from which to use information.
Kiro Gligorov’s own past and our historical present – a closer look at the narrative behind the man:
In order to understand the historical ramifications of president Gligorov’s tenure in office, I would like to draw attention to the concluding lines of Mark Mazower’s seminal text titled The Balkans, a Short History (2002):
How might the Balkans look if the sign of violence was lifted for a moment? It is true that serious threats to peace still exist in south-eastern Europe, perhaps more serious than elsewhere: Turkish-Greek relations, embittered in particular by Cyprus, will take more than an earthquake to improve, while NATO bombing of Kosovo has solved one problem (Serbian persecution of the Kosovar Albanians) only to create others (Albanian persecution of Serbs, as well as the new relationship between Albania, Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo itself. Just as the nation-building process is more recent and compressed in the Balkans, so ethnic nationalism remains stronger and civic traditions more fragile than elsewhere. (Mazower, 154-155)
We can observe from Mazower’s conclusion that the most recent aspects of Macedonia’s history (post-1990s) are in fact greatly affected by past events and circumstances that move beyond the discursive, if not ideologically different, interpretations of the same past events (events that span over centuries).
As I mentioned earlier, my focus will be on former Macedonian president Kiro Gligorov’s (1991-1999) time in office, or rather, his memoir on those days and events. His autobiography is suggestively titled Macedonia is all we have, published only two years after his two-term presidency ended. Although the memoir focuses largely on his time in office, coinciding with a rather precarious time for contemporary Republic of Macedonia’s history (disputes with Greece over the name issue, NATO candidacy, etc.) Gligorov establishes a voice and method mostly through a spoken understanding of discourse. Gligorov the historian, speaking to us from the “now” and “here”, vocalizes, and with that, speaks into contemporary history the process of early nation building in the Balkans. While contemporary historian Mark Mazower writes:
The process of nation building in the Balkans occupied the entire nineteenth century. It was protracted and experimental and left many of the region’s “little people” still subjects of imperial powers, weather under the Ottomans or – as in the case of the Croats, Slovenes, Serbs, Romanians and others – under the Habsburgs. Still, autonomy turned out not to be an alternative to full national independence, as many federalists inside and outside the Ottoman empire had hoped, but the preliminary to it: the passage from autonomy to independence took over a century in the case of the Danubian Principalities, decades for Serbia and Bulgaria, and less than three years for Greece. (2002: 95)
And yet, when reading Gligorov’ text, we find him at the forefront of this painstaking nation-building process, Gligorov the historian champions a process that is far less dim or discouraging in tone. For example, when speaking about the first revolutionary organizations he had started, along with other early Macedonian revolutionaries, in the 1930’s, organizations such as PYP (the People’s Youth Project), whose goal, he tells us, was to awaken the national identity of the Macedonian people, he speaks of an effortless process, one that was entirely nourishing to the soul of those involved, but also one that was incredibly uplifting, and even almost joyfully easy to undertake (37-40). Almost in the same breath, he also mentions his first run with the law, due to the nature of the organizations he helped organize. However, he joyfully once again celebrates outsmarting the authorities, and evading a prison sentence.
The tone of celebratory victory, over harsh and hegemonic circumstances, continues, although historically speaking a man of his generation (the former Yugoslav master narrative would suggest this) was expected to fight “the good partisan fight”, which he did not. Here, Gligorov the historian explains, in his most somber voice thus far, that though he was not directly involved with the fighting as a partisan, he worked tirelessly against the Bulgarian fascist occupier forces, by trying “to wake the Macedonian national spirit” up. Consequently, he was dedicated to the need for a free unified Macedonia, once and for all. He is here quick to point out his instrumental role in the founding, with a few more Macedonian intellectuals, of the APLC (the Actioner People’s Liberation Committee). With this organization, Gligorov the patriot took a more serious approach toward a free nation of Macedonia, or a more serious step towards “getting rid of the Bulgarian occupier”. (2)
The memoir then spends a few chapters focusing on Gligorov’s Yugoslav years, when he was visibly absent from Macedonian soil but never left the “Macedonia of his thoughts”. Namely, post-WW II, up until his retirement, served in the financial sector of the federal government, visiting Macedonia infrequently, and mostly calling Belgrade his home. This segment of the text is perhaps the most dispassionate; in other words, the otherwise jovial voice of Gligorov the historian is here replaced by a rather neutral voice, that of a factographer, not necessarily overtly patriotic; simply, here, in the memoir, we are faced for the first time with a resume, one that is less mediated by an overarching voice, and merely recalls facts out of an already available list of sources (for example, general federal papers on who held which office at what time, etc.). Indeed, this part of the memoir is least represented in the national history textbooks, as if that Gligorov and “our Gligorov” are not the same person, or at least not the person contemporary Macedonian history is interested in calling their “founding father”. From a structural point of view, those pages are necessary, since Gligorov himself, perhaps mostly for his own benefit, has to recount his “preparatory” years, and by extension, our country’s “preparatory” time, so that what is to follow in the narrative (an examination of our sovereignty) is understood as a natural progression to incoming (now past) events, and with that, a natural(istic) historical representation of the same. In other words, it (his Yugoslav past, and with that our Yugoslav past) “happened” so that our historical present may unfold. (2)
The last chapters (the main ones) focus on his time in office; here, once again, the friendly, approachable voice of the old story-teller comes to pass, now adorning his most somber and patriarchal timbre. Hence, we are related, in an almost dangerous sense of “in medias res”, how Croatia and Slovenia had succeeded from the union; how Gligorov was determined not to follow that type of example, of succession, so he called to the people of Macedonia, to evoke their “historical right” at deciding for their own future, by calling up a nation-wide referendum.(2) We are told how many foreign factors doubted that Macedonia would carry out a successful referendum; here, Gligorov the historian almost chuckles at these “nay-sayers” who seem to be so far removed from the “pulse of the Macedonian people” that they would doubt the union of “this land” And so on the 8th of September, 1991, Kiro Gligorov the historian transports Kiro Gligorov the man to the central stage at the Skopje city square, where in front of thousands of Macedonians, the now-historian allows for the then-president to congratulate everyone, present and past, with the following “historic words”: “I would like to congratulate you, a sovereign, independent, Republic of Macedonia!”
After the proclamation of the independence of Macedonia the YA (Yugoslav army) was still present in Macedonia. Gligorov with cunning diplomatic skills manages to convince YA general Ađic, on the 21-st of February 1992to retreat peacefully the YA from Macedonia, another great diplomatic success for Gligorov. (11)The next big event for Macedonia and Gligorov himself was the recognition of the country and entering the international organizations such as NATO, the UN, the EU and many humanitarian organizations. The first priority of Gligorov the UN, almost instantaneously the Greek government disagreed of the name of the country, of the people. They suggested a name, a “temporary” name, for Macedonia, FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). A name that should have stayed for 6 months and later be changed. Gligorov believed the power of the UN and agreed to this temporary name. On the 7-th of April 1993, Macedonia entered the UN by the name FYROM, it was a big step for Macedonia however a costly one. It is now, today, clear that Gligorov’s beliefs had failed him, not only him but the Macedonian people as well. The name FYROM was not stuck for 6 months but for 22 years. This was not Gligorov’s fault it was the institution of the UN that had failed the people of Macedonia. (5)
In these years Macedonia faced its greatest threat from outside. Milosevic’s government along with Greece was threatening Macedonia. Gligorov once more comes on the scene and on the 2-nd of October 1995 a deal was made so that Milosevic would recognize Macedonia. Gligorov proves himself as an excellent diplomat. Before this deal Gligorov convinced the US, Russian Federation and the PR of China to recognize Macedonia as the Republic of Macedonia, three permanent members, out of five, of the Security Council.
A day after the deal was made between Milosevic and Gligorov, on the 3-rd of October 1995, on a sunny morning at around 10 o’clock Gligorov was going to his office when in front of the old railway a bomb was waiting for him. An Ami-8 a French car filled with explosives detonated right next to Gligorov’s transportation vehicle. Gligorov’s driver was killed on the spot whereas Gligorov with heavy injuries was transported to the Clinical center. Gligorov had a piece of metal chunk cut into his right side of the head. Fortunately experienced personal from Macedonia tended to his wounds. Dr. Ugrinovski managed to save Gligorov’s life. 10 days later Gligorov was back on his feet. The assassination was unsuccessful. This attack on the president was experienced by the people as an attack of the sovereignty of the nation. Till this day official investigation has not found the assassinator or who ordered it. However at one point Gligorov mentioned, and I quote: “Even if I told you who had done it, no good will come out of it”. On the 10-th of January 1996 Gligorov returned to his position as president.(4)(9)(10) Gligorov died 17 years after the assassination attempt, meaning that he fulfilled his duty as a president to the end, to 1999. (1)
Throughout his whole life Gligorov had been fighting for Macedonia and its people. Unlike many revolutionaries he pulled off what most other people could not do, get Macedonia to its independence. Every time a new occupator came Gligorov had to change his name and identity, for the Serbian occupier it was Kirilo Gligorovič, for the Bulgarian occupator it was Kiril Gligorov. And finally when Macedonia was free of its occupiers his name was Kiro Gligorov. He kept the surname Gligorov in honor of his grandfather Gligorov who had pushed him to strive for knowledge and this thrust for knowledge got him to the heights of his career as a diplomat, economist and most of all politician.
Macedonia was a region with no clear borders and not even a formal existence as an administrative Ottoman entity. A bewildering mix of different peoples, hemmed in by newly created states (Greece to the south, Serbia and Bulgaria to the north) it became the focus for their expansionist ambitions at the century’s close. Its ethnography, however, posed a challenge for the most hardened Balkan nationalist and had changed out of all recognition since the days of Alexander the Great. The peasantry of the region were predominantly Orthodox, and mostly Slavs; Greek speakers fringed coastal areas and inhabited the towns (Mazower, 98).
The unfortunate peasants themselves were concerned more to regain some stability in their lives than to die for nationalism. (Mazower, 99)
Most Macedonian history textbooks, particularly those intended for the national history curriculum, cast the body of work associated with former president Kiro Gligorov in the most positive and romanticized of lights. And most textbooks base their ‘findings’ on Gligorov’s now well-known literary legacy, namely his 2001 memoir, suggestively titled Macedonia is all we have. The principal reason for this could in part be due to very little, almost none, primary sources dealing with the period of the last twenty years (mostly web and TV interviews), namely post socialist Yugoslavia and the formation of The Republic of Macedonia as a sovereign state. Indeed, current national historians are occupied with Macedonia’s relationship to its (the geographical space’s) distant past, rather than the last twenty odd years. Hence, a rather apparent and obvious lack of primary sources. Hence, an almost fanatical adherence to this one single source when relating contemporary Macedonia’s history to its younger citizens (elementary and high school students). In other words, “we” are told and taught to place our trust in the hands of the most “trustworthy” voice, that of former president Kiro Gligorov, who’s approachable and strikingly suggestive historical memoir “explains it all”.
With this, what can possibly be suggested is that history, and with that the interpretation of recent past events, suffers from an epistemological fragility, meaning that “history is less than the past; [that] historians can only recover fragments.” (Jenkins, 15).
In other words, although history is understood as a discursive process that changes, exaggerates, and even conflates aspects. However, I believe that the opposite is true, meaning that since the historical method allows and asks of the historian to work through hindsight, using knowledge that was previously unavailable, “the historian discovers what has been forgotten about the past and pieces together things never pieced together before.” (Jenkins, 16) of the past, its primary sources, i.e., “documents and other traces are ripped out of their original context of purpose and function”, are only meaningful, and with that constructively knowledgeable when allowed to be seen in retrospect. Which brings me to my key point of inquiry of this paper: is history, particularly the one created by “the active agents” (such as presidents, prime ministers, rebel leaders, army generals, etc.) in fact an adequate representation of past events, so as to help create a healthy understanding of one’s immediate past? In other words, can we rely on the historical discourse created by “the great men” (and women), immediately after the fact? Can we base our national history on such primary sources without running the risk of recreating a non-existent past, one dangerously close to fiction?
 The only time he visited was when Skopje experienced the massive earthquake in July of 1963. However up until 1990 Gligorov did not return to Skopje or Macedonia mainly because his job was tied to Belgrade.
 Numbers are once again stated, as if to appeal to the sense of logos for any one reader who at this point of the narrative may doubt the “historical prerogative” behind this referendum – 71% of the voting public came out to vote, with a resounding 95% voting in favor of an independent state of Macedonia, though if employing historian hindsight, we can now certainly speak about the way in which the referendum’s question was formulated in a rather suggestive, if not even loaded, manner.
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