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European Identity, Politics and the Western Balkans: Interview with György Schopflin, MEP (Part One)

The European Union finds itself in a moment of crisis. The European identity is under challenge from the nationalist discourse in some Member States, while the Eurozone is in need of new rescue strategies and stability mechanisms. In this context, Balkanalysis.com contributor Maria-Antoaneta Neag recently sought out the views of György Schopflin, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) active in the Foreign Affairs committee, and a member of the Delegation for relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, on the future of the European Union and the resumption of the enlargement process as to include the Western Balkans countries.

Fascinated by Eastern European studies, nationhood and national identity, Hungarian-born György Schopflin was educated in the UK, where he was employed by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and then by the BBC. He took up university lecturing at the University of London. He has produced various academic works, and is currently also teaching at the University of Bologna, in the Department of Political Sciences.

From EU Intervention to Democratic Deficit

Maria-Antoaneta Neag: The EU has entered a period of change: elections, austerity measures, protests, new governments etc. What effects do the events in Greece and Italy have on EU stability? Were the changes of governments imminent and necessary for the stability of these countries?

György Schopflin: Let me start by answering the last question: people think that these changes were overdue. It raises a number of very interesting points. First of all, these are clearly technocratic governments. They did not emerge as a result of elections and I think democracy as a general principle and system accepts that in such situations of danger or emergency, one can take steps which are not democratic.

What is interesting and new is that in both cases of Italy and Greece, the new governments came not as a result of domestic pressure but as a result of external pressure, from the European Union, the European Central Bank, France and Germany. This really raises very interesting questions about exactly where the democratic legitimacy of the actual government comes from and if it is reciprocal. Does this mean that at a future stage, Italy can instruct France to get rid of its government and install a technocratic government because the French are endangering the EU? Where does this stop? I don’t have an answer to it but I think that in terms of democratic theory and practice, these questions have to be asked.

The second point I wanted to make is that the EU is really taking decisions which intervene in the domestic affairs and even in the domestic stability of MS. I wonder how much legitimacy there is to it, especially when the general view of the European citizens is pointing in the opposite direction, away from Europe. That again raises difficult questions regarding the democratic deficit. There is a great deal of power which has accumulated in the symbolic Brussels, the legitimation of which is very thin.

That brings me to the heart of the issue. One justification for intervention is that economic developments are moving much faster than political developments. This is very clear if you look at the last two or three years and it has partly to do with the 24-hour-markets, the capital movements which, in a way, are autonomous of any state or any government, and this has been the case for 15-20 years.

Does this mean we need ‘more Europe’ as Angela Merkel has just said, or does it actually mean we have to go back to the nation state? Both processes are taking place and the difficulty I see is that it is almost impossible for practically anybody to understand that they are simultaneously citizens of their own country and citizens of Europe. The idea of European citizenship has basically not taken off. Until they do see themselves as having a voice in both, the legitimacy deficit that I’m talking about will remain in being.

Here I think that the national political elites have a really major task for which they are not yet prepared.  They are not prepared to discharge it. They don’t see, for the most part, that the solution to the economic processes has to be at the European level. We accept in principle that organised crime is global and we try to work against it at the European level. I think that from this perspective, there is a strong argument in favor of a much more effective Europe, but I think the transfer of more power to Europe is simply unimaginable without a much greater popular acceptance of power at the European level.

I think that the utopian solution is that the national political elites would accept that the European institutional system should have a much more direct link with the citizen, which really does mean that if you are a citizen of Romania or Hungary or any country, you accept that you function politically at two levels. I don’t see it.

A Pan-European List for the European Parliament

MN: You are the shadow rapporteur on behalf of the EPP Group on Andrew Duff’s own initiative report of the “Modification of an Act concerning the election of Members of the European Parliament” in the Committee of Constitutional Affairs. One controversial proposal relates to the idea of a pan-European list which would represent the European interest and strengthen the European identity. Do you think this proposal will ever be accepted by the European Parliament and the Council?

GS: There was a James Bond film called “Never Say Never Again.” I can’t see it happening at this time. Regarding Pan-European list, the idea is that 25 Members of the Parliament, either in addition to the existing 751 or coming from the existing 751  (this is still unclear and undecided) which should be elected on a separate or European list. We debated this in the Constitutional Committee countless times, so we are basically pretty clear on how this should be, but we are only a small minority within the European Parliament. What surprised me is the great majority (probably 60% or maybe even two thirds of the European Parliament) is hostile to the idea, and that includes my own EPP Group.

I don’t think it would stay on the table for too long. Formally it’s still there, but I don’t think there is real support for it in the European Parliament. Some people think that it’s irrelevant with the crisis, others do not see how it would change anything, while others are concerned that this would establish two “classes” of MEPs (European members and domestic members).

My counter-argument is that with the growing power being transferred to the symbolic Brussels in terms of economic governance, one needs some kind of elected representatives who could, in a way, supervise and control this. I think my argument is right, but I’m only one MEP out of the 751: that’s democracy, I accept it. Frankly, this idea will still remain on the ground, at least at this time. It may be that something will change quite radically and then the Pan-European list will get a great wave of support.

MN: Do you have any views from the Council?

GS: I haven’t heard anything from the Council, but I think the MS are probably taking the view that they will deal with this proposal when it becomes important.

 

The Western Balkans- Looking toward the Future

MN: In this moment of EU crisis, what is to be expected from the countries in the Western Balkans?

GS: I think we can separate Croatia from the others, because we can very much agree that it would join the EU in middle of 2013 and I think the Croats, whether they understand what they are joining or not, basically think that it’s a good idea to join the European Union. That’s true of every country that has acceded. They didn’t really know fully what they were doing. This contributes to the democratic deficit that I was talking about.

Regarding Serbia, my impression is, and I was there very recently, that the European Union still functions as a magnet. This has partly to do with the illusions, partly with reality – meaning that whatever happens, it’s better to be inside then out.

Serbia is interesting and I’ll talk a little bit about this because I’m the shadow rapporteur for Serbia. There is a growing sense of unease in Serbian society about the EU. The support for accession is diminishing. I think it’s around 50%, so it can go up again and it can go down. I have to say it’s the standard process that every MS has undergone: the closer they got to it, the less support there is. This didn’t mean opposition to it. An awful lot of people said “I don’t really know” and prefer to just keep quiet about it. This was the case of Hungary in 2002-2003. I don’t know what things were like in Romania, but probably something fairly similar.

The elites in Serbia are on the whole committed to joining. What is interesting is that the Serbian Progress Party, which used to be a nationalist party has switched. Tomislav Nikolić, with whom I spent an hour back at the beginning of November said, “I’m unconditionally in favor of the European Union, among other things.” This is interesting. I think what it signals is that the Serbian elite, including the radical one (which was really close to Šešelj and the anti-European position) has understood that if you want to become the Prime Minister of Serbia, you can’t be anti-European. Is this tactical, is this sincere, does it matter? I leave these questions open. To be truthful, I think that Nikolić is sincere. I think he really has changed his mind and understands the situation better.

Here I would add one other thing, which is true for every country inside the EU or those wanting to join it. I think the elites, especially the media elite, the intellectuals, are not interested in what is happening in the EU. They don’t take the trouble to learn about the European Union. Also, the academics who are working on it don’t seem to be able to transmit that knowledge to the wider public. I see a gap, a black hole. People say: “there’s the European Union, oh yes,” and then the curtain comes down. They don’t see it and the power issues actually at the heart of the EU simply don’t get transmitted. This feeds into what I was talking about earlier: the “disconnect.” You may remember the first and second Irish referenda on the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty. They used the word “disconnect” which means the gap in understanding, the gap in knowledge; so no wonder the Irish were so reluctant to vote for it.

I think it’s a fairly universal and widespread position throughout Europe. Even if you are moderately interested, where do you find the information? There are various websites, if you really want to know about the EU, you can discover it without too much trouble. However, only a small minority takes the trouble to go through the European news. It is certainly the case for Hungary. When I talk to people in my virtual constituency, they are always very interested, but I don’t think their interest lasts beyond the meeting!

What is European integration for, anyway? European integration is for all sorts of things, but the two which really count, in our part of the world, is that it gives us parity of esteem and status. Each member of the EU, on paper, to some extent in reality, is equal to any other member; in other words, size doesn’t really matter. Secondly, the EU is a superb conflict resolution mechanism. War in Europe, especially if you are an EU member, is absolutely unthinkable. That’s why, in the West, people were so shocked by Yugoslavia breaking up in terrible bloodshed.

To give you one illustration – three or four years ago, the Slovak National Party (SNS) led by Ján Slota, published a map on its website from which Hungary had disappeared. Romania was given the Tisza frontier, which you remember Romania was once promised with the 1916 secret Treaty of Bucharest. The Austrians got quite a lot, Slovaks got Northern Hungary, I think the Serbs got some parts too. In other circumstances, this could have been seen as a direct threat to the integrity of Hungary, and bear in mind the SNS party was part of the ruling coalition, in the Slovak government. Frankly, people in Hungary sort of laughed about it. I don’t think they would have laughed about it had it not been for the European Union.

That’s why I say the EU is a conflict resolution mechanism: it creates a level of security that Central Europe has never had before. Think about the repeated interventions by the great powers in the 19th and 20th centuries or the inter-war period: Germany constantly intervening, playing Hungary off against Romania. The great powers took a very active interest in the two Balkan wars (1912-1913), supplying arms, sending military observers etc. This is unthinkable today. That is part of what the EU brings us, whether the elites in South Eastern Europe are fully conscious of it. However, I think to some level, there is an understanding of it.

The EU as a Conflict Resolution Solution for the Balkan Countries

MN: You’ve mentioned the EU as a conflict resolution mechanism. Do you think the EU can be a conflict resolution solution for countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina or for the Belgrade- Priština dialogue?

GS: Yes! It’s not easy and I think the two situations need to be separated, Bosnia-Herzegovina on the one hand, and Kosovo and Serbia on the other.

I think the Serbs know they really don’t have another alternative but joining the EU. Russia is not an alternative and I don’t think they want Turkey back as their patron. I think that 500 years of Ottoman Empire rule was enough for them.

The Serbs basically know, even if they don’t like it, that if they actually want to join the European Union, they have to recognize Kosovo. The question that I found, when I was there recently, is “On what terms?” Can they do something less than full independence of Kosovo?

The answer from Brussels, as indeed from Berlin, is no. The Serbs are still coming to terms with that and their idea is to create a situation in which Kosovo is de facto independent but actually is formally still a part of Serbia and enjoys complete internal sovereignty. This won’t happen. It’s very difficult to lose territory, it’s very painful. I think that complying with EU conditionality will actually make a difference.

The Non-Consensual Bosnia and Herzegovina

MN: What about the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

GS: Whereas Serbia is a single state, even if there are quite some major divergences within the country, nevertheless, I think that there is a fundamental coherence. This is not true of Bosnia. The main problem, which nobody here – whether it is Brussels or Strasbourg – wants to confront, is that it’s a non-consensual state.

The Serbs, the Croats and the Bosniaks don’t want to live in the same state. Geography and, to some extent, history and politics pushed them in that direction. Is this democracy? What do you do when people living on a particular territory which has been given the status of a sovereign state don’t want it anymore? Belgium is the obvious example. I think that the future of Belgium hangs in the balance and I’m not sure that a break-up really matters. I can certainly see a scenario where Scotland opts out of the United Kingdom.

Most people think that states are there forever, but I think states are the product of history. They are human creations and they can change. The configuration of states can change. We pretend otherwise. On the other hand, I think it’s possible that somebody will eventually say to the citizens of Bosnia that they don’t have an alternative:  you have to live in this state whatever it takes and we will force you to do it even if it takes 100 years. I don’t see anybody rising up to say it and, in a sense, this is what is needed if the EU, the world, the US obviously, wants to ensure that Bosnia will become a single state.

Frankly, what I see is that Republika Srpska wants an autonomous status which is so autonomous that it can deal directly with Belgrade and Belgrade is not unhappy with this. They really don’t want too much to do with Sarajevo, they don’t like it and the level of tension below the surface is still very high. It’s a traumatized society, in fact it’s not a single society, but three traumatized societies. There, I think the task of EU conditionality is much greater.

MN: How do you see the rest of the Balkan countries?

GS: Montenegro can make to the EU it fairly soon, although there are still some serious problems: criminality, the Russian presence, but those are different things.

I see Albania as being a long way to anything that remotely resembles an integrable state. I think Enver Hoxha’s regime was worse than that of Ceausescu, hence the communist legacy is worse too.

I feel very regretful about Macedonia because I think it is integrable. I don’t see why nobody is saying to Greece to stop this fight. If Greece is being bailed out and is saved from complete collapse, than the least it can do is to abstain from the fight against Macedonia and accept that it is going to be called that way, and that this name doesn’t really pose a threat to Greece.

Reconstructing Histories

MN: What do you think about the trend in Macedonia to “build their own history” in terms of public works and monuments?

GS: Everybody does this.

MN: Isn’t it like a threat to the so called European identity which we all desire?

GS: No, I really don’t think this for one moment. Every country constructs its own history. There is no such thing as totally objective history. Let me give you one instance. It’s still part of the Hungarian mindset to talk about Mohács, 1526, a terrible defeat at the hands of the Ottoman army. It was partly Hungary’s fault, but we won’t go into these arguments. We talk about the catastrophe of Mohács. If you go to Istanbul, you see signs of celebration of a great victory of Mohács, which is right. They are right in their own way.

There are countless discussions about Transylvania, the Daco-Roman continuity or not. I did once suggest we should start talking about the Daco-Hungarian continuity and that would solve the problem. It’s nonsense. In a way, it’s a ridiculous historical debate but, on the other hand, in terms of identity construction, it’s really very significant. Think about the way Ceausescu constructed the entire Dacian past which is similar to what Macedonia is doing with Alexander the Great. I haven’t seen the new statue live, as it were, but it seems to be complete kitsch which reminds me of another 100 meter-high golden statue, that of Saparmurat Niyazov from Turkmenistan. I don’t want to be unkind, but that statue of Alexander the Great does look like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.

Turkey and Russia’s nostalgia over the Western Balkans

MN: You’ve mentioned the Ottomans and Russia, and their influence in the Western Balkans. Do you think they will give up on the Western Balkans so easily, as both Turkey and Russia have some strategic investments in Serbia, Montenegro and other countries from the region?

GS: They will not abandon their interest entirely. Some of it is economic investment, some of it is political. The question is: can they actually do it, is it important enough for Russia to maintain these significant outposts in Serbia, Montenegro and to some extent in Croatia. I don’t know if they are present in Bosnia in any significant way. Actually, the Russians are also present in a number of other countries. Can they do it? Can’t they do it? The question is the terms on which Serbs actually want them. It’s a two way relationship.

As far as Turkey is concerned, Erdoğan repeatedly denies that there’s any significant strategic interest, but of course he has. When they had the commemoration of the Srebenica massacre, Erdoğan went there and he was the leading figure. He was the most important person there. Everyone deferred to him. In other words, to Bosniaks and to some extent to Kosovars, Istanbul is an important source of moral and economic support. Whether that’s quite so significant or straightforward or welcome for the Serbs and Bulgarians, I wouldn’t like to say.

George Friedman, a hard-line geo-strategist, argues in his book “The Next Hundred Years,” that sometime in the future, Turkey will emerge, it’s already emerging, as a major world power. It’s one of the states that produces over 1% of the world’s GDP. It’s not quite one of the BRICs, but it’s getting that way. It’s a serious player, in regional terms, and to some extent in world terms.

The Turks would want to push their military power northwards, which means back into South-Eastern Europe and then the only counter-force would be a Polish-Romanian alliance and Austria, Hungary, unless Hungary isn’t already occupied. Hungary is indefensible, it’s all flat. If the Turkish army were to advance, Hungary would be occupied very quickly. The battle line would be the Carpathians. I think the idea of expanding the Turkish power northwards which encounters Polish-Romanian power looking southwards, that’s something that doesn’t have to be military, but I think that’s something that makes you think very seriously.

Turkey, sooner or later, if it goes in that direction, will find itself engaged in a very serious contest with Russia. The countries around it mostly speak Turkish languages. Azerbaijan is, in particular, Turkey’s closest ally. All sorts of interesting scenarios can be constructed.

The difficult that I see is that the large states of the West, in a way are not that interested in the smaller states of Central and South-East Europe. I think the French generally feel that the 2004-2007 enlargements were a mistake.

Enlargement Fatigue

MN: Many people are of the view that Romania and Bulgaria may have joined too soon and that the political criteria prevailed over the other Copenhagen aspects. Do you think this was one of the reasons of the postponement of the enlargement in the Western Balkans?

GS: It’s there in the background. Formally, things are going ahead. The Enlargement Directorate of the Commission is working very hard on this and produces these country reports every year. No enlargement can take place without the political will of the existing 27 Member States. I think it will happen, but not in the near future. The negotiations with Croatia began in 2005 and Croatia will enter in 2013; 8 years, it’s a long time.

MN: How long do you think the other Western Balkan countries will have to wait before they receive a comprehensive answer from the EU?

GS: Serbia will very likely get candidate status, but no date. So, how about 2020?

[End Part 1]

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Bulgarian Military Achieves Professional Goals, Regional Influence: Interview with General Zlatan Stoykov

By Chris Deliso

The successful conclusion of a long reform process that has brought a greater sense of stability and security for military personnel, as well as a more prominent role in Balkan partnerships on the national level, are two of Bulgaria’s key achievements, according to General Zlatan Stoykov, Chief of General Staff of the Bulgarian Armed Forces.

At the same time, an historic accord signed earlier this month between Greek, Serbia and Bulgarian military officials on reaching common understandings regarding military history is being highlighted as an example of Bulgaria’ss role as a bridge between NATO members new, old and prospective.

In an exclusive interview with Balkanalysis.com conducted on May 12 in Sofia, General Stoykov outlined the positive results already being witnessed from the conclusion of reforms, as well as his view of the Bulgarian military’s strategic role as a stabilizing force in the region.

After speaking at the opening of a conference on lessons learned from international peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo, hosted by the Rakovski National Defense Academy, General Stoykov kindly took a few moments to share his thoughts on Bulgaria’s efforts in creating a professional army, peacekeeping missions, and its enhanced role as a regional military leader.

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General Zlatan Stoykov addresses the audience at the Rakovski National Defense Academy

After the end of Communism, Bulgaria like other former Eastern Bloc countries underwent a lengthy and difficult transition period. Reforming and refocusing the military towards NATO standards was one of the major national issues to be confronted. Official diplomatic liaisons between NATO and the eastern Balkan country had begun in 1990, but the latter was only invited to begin accession talks at the alliance’s November 2002 Prague Summit.

On March 29, 2004, Bulgaria along with seven other nations joined the military alliance. Speaking on the occasion, Emil Valev, then Bulgarian Ambassador to NATO, stated that Bulgaria’s NATO membership “would help keep the instability in the Western Balkans at bay and entail lower costs for the NATO-led missions in the region.”

Five years later, Bulgarian leaders feel that their country’s contribution is essential, not only for helping keep the peace but also for enhancing military partnerships with neighboring countries. “Bearing in mind the achievements of previous chiefs of general staff, Bulgaria’s achievements in Bosnia and Kosovo and our bilateral cooperation with Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and Greece, I see the Bulgarian armed forces in the next years as a productive and reliable partner,” stated General Stoykov. “We look to share our experience and lessons learned, so that Macedonia and Serbia continue building professional armies and fulfilling the PfP criteria.”

The general also mentioned as examples of positive cooperation joint exercises already held with Romanian and Turkey, plus an upcoming one with Romania and Serbia. The Bulgaria military is preparing a memorandum, he stated, which will pave the way for an air defense exercise to be held at military grounds near the eastern Bulgaria town of Shabla. The week-long exercise, involving training with the Strela anti-aircraft missile system, “will probably happen in September,” he said.

In the coming years, the Bulgarian military will contribute even more regionally, the general stated, pointing out the fact that Bulgarian military offices have been in charge of NATO offices in both Albania (now a full-fledged NATO member) and Macedonia, where an expected NATO invitation was vetoed at last April’ss Bucharest summit by Greece over the unresolved “name issue.”

General Stoykov highlighted ongoing Bulgarian leadership at NATO regional posts, including in Albania and Macedonia. At the moment in Skopje, the mission is being led by a Bulgarian officer, Rear Admiral Valentin Gagashov, who has replaced the previous mission leader, Brigadier General Stoyan Genkov, another Bulgarian. Genkov was recalled on April 29, stated General Stoykov, for “health problems.” Although the NATO presence in Macedonia is set to wind down in September, if the Greeks do not relent on blocking Macedonia’s NATO entry it may continue and Bulgarian officials remain keen to be involved.

Since joining NATO, Bulgaria has also been moving to highlight its role not only in orientation to the Western Balkans, but to the wider Black Sea area as well, a region to which considerable strategic planning is currently being devoted. Bulgaria is involves, or aspires to be involved, in major regional energy projects at a time when NATO is re-orienting its primary focus towards becoming a bulwark for ensuring European energy security vis-a-vis a more assertive Russia.

Bulgaria’s friendship with Russia goes back long before Communism, however, at least to the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War, in which Russian forces liberated large parts of the country from Ottoman control. Due to its history and geographic placement, Bulgaria is strategically important to both east and west. Referring as well to the unresolved tensions in the Western Balkans, General Stoykov affirmed that “Bulgaria has a balancing policy in the region.”

One important though under-reported issue involving the Bulgarian military involves the stabilizing benefits of reforms fulfillment and the creation of a fully professional army. Although the army fully professionalized since January 2008, the process was symbolically completed with a new act officially published on May 12 in the state gazette.

According to General Stoykov, “there was a need for such an act, as the existing law [dated to the time of] NATO and EU integration goals. Since these have been put into action now, I hope the new act will put an end to the reorganizing process in our military. From now on, the only work should be involving continuing modernization and technical issues.”

Identifying the military’s three areas of key interest as safeguarding national security, peacekeeping missions abroad, and national security activities during peacetime (i.e., responding to natural disasters), General Stoykov affirmed that the act “will provide a professional model and clarify steps for career advancement.”

Indeed, during the long transition and reform period in Bulgaria and similar countries, downsizing and other personnel issues have led to uncertainties that have affected morale. According to the general, the act has a “social capacity,” meaning that the state will accept more responsibility for military staff and their families, “so that they can feel secure about their jobs and their futures- to ensure military officers that their jobs will be safe and no more staff reorganizing is being planned.” With reforms finished, the rest is “details,” noted General Stoykov. And, the improvement in morale “is already being felt,” he said.

At the same time, Bulgaria’s ambitions for becoming a regional leader were attested by an historic event held just after the conclusion of the Defense College’ss May 12-16 conference. In a trilateral signing, representatives of the Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek military pledged to work together towards a common understanding of military history between these countries- in the past, having a mixed legacy as both allies and enemies.

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Signatories of the memorandum of understanding on behalf of Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia, respectively (L to R): Colonel Stancho Stanchev; Major-General Giorgos Evangelatos; Colonel Katarina Strbac (photo courtesy Lt. Col. Rossitsa Rousseva)

According to Bulgarian Lt. Colonel Rossitsa Rousseva, who was responsible for much of the organizational work for the conference, “the idea for starting this project came from the Bulgarian side: it’s a unique idea because it’s the first such initiative in Balkan history, and improves cooperation between one old NATO member, Greece, another pretty new one, Bulgaria and one future member, Serbia, which needs some certain help before joining NATO and the EU.”

Added Lt. Colonel Rousseva, “we intend to invite other Balkan countries next year, and we hope that it will become a good opportunity for mutual cooperation in the region. It’s time to show that Balkans can work together for fulfilling different projects and ideas for our future, and not producing only conflicts.”

The memorandum of understanding was signed by visiting officials from the three states. From the Greek side came Major-General Giorgos Evangelatos, Deputy Chief of the Army History Directorate in the Greek Ministry of Defense. The Serbian delegation was led by Colonel Katarina Strbac, Chief of Department of Strategic Research at the Strategic Research Institute in the Serbian Ministry of Defense. The Bulgarian signatory was Colonel Stancho Stanchev, Chief of the Center of Military History and Lessons Learned in the Rakovski National Defense Academy in the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense. Also attending was retired Serbian Colonel Mihajlo Basara, who is credited along with Colonel Stanchev as originally having developed the idea.

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Macedonia’s Elections and Police Readiness: Interview with Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska

By Chris Deliso

In the following exclusive interview conducted on Wednesday, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gets the views of Macedonia’s interior minister, Gordana Jankulovska, about subjects ranging from the police’s efforts to guarantee peaceful elections and control outbreaks of tensions, to the fight against organized crime, special operations, foreign assistance and the expected outcomes of reform and re-budgeting towards professionalizing Macedonian security forces to tackle both new and existing challenges.

Elections: Lessons Learned and Upcoming Plans

Chris Deliso: As you know, in the last few months there has been a lot of international pressure on Macedonia to guarantee safe and fair elections, because of the violence that occurred during the previous [June 2008] elections. And now the major representatives of the international community have largely praised your efforts before and during the first round of the elections on March 22. So, what was different about the ministry’s plan this time around? To what do you attribute this more peaceful result?

Gordana Jankulovska: What was different this time was our approach. Unfortunately, we did have serious incidents during the last elections, and because of this we started preparing several months in advance. In a way, though, you could say that our preparations for these elections started on the day after the previous ones. An important element in our plan involved looking at the critical polling stations, and generally those areas where there had been incidents before.

Another important part of drafting the current plan was our unified approach: we asked for a wide variety of comments from outside experts, including security experts from the United States Embassy, the ODIHR and others. They all gave us certain suggestions for the future. At the very beginning of this year, we shared our election safety draft plan with security experts, to allow us more time for getting extra advice and incorporating information that was not available earlier.

It wasn’t just the plan, however- it was the entire preparation of the police as well. We conducted a number of trainings in which the entire uniformed police to be engaged in the elections were obliged to participate.

CD: What kind of trainings?

GJ: For example, there were a few changes in the electoral code that they had to know about. Also, in these trainings we put an emphasis on unification of behavior- to ensure that police will know to take identical reactions to situations, no matter where they happened. And the criminal police also underwent training to ensure better investigation of incidents, if they appear.

However, I should stress that it wasn’t just us. The most important reason why the elections were better, in my opinion, was contribution of all the citizens coupled with better behavior of the political parties. Speaking frankly, even for the previous elections, we in the Ministry of Interior did do everything in our power to safeguard the elections, and then to investigate incidents unfortunately provoked by others.

This time around, we have worked a lot on prevention- stopping problems before they could happen. And we tried to raise community awareness. The calls for free and fair elections from all the political leaders resulted in better behavior from all. As I often say, the stakeholders who have the most responsibility are the political parties, as they have the greatest influence over the voters.

Tensions in Struga

CD: However, as everyone knows, there are also certain tensions currently being felt, as for example in Struga, and many suspect they are related to political party activities. With this in mind, will the police be doing anything differently or additionally to ensure the safety of the second round?

GJ: Unfortunately a few days ago we did have another fight between students in Struga, resulting in a serious injury. This is completely unacceptable behavior. Because of this incident and general tensions in the city, we have already deployed additional police forces to Struga in a preventive manner. Our idea was that by demonstrating a stronger presence of police there a few days early – and not just all at once on election day – the people might feel more accustomed to it and not have reason to feel fearful or intimidated.

CD: Alright. Now, can you tell me, also about political party influence- are you aware of any elements, I don’t want to say paramilitary groups, but any possible violent groups that might not be under the ministry’s control, and that could cause security problems during the voting?

GJ: Well, there is always the potential for people to create groups- but the responsibility is on us, on the police, to deal with any situation. At this time moment I can say that we have full control over our territory, and are ready to react to any security threat. Most importantly, we have heard clear, stated positions from the political parties, that violence won’t be accepted. The message we are trying to send is that the only way to win elections in Macedonia is to do so peacefully. So, we don’t expect any violence on Sunday, though we will be ready to react to any situation.

The Incident on the Square

CD: Another recent provocative issue that has been suspected of having political involvement was this clash in the Skopje square between protesters and counter-protesters arguing about the idea of building a church there. Perhaps you saw on A1 TV last night, the EU Ambassador Fouere got especially worked up about this, while US Ambassador Reeker noted that such incidents don’t help improve Macedonia’s image abroad. What can you say about this incident, and the police’s handling of it?

GJ: I agree that this incident was terrible for the perception of Macedonia abroad, and it was unacceptable. In a democracy, everyone has the right to participate in peaceful protests.

When this incident occurred, the most important thing for us was to stop the situation from escalating, and in investigating to clear up the incident as soon as possible. To now, 23 people have been charged already for participation in violence-

CD: Yes, but are these only from the side of the protesters, these students?

GJ: I can’t say specifically to which group all of these individuals belong, but I believe they must come from both. We are looking at all the available evidence, such as videos made by the media, and we can see that way if someone was directly involved. The Ministry of Interior doesn’t charge people involved in peaceful protests, only those who engage in violence.

CD: Yes, but what about the charge that political parties were involved in this incident? And that this was basically a side event of the election campaign?

GJ: The job of the police is not to get involved with any political aspects of violence- our job is to stop the violence, and then investigate those responsible for causing the violence. However, looking at certain names of people involved in the protests, it is clear that this event was not completely separate from the elections.

Still, I don’t think that any of the people who were in the square originally intended to go there to cause violence. I believe their goal was to attract attention to their positions. But, things quickly progressed, first verbal exchanges and then physical altercations, and from that point it was difficult to stop.

CD: It has also been said that the police were slow in reacting- your thoughts?

GJ: Actually, a further and more serious escalation of violence was prevented by actions of the police. And another fact, though it doesn’t really matter any more, was that the organizers of the protest only announced their intention to the police 24 hours before the event-

CD: How much before should it have been?

GJ: Well, the law says such public events should be announced at least 48 hours in advance, to give the police sufficient time to create an appropriate security plan. And, another part of this bad planning, though also not really relevant now, was that the organizers gave us an incorrect assessment about the number of expected participants- we received a note from them saying there would be 200, though actually there were many more.

CD: Yes, but I understand this was because of the large number of counter-demonstrators? And did they give any advance notice for their presence?

GJ: That is correct, they had many more. And they didn’t give any notice in advance of their intentions.

CD: So, this is part of why people have suggested it was an organized political affair?

GJ: Perhaps, but I don’t want to speculate, as the police is not interested in politics, whether political parties were ultimately the organizers or not. What is important from our side, was that the situation was not allowed to escalate. But I would like to restate that it looked very bad and gives a very bad image of our country. This is why we are committed to bringing to justice those who participated in the violence.

I should add that while so far in our investigation we haven’t seen any indications of abuses of power by the police on duty during that event, if we do receive such information, any such officer will be held liable as well.

Special Operations: An Encouraging Trend

CD: Now, to leave the subject of the elections for a while, one thing that has seemed impressive to me is the success that the Macedonian security forces have had in comparison to previous governments in special operations, such as the neutralization of armed extremists near Tetovo in Operation Mountain Storm, or the arrest of the alleged organized crime boss from Kumanovo, Bajrush Sejdiu. Both operations required secrecy, tactical and strategic preparation and coordination. I have been here a long time, and I don’t recall previous police operations against extremists or criminals ever going as smoothly as those did. Do you agree? If so, to what do you attribute this change?

GJ: Yes. It’s a matter of good organization and disciple, and having the right people in the right positions- it’s all about management.

CD: Well€šÃ„¶ you’re the manager!

GJ: (laughter) But seriously, in these operations you can imagine how many people are involved: if they are the wrong people, you end up with a disaster. Operation Mountain Storm was a very complicated operation, requiring a great deal of planning, discipline, and exchange of information both within the Ministry and with our partners outside.

This is what I consider to be very different from the operations that occurred under my predecessors. I want to hear from my peers, and learn from their experiences. Within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there are people who have experience, who have been here for ages, but who had never been given the chance to use this experience. Now they have the chance to use their skills. I don’t have any problem with asking questions if I don’t know the answer- most of all, I’m interested in achieving results, guaranteeing the security of the people, and ensuring the positive working perception of the police among the people. So far, everything has gone well.

CD: Aside from this, though, can you point to any specifics- for example, enhanced training or exchange of know-how with partner states?

GJ: Certainly- the openness of the Macedonian Interior Ministry for ideas and support from friendly countries such as the United States, the experience we can get from working with them, is all very beneficial for us. The exchange of knowledge is essential – no country is an island, after all – and we have excellent cooperation.

CD: Now regarding the second major case, the arrest of Bajrush Sejdiu on serious crime charges. I understand that at his trial, which started today, he expressed a confident attitude, as if assuming he would be freed. In this region we find things like that happen frequently- which also can have serious ramifications for anyone who had helped the police build a case against the suspect. So, do you think there should be concern about this here?

GJ: I cannot speak for the judiciary, which is an independent one anyway, but being a lawyer and having knowledge of this case, I think it would be extremely difficult for any judge to release Bajrush and his associates, because the crimes they are accused of were so many and so interrelated. This was a very high-profile case, and we were working on the investigation for a full 2 years in advance. We were following everything he was doing, and noting every illegal operation he was involved with. It was one of those things, an open secret, everyone in Kumanovo had been saying for years that he was a major criminal, but there was no concrete proof. It was very difficult, he was very smart and he had connections everywhere-

CD: Well, I think he had practically half of Kumanovo-

GJ: Anyway, it’s for the judge to decide. However, it’s hard to imagine him being let off.

CD: You mention two years of planning went into the case. Can you tell me what motivated this action? Was it was, for example, an idea that he was becoming too much of a danger to general security to be ignored any longer?

GJ: Well, again, this case was a sort of public secret for many years. But the people of Kumanovo feared that Bajrush was so strong that he could do anything he wanted- we realized it was becoming a serious problem. The organized crime department started with preparations for this case, finding out about the activities he was involved in.

CD: Did these criminal activities spill over into neighboring countries, for example Kosovo?

GJ: Yes, he did have partners there- in this contraband tobacco business, you know, it involves the entire region. It’s not just the production, but especially the illegal export that matters. And it took a while to track all of these activities and to have the entire evidence in front of us to make a case.

CD: With all of this intensive investigation, certainly he must have become aware of it at some point?

GJ: He probably knew something, but I believe only in the late stages- in the end, he he tried to leave the country, but€šÃ„¶ he didn’t make it.

CD: After the action, which went off flawlessly, did the Ministry of Interior receive any private congratulations from partner countries?

GJ: Yes. We received very positive comments from our security services colleagues in regional countries, and from other friendly countries such as the United States. It was a case we were very proud of; we had been working on it for a long time in full secrecy.

CD: This is a very interesting concept. Macedonia is, after all, a very small country where secrecy is very hard to maintain. Why in this case were you able to maintain it?

GJ: Again, it was a matter of good planning and delegations of responsibilities, along with having the right people in the right places at the right time.

Discontents and Reforms

CD: Turning to a more controversial subject, some people, civil society groups and even foreign officials, complained last summer after the government’s revised budget was passed. Since the Interior Ministry received a huge increase in funds with this rebalance, some critics were charging that you are planning to make some sort of police state or surveillance state. How do you react to such charges?

GJ: These kinds of assertions are a result of ignorance, of people who don’t know how the ministry really works. They don’t understand that our ability to have success and achieve results depends on investment in equipment, resources, and people. The Ministry of Interior had not received sufficient investments for ages before I became minister. It was thus necessary to change this situation. After all, the people who are working under threat need to have the right equipment.

CD: €šÃ„òPeople working under threat’- meaning the police?

GJ: Yes, the police.

CD: Was that the case?

GJ: Nothing was really being done to improve things; the police were working in the same old ways, with the same old equipment, and getting the same results. In the 21st century, it’s impossible to fight today’s sophisticated forms of crime with 20-year-old equipment. And it’s part of my job as minister to lobby inside the government for more money for the budget.

I should add that we have figures, indicators that show it has been a successful investment, even in a short time. We seized a half-ton of cocaine, for one. We solved the [Bajrush Sejdiu] case in Kumanovo, there was Operation Mountain Storm, and a number of lesser-known organized crime cases. So, looking at everything in this light, the money allocated to us is very small, in comparison to the results.

CD: Alright. But more specifically, when you were preparing the budget and procurement for some of this advanced technical equipment, did you experience lobbying efforts from foreign companies, Israeli, American or other, to buy their particular products?

GJ: No, not at all. Our principle is to try to get the best value for money, and we undergo the legal procedures.

CD:Still, returning to the original issue, some Macedonians and even foreign officials say the government’s ultimate goal is control of the people.

GJ: Macedonia is a democratic country and there no room for such concerns. Believe me, the police has more than enough work to do fighting the existing criminal and security threats- we have neither the time nor intention to deal with anything else.

Nowadays, when global society is threatened by terrorism, we need to reach certain technical levels. It would be impossible, for example, if your government asked for us to contribute in a special operation if we were stuck using old equipment and old methods. We wouldn’t be able to help them.

Missions Abroad?

CD: On that note, it’s well-known that the Macedonian military has long contributed to the US-led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is there any possibility that the Macedonian Interior Ministry will send officers to such places?

GJ: There is a European Union civilian mission in Afghanistan, and we have expressed our full readiness to send police there to train Afghan police.

CD: Will this happen?

GJ: It’s a matter of their decision, and then administrative procedures. However, last year our foreign minister, Antonio Milososki, participated in an international conference for Afghanistan, and he also expressed our willingness to contribute Macedonian police to stabilization missions there.

CD: Perhaps it would be unlikely, but since this is an EU mission, would it be possible that Greece could block Macedonian participation because of all the current tensions between the two countries?

GJ: I don’t see why the Greeks would want to block something that would be a benefit to global security. So I don’t think so. But you never know.

Recent Arrivals

CD: Speaking of Afghans and Greeks- in recent weeks there have been several incidents of Afghan illegal immigrants, who actually did have valid temporary visas in Greece, being discovered by Macedonian border police. And not a small amount-

GJ: About 38.

CD: Do you think that this amounts to immigrant-dumping? That Greek authorities were sending these people across the border to get rid of them?

GJ: I don’t want to speculate, and I can’t judge that in advance. This is a very sensitive case and the investigation is ongoing.

CD: Fine. But I also understand that these Afghans were discovered not only on the border with Greece, which seems logical, but also up in the north, in the ethnic Albanian-populated village of Lipkovo near Kosovo. Since this area has been a hotspot in the past, with some connections to radical Islam, is it possible that there was some connection along these lines?

GJ: Again, I don’t want to rush to judgments here- the case is still being investigated. It would be bad to make qualifications before the case comes to an end.

CD: Fair enough. Tell me, where are these people currently being held?

GJ: These people here illegally are being housed in temporary detention centers, until we have a decision about what to do with them. The usual procedure is to send them back to their country of most recent origin-

CD: Yes, but Greece doesn’t want them back, right? Is there any chance of them actually staying and living in Macedonia?

GJ: They have not applied as asylum-seekers.

Promoting Discipline

CD: Finally, when one thinks about police reform in a country like this, a small country where everyone knows each other and people are used to doing favors for one another or turning a blind eye to things, it becomes hard to see how laws can be enforced on local levels. A less dramatic issue than the others, perhaps, but something that is still worth noting.

For example, I had someone from Bitola complaining to me yesterday that people are breaking the law by driving in the carsija [old town] there, and the police don’t do anything about it because they don’t want to penalize their friends and so on. What can you say about this issue?

GJ: We still find local situations like this, but we are trying to promote discipline more widely. We want local police officers to understand that they are required to execute the laws wherever in the country they happen to be based. If you have the opportunity to follow the work of the Ministry of Interior, you will see that we have become quite involved in promoting discipline.

CD: But it’s also a societal thing, it would take time-

GJ: Yes, it is also a matter if time to change the culture and behavior. But we are trying to create order. A big part of this, however, also involves making the local populations aware of the need to accept order, and to work with us. So we need the cooperation of Macedonia’s local populations first and foremost. That’s important.

CD: Minister Jankulovska, thank you very much for your time.

GJ: Thank you.

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Victor Friedman on Macedonia: the Balkanalysis.com Interview

Professor Victor Friedman is one of the world’s foremost experts on Balkan languages, and has been studying them for almost four decades, since 1993 as a linguist at the University of Chicago. Professor Friedman has a special place in his heart for Macedonia, which he first visited in 1971. This year finds him back in the country, as the recipient of a Fulbright-Hays Grant from the US Department of Education and a research grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.(All opinions expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the funding organizations.)

Balkanalysis.com Director Christopher Deliso caught up with Professor Friedman recently in Skopje for an interview. Their engrossing and wide-ranging conversation, covering everything from linguistic history, politics and lobbying to national identity and multiculturalism, is reproduced below for our readers.

…………………………………….

Christopher Deliso: Victor, thanks for taking the time to discuss your ideas and your research, it’s a great privilege.

Victor Friedman: Thank you, I’m always happy to speak about the Balkans and Macedonia.

Reminiscences

CD: Victor, the first time you visited Macedonia was in 1971. A lot must have changed since then.

VF: Indeed it has. When I first came here, during the height of Yugoslavia, many houses did not have telephones, and I recall you had to wait for 2 years to get one- even in 1994 when I was here for 3 months it was impossible for me to get one in the apartment where I was staying. Things have improved considerably since those days. And some of the damage from the 1963 earthquake damage was also still evident in Skopje.

CD: Even in the center?

VF: Even in the center. A lot of the new buildings were already completed, but there were still some piles of rubble near the Hotel Turist, today’s Best Western on the Ulica Makedonija pedestrian street. Sewer lines were being laid in the Stara Charsija (the bazaar quarter in the old part of town) so you had to cross some streets on boards. And there were an awful lot of buildings still housed in purpose-built ‘barracks.’

CD: Some of which still remain, for housing and offices.

VF: Probably so. And back then, the new main campus of University Ss Cyril & Methodius of Skopje hadn’t been built yet, and the new building for MANU (the Macedonian Academy of Sciences & Arts) hadn’t been rebuilt yet. It was housed in a mansion that I was told had once been owned by a Vlah merchant, and later served as the Italian embassy. There was one shopping center that just opened up in 1973.

CD: You mean the famous GTC (Gradski Trgovski Center)?

VF: Indeed, the GTC. And there were many ordinary consumer goods you couldn’t get here. People went to Thessaloniki or Belgrade to shop for many items.

CD: Interesting. Many Macedonians proudly claim to me that in Yugoslav times they were on a much higher social and economic level than the Greeks.

VF: Actually, the Greeks and Yugoslavs were about on the same level then. With hard currency, you could get a good rate on the drachma. But the difference was that Greece never had Communism, and in the 1970s Greece already had American style-supermarkets; one had to go to Thessaloniki or the US Embassy PX in Belgrade to get peanut butter.

Fewer consumer goods were available in Macedonia than in wealthier parts of Yugoslavia, of course. In 1973, for example, meat was hard to find. I was told that the price for meat was better in Serbia and all the meat went there. On the other hand, public sociability was more vibrant and relaxed. In mild weather all of Skopje went to what was then Marshal Tito Square for korzo (corso). In those days, Skopje wasn’t as big as it is now, and you could meet anyone you wanted to see there. It was also a great way to make new friends.

The Project of the Day

CD: So how about your project that brings you here this time. What is that about?

VF: My project investigates the continuing existence of multilingualism in Skopje.

CD: That’s an interesting topic. I suspect you are spending a lot of time in the Stara Charsija?

VF: Indeed. Among the craftsmen’s shops, tea houses, mosques, churches and open markets there, that is one of the best places in the city to find different social groups and languages rubbing elbows on a daily basis- Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Romani, even some Aromanian and Greek. My project studies the way that these languages are interacting today.

CD: And this idea was something you used to get funding for the project?

VF: Yes. As a linguist, I had to present my case, and the argument that won funding from the Fulbright-Hays (Department of Education) and Guggenheim is that Macedonia in general, and Skopje especially, represents the last place in the Balkans where the conditions that created the Balkan linguistic league are still present to some extent. So I wanted to study this and document its continuing existence today.

Grammatical Multilingualism

CD: ‘Balkan linguistics league’- what do you mean by this?

VF: Right. At the beginning of the 20th century, in the Balkans you had a range of diverse languages on the same territory- the Slavic languages, Greek, Albanian, local dialects of Turkish, three kinds of Romani, Romance languages like Romanian, Aromanian, and Megleno-Romanian and, before the Holocaust, Ladino (or Judezmo) – the language of the Sephardic Jews, a language derived from medieval Spanish with additions from Hebrew andlocal languages that too shape after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

In particular, the Slavic, Romance, Albanian and Greek languages share a lot of grammatical features that are the result of mutual multilingualism.

CD: Grammatical multilingualism? I can understand vocabulary, loan-words, shared by co-existing languages, but what examples are there of grammar influence in the Balkan languages?

VF: The replacement of infinitives by analytic subjunctive clauses using native material is an example of a shared grammatical feature among Balkan languages.

CD: Meaning the particle, like ‘na’ in Greek and ‘da’ in Macedonian?

VF: Yes. And what is really interesting is that even the Balkan dialects of Turkish, but only the Balkan ones, replace the infinitive with an optative- a verb form like a subjunctive but without a particle.

Linguistic Developments

CD: Wow- that’s fascinating.

VF: Yes, the Balkans are very interesting. We know what Ancient Greek, Latin, and Old Church Slavonic, and Sanskrit look liked, and we have Turkic texts going back to the 8th century. We know what these languages looked like in the early medieval period. For Albanian, our oldest significant texts are from the early modern period. We know these changes, these grammatical influences, were taking place in the late medieval and early Ottoman periods (although some are older in some languages). It was really in the Ottoman period that the Balkan languages as we know them today came to resemble one another.

CD: Was this line of investigation something that had been applied elsewhere, or received attention from linguists for a long time?

VF: Well there was some talk in the 19th century of that sort of thing, but in the 19th century, when modern linguistics first took shape with the discovery of the regularity of sound change, most linguists were spending their time trying to find out how languages genealogically resembled one another.

CD: Genealogically, meaning finding a common ancestor, yes? Was this a result of the influence of Darwinism, some sort of intellectual zeitgeist of the time?

VF: Well, some people might tell you that, but most accurately we can say that it coincided with Darwinism and similar trends. But what got people really interested in the genealogical approach to linguistics was the British conquest of India.

CD: Really! Very unusual.

VF: Well think about it: you had these cultured British gentlemen, who had been raised on the full classical education of Latin and ancient Greek, coming to this land of supposed primitives and savages- and getting completely blown away by the resemblances between Sanskrit, which they came across for the first time, and Latin and Greek.

The Balkans: A Special Place

CD: So then, to return to the former topic, can I ask whether this grammatical influence of different languages within a specific terrain is a rare thing? Do you find it in other parts of Europe like, say, Switzerland, with its four official languages (French, German, Italian, and Romansch) as well as the linguistically distinct Swiss German?

VF: Not to the same extent as in the Balkans. French, German and those languages had specific influences of different kinds on each other, but the ordinary populations were not necessarily multilingual until relatively recently, and even today each language in Switzerland is influenced significantly by the usage in the neighboring nation-states where they are standardized.

CD: So what was it about the Balkans that made it so amenable to multilingualism?

VF: Well, going back to Ottoman times, we could consider it partially an issue of pragmatism for city dwellers, traders and so on, for whom knowing other languages was directly beneficial to their livelihoods and businesses, with such diverse populations living together.

It’s also interesting to note that most linguistic studies of multilingualism today are being carried out in post-colonial areas of the world, or among immigrant communities living in wealthy countries. My research here in the Balkans is unusual in this context because this is a region with an endemic, long-existing, relatively stable and uninterrupted history of multilingualism.

Multilingualism as a Culture Value: A Telling Absence

VF: At the same time, multilingualism here was also a matter of a common cultural value, one shared by speakers of all the Balkan languages, except Greek. But we should also note that this language-ideological resistance on the part of Greek did not keep the language from being influenced by those with which it was in contact.

CD: Really! That’s unusual. How do we know Greek lacks this value?

VF: One telling aspect, from a linguist’s point of view, is that Greek is the only language in the Balkans that does not have a proverb to the effect that ‘languages are wealth’ or ‘the more languages you know, the more people you’re worth.’ All other Balkan languages have some such saying that indicates a value placed on multilingualism.

CD: Are we sure this is true, that Greek lacks such a value? Or could someone just invent one for the sake of it?

VF: To the best of my knowledge, there is no such expression. And over the years I have asked every Greek friend of mine for such a proverb and not one of them has come up with one. And I am talking about linguists, experts on the Balkans who are not subjective.

An example I recall comes from the introduction to a recently published book on the minority languages of Greece (which is, alas, still a highly political topic in that nation-state). The author was talking about Arvanitika, the Albanian dialect/language of speakers who migrated to Greece a millennium or so ago. The introduction was written by a respected Greek linguist- he wrote that among the Arvanites, and probably, emphasis mine, among the other Balkan peoples, there is this expression of languages as wealth. But he didn’t know of any such expression in Greek.

Confusion and Denial

CD: By the term ‘Arvanitika,’ you mean medieval Albanian?

VF: Most precisely, it refers to the Albanian dialects of Greece that separated from the main body of Tosk Albanian 600-1000 years ago. The dialects were spoken on many Greek islands, the Peloponnese, and in Attica and Central Greece. Greeks don’t like to admit it, but they have had large Albanian-speaking populations for a very long time, not just post-Communist economic migrants. While these dialects are now moribund owing to hegemonistic Greek language policies, they can still be encountered in places like Livadhia.

CD: An interesting detail-

VF: And I recall one vignette: many years ago at a conference, I met a woman who was Greek, but she knew Arvanitika. So we communicated, I in standard modern Albanian, she in Arvanitika. It was close enough to communicate.

I asked her, ‘how do you know you this language?’ As a linguist, it was an interesting detail. She replied, ‘well, I learned it from my grandmother.’

CD: Which would have meant she was of partial Arvanitika descent?

VF: Well, I asked innocently enough – I wasn’t really aware of the politics at the time – ‘why would a Greek learn Albanian if they weren’t Albanian?’ She was somewhat confused.

The next morning, however, when I saw this woman she said to me: ‘I couldn’st sleep all night thinking about what you said.’ She was a bit upset. ‘I thought about it,’ she said, ‘and no! I am Greek! I am Greek!’ It was the last time I tried to suggest to a Greek that if they learned another language at home, it was because that was the native language of the speaker.

The Nationalist Trap and State Policies

CD: (Laughing) on that note, let’s talk about the Macedonia issue now. Greece denies the Macedonian identity, referring to ancient history. What do you think about this?

VF: Unfortunately, with independence, some Macedonians fell into the nationalist trap set by Greece. The Greeks came up with a line claiming the Macedonians could not claim the name Macedonia unless they were descended from the Ancient Macedonians.

Well, no one can reasonably claim to be descended from the Ancient Macedonians, but this became part of the argument, instead of other more pertinent things. And so the issue has remained. But the Greeks have been denying the existence of Macedonia and the Macedonians all along.

CD: From your perspective, how far back does this go as a state policy? To the breakdown of Yugoslavia, or further?

VF: Oh, it’s been that way ever since modern Macedonians began to call themselves Macedonians. The Greeks have been denying the existence of its Macedonian minority since acquiring Greek Macedonia at the Treaty of Bucharest following the Second Balkan War (1913), except for a brief period in the 1920s. In 1957, an otherwise respectable Greek linguist named N. Andriotis published a polemical and, from an academic point of view, deeply flawed booklet entitled ‘The Confederate state of Skopje and Its Language’ – referring, of course, to Macedonia and Macedonian within Socialist Yugoslavia.

CD: This is very interesting to me, because as you know, many Greeks today refer to the whole country of Macedonia by the name of the capital, and the people as ‘Skopjeans.’ So they were using this reference even then?

VF: Of course. But already in the 19th century, Macedonian speakers were calling themselves Macedonians (Makedontsi), their language, ‘Makedonski.’ This is documented.

CD: But they were also calling themselves ‘Bulgarians’ then.

VF: Yes, some were, and speakers identified as Serbs or Greeks or Turks, depending on religious loyalties, but most of the time, speakers called themselves Christians or Turks (Muslims).

CD: Because the Ottoman system used religion as the main factor in classifying its subjects?

VF: Yes, but not just because of the Ottomans- religion was more important then as well. It was the late 18th/early19th century ideas, developed from the French Revolution that led to nation-state ideologies.

Organized Obliteration?

VF: But even well before this, some have made a case – and this refers again to the social resistance against other languages – that the Greeks have been trying to destroy Slavic culture in this area since the Middle Ages.

CD: ‘Greeks,’ meaning the Byzantines?

VF: Yes. For example, John Fine in his book The Early Medieval Balkans (p. 220) cites Vladimir Moshin, who published an article in1963 in a Russian academic journal in which he made the argument that the reason there are no Slavic language manuscripts from this region prior to 1180 is owing to their deliberate destruction by the Greeks/Byzantines.

CD: Really!

VF: Up until his article, people had been saying it was the Turks who destroyed everything. But there are Greek-language manuscripts from this period that survived in this region, whereas Slavic ones did not. And it is not as if the latter were not being composed in an organized way; the Ohrid literary school which began in the late 9th century is just one place where manuscripts were being written in large numbers. Which means that Greeks have been trying to destroy Slavic culture and literacy for a very long time.

CD: Many Bulgarian politicians and academics claim that Macedonian is just a dialect of Bulgarian. What do you say on this topic?

VF: The answer is of course Macedonian is a distinct language.It is similar to Bulgarian, but just as Swedish and Norwegian are similar languages, but separate, so, too, are Macedonian and Bulgarian.

CD: Why?

VF: Both sets of languages have different dialectal bases. And for this reason it is not at all like the case of Moldovan and Romanian. The Moldovan standard language is not based on Moldovan dialects; it is based on the same Wallachian dialects as standard Romanian.

In the case of Macedonian, however, the standard language is based on the dialects spoken in the west-central geographical area defined by Veles, Bitola, Prilep and Kichevo. It is not identical with any specific dialect, and has elements from the eastern ones as well. Standard Bulgarian is not based on a single dialect, but is based on eastern Bulgarian dialects, from Veliko Tarnovo to the Danube and further east.

CD: Why were these specific dialectal areas chosen, in both cases?

VF: What happened was that in the 19th century there were two major centers of literacy and prosperity- one in southwestern Macedonia, the other in northeastern Bulgaria. The Bulgarians decided to impose those eastern dialects from the area north of the Stara Planina range, east of the dialectal division called the yat line, and south of the Danube, on the whole state.

CD: What was the thinking? Was this an organized campaign for specific reasons?

VF: We’re talking about the phenomenon of intellectuals fighting over what’s going to happen when they get their own state- just like with the Congress of Manastir (Bitola) in 1908, when the Albanians were worrying about agreeing on a common Albanian alphabet before there was an Albanian state (in 1912). The Bulgarians didn’t have a state until the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

CD: What about the situation in Greece at the time, where different propagandists were at work from different sides? Were these dialects considered Bulgarian or Macedonian, or both? What can linguists reconstruct today?

VF: There are a number of dialectal studies. Some speakers considered themselves Macedonians, some Bulgarians, and some Greeks, and some Turks, depending, in part, on religious affiliation (Exarchist, Patriarchist, and Muslim for the last three at that time). Firsthand accounts are available in some books published in, e.g., Australia and Poland, and Canada, but the Aegean Macedonians who were victims of Greek abuse at that time are mostly dead.

The generation that suffered during the Greek Civil War (1946-49) however, is still alive. The ones who are still alive often do not want to tell their stories because they are afraid or the memories are too painful. Even for curious foreigners, if you go to Greece to do research on Macedonian, you run the risk that the police will take your tapes, destroy them, and kick you out for expressing an interest in what is still a taboo topic for them.

CD: Really! Are there some examples?

VF: Yes, and it happened to a colleague of mine who was doing dissertation research in a village whose name I will omit to protect the inhabitants.

CD: aha, the village near Kastoria?

VF: Yes, and precisely for this reason it is one of the most interesting Macedonian dialects, because it is the most southwestern Macedonian dialect. It is transitional between eastern and western types of Macedonian. And the Greek police confiscated the tapes of this linguist and interfered with his research. However, he did finish his dissertation on this dialect. In fact, in his introduction, he made a point of thanking the Greek police for teaching him to always keep backup tapes!

CD: Ha! So with all of this intimidation, not to mention the journalist arrests we saw recently, what are the Greeks so afraid of?

VF: They’re incredibly insecure. No, they’re not just insecure. They have a linguistic ideology that insists on wiping out all other languages. This is an old ideology. It is the origins of the term barbarian. Think about it.

Why don’t we have any traces of other languages preserved? As a matter of fact we do. There are some ancient inscriptions in Thracian.

CD: I thought the Thracians had no written language?

VF: They did. The inscriptions are in Greek script, but the words are Thracian. And the inscriptions are sitting in Greece, gathering dust. They know they’re there, but no one’s going to work on them because the language is not Greek. So they’re not going to let anyone see them. I have this from a colleague of mine who is a classicist and interested in the subject.

CD: Your Greece vignette reminds me of being the village of Amyndaeo south of Florina last year. I came across these two old men speaking to each other in Macedonian. I said dobar den (‘good day’s). And you know what? This man was so alarmed that he reacted before he could think, instinctively, by blurting out ne razbiram Makedonski (‘I don’t understand Macedonian’). This was one of the most ironic examples of fear of speaking one’s language I could imagine.

VF: Indeed.

CD: So I guess my question for you is, we asked the local people in Florina what percent of the people there speak Macedonian, since public life is mostly in Greek it was an interesting question. And several people said, ‘oh, everyone speaks it.’s What is your experience?

VF: Well, as far as I was told everybody in the area around Florina, or Lerin in Macedonian, over the age of 40 speaks Macedonian, whether they’re Macedonian or not. This is according to a colleague of mine who has done recent research. However, the younger generation is not learning it. But it is a topic that requires further (unhindered) research.

CD: From what I understand from different stories, this is because it is not helpful to advancement in Greek society, and can even be a strongly negative factor-

VF: Yes. The Greek government is effectively carrying out ‘linguicide’ on the Macedonians of Greece. And it has been a long-running policy. For another example, I have a photo of a sign in Greek, from the 1950s, printed up in blue-on-white, urging people to forbid anyone from speaking in ‘Vlahika, Makedonika etc.’ There used to be many such signs in Greek Macedonia.

CD: Really! That is quite compelling. Do people know about this?

VF: I don’t know-a friend sent the photo to me, I am finally getting around to publishing it in a review article in the journal Balkanistika next year.

But the Greek policy was always trying to kill the language. It was especially horrible in the 1930s. Macedonian kids would go to school, and if they spoke their language, the language they learned at home, numerous ‘corrective’ methods were used: teachers beat them, or stuck their tongues with needles, or rubbed a hot pepper on their tongues; anything to make them stop speaking Macedonian.

CD: Really! That sounds very extreme.

VF: Oh, they were terrible. In the 1930s, people were put in jail just for speaking Macedonian. The Greek government had people skulking around the windows of people’s houses, listening to hear if they spoken Macedonian so that they could report them to the police. Mothers were thrown in jail for speaking Macedonian to their babies. They terrorized the Macedonians, and then, with the Greek Civil War, they drove many of them out.

CD: Never to return-

VF: And then there’s the infamous ‘race clause’ in the amnesty law of 1982; it stipulated that to return the country and reclaim one’s property, all those who had been banished had to declare they were Greek by genos, by race or birth. Macedonians who were expelled, many just children at the time, in 1949, were never allowed to reclaim their property. It was racism, pure and simple.

CD: Do you recall what was the reaction here in Macedonia, from the locals? And what about the European countries? Surely this would have been considered a great breach of European values?

VF: I was actually here at the time this was announced. The people were very upset, because they have been so badly mistreated all along. The ‘Great Powers,’ of course, said nothing.

CD: Well this is interesting, because here we have in America a new president, a black man who surely knows something about the meaning of racism, and indeed the issues of race and injustices resonated throughout Obama’s campaign.

And at the same time, Obama signed that anti-Macedonian senate resolution, and has been a big supporter of the Greek lobby, who are probably counting on a return on their investment. Has anyone, to the best of your knowledge, pointed out this blatant hypocrisy regarding his support for a country that has a history of racist policies against its own citizens?

VF: No, I haven’t heard anyone put this to his people. It would be nice if the message could be gotten out, but so far I haven’t seen this happen. The Macedonians don’t seem to know enough about public relations and American politics- they should be using lobby companies, getting their message out every day in Washington.

CD: Yes, I concur with that-

VF: And, at the same time, the Greeks get away with this ‘cradle of democracy’ image! Give me a break! Ancient Greece was a slave-owning society. And you know, some scholars argue that Modern Greece is a creation of the Western European romantic imagination- for example, Lord Byron’s romanticized view of Ancient Greece projected, on the modern population. This is persuasively argued in a book of academic Michael Herdzfeld, called Ours Once More.

CD: That is an interesting school of thought, I had not really conceived it as such but there is something to it. What was the reaction to this book?

VF: I do not think there was a huge reaction, but Herzfeld was involved with another book, Anastasia Karakasidou’s Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood, which did generate a great deal of controversy. Published by the University of Chicago Press in 1997, this book was actually a very mild challenge to Greek hegemonistic notions. What it dared to do, based on fieldwork in Greek Macedonia, was to state that there were citizens of Greece who did not feel themselves to be ethnic Greeks and that they still spoke their own language.

Cambridge University Press had committed to publishing the book with minor revisions, and then they suddenly decided not to publish the book. They had committed to it and suddenly changed their minds. Prof Herzfeld was on the editorial board of CUP’s anthropology series at the time, and he resigned in protest, as did other members of the board.

CD: Yes, they cited ‘the safety of their staff in Greece’ as their reason, right?

VF: Well they said that. However, the way I heard it, CUP had a monopoly on English-language testing in the schools of Greece as well-

CD: Do you believe that the Greek government threatened that they would lose this privilege?

VF: I have no idea, but assuming that they had a monopoly- two plus two, what are you going to make of that, four or twenty-two?

CD: But then you guys saved it-

VF: Yes, the University of Chicago went ahead and published the book, to their credit. But the whole situation is just disgusting; it makes Europe look like what she was called at the beginning of the 20th century, as depicted in the Bulgarian film Mera spored Mera, made in the 1980s. It was somewhat provocative, and received criticism from some quarters of the Communist government, because it used Aegean Macedonian dialects, as it was about the post-Ilinden period just after 1903.

The memorable line from the film, which was part of a real folk song dating back to 1878, was something like this: ‘be thou cursed and thrice cursed Europe, O you whore of Babylon and murderer of Macedonia.’

CD: So, what do you think then of the international negotiations over the name issue, and the constant pressure for Macedonia to ‘compromise’ with Greece here?

VF: There is no real compromise. There can’t be. Think about it: if a thief comes up to and holds a gun to your head and says ‘give me your money,’ do you say, ‘I’ll give you half,’ and call that a compromise? That’s Greece. They are trying to destroy Macedonia’s identity, plain and simple.

Note that no one on the Macedonian side is saying that Greeks cannot call themselves Macedonians, or their province Macedonia. But they never call themselves as such out of this context- they are, to themselves, Greeks first and foremost. So nobody actually needs the name Macedonia, and no one needs to call themselves Macedonians for their primary identity, except for these people in this small country that is not a threat to anyone.

CD: On that note, to conclude, let me ask this: based on your research, do you think that Macedonia gets enough credit for preserving its multiculturalism? And does it reflect at all on the temperament of the people here that it has been able to do so?

VF: First of all, Macedonia doesn’t get any credit. And in fact the isolation that Greece has succeeded in imposing on Macedonia in the last 17 years has been a major factor in adding to inter-ethnic tension here, as we saw unfortunately in the 2001 conflict.

If the Greeks had just left the Macedonians alone to begin with, there would have been fewer such problems, or at least greater capacity to deal with the existing ones. But it was the Greek government (especially after 1991) and the Serbian government (especially after 1981) who exacerbated most of the problems, for their own purposes.

You know, the vast majority of normal people of all ethnicities in this country live together peacefully. There is a saying in Macedonian: nie sme krotok narod: ‘we are a mild people.’ A peaceful people. This is something that is constantly overlooked by the Great Powers- that, relative to the rest of the Balkans and much of the world, for all the very real problems that exist, Macedonians are still among the most peaceful and tolerant people you will find anywhere.

CD: Victor, thank you very much for your time and insightful comments. I appreciate it.

VF: And thank you.

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American Friends of Bulgaria: Interview with Roy and Anne Freed

In this detailed interview, Balkanalysis.com director Christopher Deliso gets a contemporary view on Bulgaria from a unique perspective- Americans Roy and Anne Freed, at 91 years young undoubtedly among the most senior of American lovers of this Balkan country.

Roy and Anne had long and distinguished careers in the legal and psychology/social work fields, respectively. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1940, working thereafter for the Department of Justice and private law firms; then, from 1960 onwards, Roy pioneered the nascent subject of computer law. For her part, Anne graduated from Smith College in 1941 with an M.S.W. in clinical social work. She thereafter worked as a practitioner, supervisor, administrator, teacher, and researcher in this field, and set up a mental health clinic at Family Service of Greater Boston. During the Second World War, Anne worked as a community analyst at the War Relocation Authority in Washington, DC; in addition, she was the specialist on Jewish culture for a refugee camp in Oswego, NY, which took in approximately 1,000 European Jewish refugees from a displaced-persons camp at Bari, Italy.

Despite completing a full and long lifetime of professional service and help to others, the Freeds were not finished: at the age of 71, they ventured to the Balkans to interact with the locals at a time of historic change. At an age when most Americans relax to enjoy their golden years in tranquility, this dynamic couple embarked on even greater challenges. After visiting Bulgaria for the first time in 1987, the Freeds returned two years later as Fulbright scholars. They have kept up their relationship with the country and its people ever since.

Most recently, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the US Department of State, which administers the Fulbright Program, named Roy and Anne Freed as the March 2008 Fulbright Alumni of the Month for their engagement with Bulgaria. Their memoir, Fulbrighters in Retirement: Networking With Bulgarians Keeps Us Engaged, is now available. They are probably among the few nonagenarians to maintain their own official website.

Christopher Deliso: I understand you are descendents of eastern European Jews. When did your ancestors move to America, and which ones?

Roy & Anne Freed: Our mothers came from Lithuania shortly before WWI, when Anne’s father came from Belarus. Roy’s father’s father came from Belarus in 1888, because of the notorious Kishniev pogroms.

CD: Previous to your initial Bulgarian trip, was there anything in your lives to suggest such a future encounter as a possibility? Had you wished to make trips to Bulgaria or other former Soviet states earlier in the Cold War, if so, why didn’t that happen at the time?

R&AF: Before our 1987 Bulgarian trip, we had no idea to visit any of the former Soviet states or their affiliates. Even though we knew our first Bulgarian friend Nevena Geliazkova through Anne’s meeting her at the international school in Geneva in 1937, we never had the desire to visit her until we happened to reestablish contact with her in 1986 and were about to go to Zurich.

CD: How did you happen to choose Bulgaria specifically during Communism for your Fulbright Teaching Fellowships?

R&AF: We chose Bulgaria for our Fulbrights because the person on the Bulgaria desk at the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars mentioned that possibility, out of the blue. By our futile contact with him on behalf of a Bulgarian student taking place during the Cold War, we suspect that it had a dearth of applicants for that country.

CD: Did you wonder if you would be eligible for Fulbrights at age 72?

R&AF: Anne certainly did. But when she inquired about our eligibility, we were told not to worry because there was a 75-year old male Fulbrighter in Taiwan.

CD: How were you received in Bulgaria as Americans during the Cold War?

R&AF: The Bulgarians completely ignored the ostensible Cold War antipathy between our two countries. They received us very warmly, with their traditional gracious hospitality. They welcomed us into their homes. They shared their experiences with us both during and after Communism. They eagerly sought the professional knowledge they thought that we could impart from our respective fields. Even Communist bureaucrats were hospitable.

CD: Was there any controversy with Anne’s discussion of psychology from an American perspective, compared to the Communist-inspired study then still practiced?

R&AF: Anne actually played an important in bringing psychodynamic psychology to Bulgaria. Although psychiatrists in the Soviet Union, during its early period, enthusiastically embraced Freud’s innovative, if not radical, teaching about the major role the unconscious plays through the mind and the usefulness of talking therapy, and actually almost pre-empted Vienna as the center of that learning, Stalin later squelched that and it became anathema there and in the affiliated countries, including Bulgaria.

Nevertheless, through the initiative of the late Dr. George Kamen, a Bulgarian psychiatrist, a very small group of psychiatrists, including Dr. Toma Tomov, and others started to become interested in it through psychodrama, which entails play-acting psychological situations and discussing them in that context. Nevertheless, the general population did not yet have that interest until Anne introduced it.

CD: That’s interesting! What was the reaction when she did?

R&AF: Many students at Sofia University and outside professionals enthusiastically grasped the opportunity to attend her lectures, which were opened to the public. Anne’s lectures unexpectedly planted a basic seed that matured three years later when Dr. Toma Tomov, one of the pioneers at the time and whom she met by chance when he was on a study tour in the USA right after Bulgaria abandoned Communism for a democratic market economy, enlisted her help to found the School of Clinical Social Work at the New Bulgarian University in 1992, with its curriculum based substantially on that of the Smith College School for Social Work, from which Anne graduated and at which she taught.

CD: As for Roy, how was his teaching about American law received then?

R&AF: Roy’s teaching about American law, which, as common law, was conceptually very different from the Bulgarian civil law, was enthusiastically received by both undergraduate students in the law faculty of Sofia University and professionals working in the computer industry. The latter especially were eager to learn about the American legal protection of computer programs. The students took the opportunity to express their cynicism about ostensibly positive Bulgarian laws. For example, one stated that, in Bulgaria, they adopted “dead” laws, meaning apparently socially positive ones that were not enforced.

CD: In Anne’s opinion, how is the issue of gender equality in Bulgaria progressing? Has she witnessed or experienced specific changes in the fortunes of Bulgarian women in society, and to what does she attribute them?

R&AF: Even though Bulgaria is a traditional patriarchal society, at least during Communism women achieved considerable equality, at least to do hard work. Children were raised by their grandparents, a practice which continues to date, to free up their mothers to work outside the home. Many women became professionals in what in the West had been considered men’s fields, especially in engineering. While more progress can be made, Bulgaria has achieved an impressive level.

CD: Have you ever had any dangerous experiences in Bulgaria? If so, what happened?

R&AF: We did feel as if we had a dangerous experience in Bulgaria. During our Fulbrights, we were fortunate to befriend a group of social scientists in a think tank supporting the Central Committee of the Communist Party. On a few occasions, they arranged for us to be driven by Party chauffeurs in the traditional official black Volga automobiles. We felt as if those drivers operated their cars like kamakazi pilots of the Japanese air force, as they sped heedlessly on the streets of Sofia.

CD: You witnessed a period of incredible and very rapid change in Bulgaria. What surprised you most about it? Was there ever a time when you felt that perhaps the country would not have a solid future, or that it was in danger of collapse?
R&AF: We were surprised by the lack of advance notice that the Communist Party would cease to control Bulgaria and the speed with which it occurred. We did not get a clue from our friends in the official think-tank.

While we didn’t anticipate that the country would collapse, it was obvious that it was not functioning efficiently during Communism because the people lacked the necessary incentives. As we look back, it collapsed out of inefficiency. Goods were of poor quality and services were bad. Waiters were probably the worst in the world. However, the performing arts were thriving, especially the theatre and music. As the economic reforms occurred, we often feared for the people because the efforts were weak and the people were rightfully impatient for rapid real progress. It was amazing how, promptly after the changes, the waiters reformed and performed at truly fine standards.

CD: In your memoir you state that you were able to serve as €šÃ„òcitizen diplomats’s during the Cold War, to bring together Bulgarians working with the Politburo and the American ambassador. How were you able to accomplish that, and what came of it?

R&AF: We were fortunate to become citizen diplomats entirely by chance. Avram Agov, a young student whom we had met as the roommate of Zlatko Enev, another young student who introduced himself to us during our social first visit to Bulgaria, happened to cause members of the think-tank of the Central Committee to want to meet us on the possibility that we might be able to help them start to make contact with American scholars. During the late stage of Communism, they got the desire for that interaction. He told them that he knew us when he applied to work with them with respect to North Korea. We had no idea how we might help them but we agreed to try.

All we could think of was our knowing the American ambassador. But, because we were able to introduce them to the receptive American ambassador only very shortly before the political and economic changes, nothing materializeddirectly. There was no need to. Nevertheless, right after the changes, the Ambassador enabled one of them, a friend of ours, to lead a tour to the US. When in Boston, he visited us unexpectedly and introduced us to Dr. Toma Tomov.

CD: You have said that €šÃ„òrepeated coincidences’s were frequently involved in your Bulgaria experiences. How do you explain them?

R&AF: Practically all of our countless Bulgarian experiences arose as coincidences, starting with the finding of Nevena Geliazkova, Anne’s friend from the Geneva school, in 1985 by two fellow students at the Geneva school in 1937, after losing her through Communism and our McCarthyism. In 1985, those two fellow students happened to find an old issue of Life Magazine containing a letter from her to the editor and got her address that way.

They arranged for her to meet them at the Sofia railroad station on their way back to the US from Saudi Arabia, where she gave them an unaddressed letter to Anne, which they sent to us the next year. That led to our first visit to Bulgaria.

During that visit, we met Zlatko Enev when we were arbitrarily barred from the national library. That led to our unexpectedly getting Fulbrights, which led to the start of our networking with Bulgarians. Anne’s teaching prison social workers in 1991 through the invitation of Dr. Tomov, whom we met by chance in Boston during his study visit after the changes in Bulgaria, led to the establishment of School of Clinical Social Work and our meeting Dr. Galina Markova, who attended it and became its outstanding director, and ad infinitum. We account for the coincidences only by our being active and exposing ourselves to their chance happening and then disposed to take advantage of them. We do that because we are open to meeting new people and looking for opportunities to help them.

CD: How would you rate the value of your Fulbright activities in comparison with other international activities sponsored by the American government? Can you give us some examples of your actions?

R&AF: If our Fulbright activities were more socially beneficial than many other international activities, as we think that they were, that probably was because we were mature; had professional skills, especially social work; and enjoyed meeting people to help them and establish close continuing relationships with them.

CD: Of the many Americans who have studied, done research or taught in Bulgaria, have you met any who you would single out as having done a particularly good job of being ‘cultural ambassadors,’ if so in what respect?

R&AF: We do know a number of Americans who have been very effective “cultural ambassadors.” They include the late Nancy Cook, a clinical social worker from San Francisco, who secured a Fulbright and set up a trauma center in Sofia as a placement site for students at the new School of Clinical Social Work; Prof. Joan Berzoff of Smith College School for Social Work, who taught at the School for Clinical Social Work on a number of occasions; Dr. William Deveney of Boston, who secured a number of Fulbrights to consult in Bulgaria on social work practice and taught at the School there; Prof. Jean Anastas of the N.Y.U. School of Social Work, who taught at the School there; former Ambassador Sol Polansky, who has served on the boards of trustees of both the American University in Bulgaria in Blagoevgrad and the American College in Simeonovo in Sofia; and Kay Lamer of Boston, a clinical social worker whom we inspired to go there to teach a number of times at the School.

CD: Your activities reflect constant effort to help people. What moves you
to do that?

R&AF: For all our lives, we have been motivated to foster a decent and concerned society. Specifically, both us feel that helping people is the most rewarding experience one can have. We enjoy the success of socially positive activities in which we participate.

CD: How have your Bulgarian activities affected your own lives? Did they change any of your basic beliefs or assumptions about the world, or merely provide enhanced details?

R&AF: Our Bulgarian activities have enriched our lives immeasurably during our long retirement, at a time when many of our contemporaries merely coast. In general, they have enhanced our knowledge of history, culture, psychology, and the like in many respects, confirming our basic beliefs and assumptions, but adding the important dimension in Bulgaria that people as a group can be basically civil. We observed that in the traditional Bulgarian acceptance of ethnic and religious differences in their genuinely multi-ethnic society, as exemplifed by their freedom from significant anti-Semitism, specifically manifested by their saving their entire 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Treblinka against the goal of their Nazi ally during WWII.

CD: How do you think your activities have affected the lives of Bulgarians?

R&AF: While we know from experience countless miscellaneous ways our activities have affected positively the lives of Bulgarians, we especially are proud of them for fostering modern social work there that helps families and children in a variety of ways. Specifically, we helped our friends make their incipient travel business relatively successful economically for both themselves and the people they hired. We helped a number of Bulgarians change their careers by acquainting them with their scopes. We assembled and transported a large library of English-language social work books for the School.

CD: Bulgarians sometimes seem to be a withdrawn, even depressed people. Do you agree? If so, is this a matter of nature, or specific economic/political/whatever local factors?

R&AF: We have observed that many Bulgarians in Bulgaria have an apparent inferiority complex and some of them overcompensate by acting superior, especially those in the Sobranie [Parliament] and the government! Many also are afflicted by envy or jealousy in that they don’t want what others have but don’t others to have more than they do. That could be part of their deep egalitarian streak that moved them to favor the humanitarian aspects of Marxism. We have no idea about the source of those emotions.

CD: Since your time in Bulgaria, how have you been able to continue your cooperation from America?

R&AF: We conducted our activities with Bulgarians in Bulgaria by making fourteen trips between 1987 and 2002. Now, we continue our Bulgarian activities through the Internet, with the help of many Bulgarians who have immigrated here, and by encouraging other Americans to go there to teach and consult.

CD: I understand that you helped organize a Jewish-themed tour for your Bulgarian travel agent friends. Was there sufficient demand among American Jews to go? And do you think this is a concept that could be successful for tourism providers in other Southeast European countries?

R&AF: From the very beginning of our visits to Bulgaria, we identified it as ideal for tourism for its scenery, history, and culture. When we learned of the unique Bulgarian civility, with their freedom from anti-Semitism and saving of their Jews, we particularly thought that it should attract American Jews. We suggested this to our friends who operate a tour company there and helped them design an itinerary, drawing on our American perspective. While our repeated effort to find an American marketer for such tours was not successful, our friends finally have been able to find one to start to offer those tours. We do not know yet about the interest in those tours. Jewish tours are offered by others to Eastern Europe and Spain.

CD: You have mentioned the gratitude that Jews feel to the Bulgarians for protecting the country’s Jewish minority during World War II. However, at the same time the Bulgarian army deported the Jews under their control in occupied Macedonia and Thrace. Considering the depth of nationalistic feeling in Bulgaria especially with regards to Macedonia, have you had any encounters with any Bulgarians on this topic? If so, what is their perception of the tragic contradictory role? Is this something American Jews are aware of?

R&AF: We are aware of the unfortunate deportation of about 12,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia while under the administration of the Bulgarian Army during WWII. Many people who are aware of it, Jews and others, hold that against the Bulgarians, which we believe that they shouldn’t. That was solely the responsibility of wily young Tsar Boris III, who was walking a tightrope fending off Hitler from occupying Bulgaria. He, at least, was moved to call off the impending deportation of Bulgarian Jews within Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian people and Church leaders were not in a position to stymie the external action as they did in Bulgaria after word leaked out through the secretary of Alexander Belev, the person in charge of the effort. Moreover, the Nazi Army was present when that was carried out. We interviewed a Macedonian former newspaper reporter from Skopje, who witnessed the event and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the Bulgarian Army general from carrying it out.

CD: What is your assessment of the Bulgarians through the many you have known? And can you say that this is a people that the outsider can easily understand, or does it take much more time and effort to really know them?

R&AF: We continue to have a unique opportunity to know a wide variety of Bulgarians and have a very positive feeling toward practically all of them. They were all Bulgarian Slavs except for one unusually well educated Roma. They are no more difficult to understand than most people. We find those we meet to be predominantly warm and family oriented, which they manifest to outsiders they get to know. They are generous to a fault, highly intelligent, very literate, loyal, humanitarian, and socially responsible. We found it interesting that, despite their forebears being under the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, they reflect the social and intellectual values of the Western Enlightenment.

CD: What current problems do you see confronting the Bulgarians in Bulgaria?

R&AF: A major problem we are aware of is persisting corruption and gang criminality. We hear that education, formerly highly valued, is suffering. Also, the health care system apparently needs substantial improvement. We suspect that the government pension is inadequate and many retirement-aged people are dependent upon remittances from family abroad.

CD: One problem is the zero population growth amongst Bulgarians, and the decline of marriage as an institution, amidst strong competition from an opposing popular culture and a poor economy. Do you see this as a problem that will change in the future, if so, how and when?

R&AF: We see the zero population growth as a great problem, but it is not limited to Bulgaria. We cannot see that people will be eager to have children so long as the economy is weak and lacking in the types of career opportunities many find abroad. We have no idea if and when that will be corrected.

CD: Speaking from the point of view of elder visitors to Bulgaria, are there specific things the country could do to increase the ease of travel and comfort for older guests, in terms of infrastructure or organization?

R&AF: We haven’t been in Bulgaria since 2002 and, hence, are unaware of current conditions. When we were there, conditions were not favorable for frail or disabled people. There were too many stairs and too few elevators of adequate size. We are aware, from a friend in Boston, that serious efforts are underway to improve facilities and service in the tourism sector.

CD: If you were to say any words to American potential travelers young or old, about why they should visit Bulgaria, what would they be?

R&AF: We view Bulgaria still in political and economic transition as a living laboratory for the intellectually curious. It is refreshing to get to know the type of Bulgarians we have been privileged to meet, for their warmth, civility, and intellect. People like us who like to help others well could find countless opportunities. Bulgaria is unusually rich in history, going back to the Thracians as much as 7,000 B.C.E., with succeeding Greek and Roman vestiges. For outdoors people, the countryside is very attractive. There are wonderful opportunities to enjoy classical opera and music.

CD: How do you compare the experiences of Bulgarians in America with those in Bulgaria?

R&AF: We are impressed by how rapidly and well Bulgarian immigrants take advantage of the resources and opportunities in America. The vast majority of them we know do well for themselves and make a significant contribution to our society. This shows that they simply need the appropriate environment to use their innate skills to benefit themselves and the society in which they live.

While many Bulgarians do come into their own here in America, many in Bulgaria, often against great odds, do shine for their accomplishments. We are particularly aware of those in the field of social work. Our friends are contributing to the type of positive social environment they identify as desirable and they deserve.

CD: Now, almost 20 years after your Fulbrights in Bulgaria and sixteen years after the School of Clinical Social Work was started at the New Bulgarian University, how do you see the legacy of your activities there?

R&AF: We are delighted that you asked. We recently received a very positive report from Dr. Galina Markova, the first student at that School at Anne’s suggestion, its impressive director for many years, and the holder of a doctorate from the Smith College School for Social Work.

She just completed her major assignment- to de-institutionalize the notorious Moglino orphanage, which is the subject of a recent and very critical film. This effort has been spurred by the EU to reduce orphanages in Bulgaria and move to foster care for abused and neglected children, most of who were abandoned rather than true orphans. A major challenge was to trace the developmental history of the children, many of whom lost contact with their parents.

Now, she is initiating a bachelor’s degree program at the School to complement its master’s degree program since its establishment in 1992. Also, she inaugurated an entrepreneurial culture at the University to foster a closer relationship between it and the community. Similarly, she has developed a casework approach for an orphanage in Sofia for young children. Finally, she reported that a Roma female student supported by a fund we established there won support for a Roma community program for parents and children.

CD: Roy and Anne Freed, thanks so much for speaking with us today and good luck with your future Bulgarian endeavors.

R&AF: And thank you.

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