by | 5 August, 2022

It’s difficult to survive in Macedonia on humour alone. This disease requires a much stronger medicine.  

1 When the second Protocol for the fulfilment of the Treaty on Good Neighbourly Relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria was signed, which was a condition for Sofia to lift the veto on the start of our EU accession talks, we wondered how they’d implement the part in which the countries are obliged to not support hate speech. The Minister of Culture Bisera Kostadinovska-Stojchevska gave us the answer. In her statement for the Voice of America Macedonian, when asked if that would mean censorship of the arts, she answered: “Let them create art freely. However, they should create in the spirit of something that would cheer up our people and the audience. Not something that will take us back to the dark times where we really didn’t see anything good”.

The minister gave us the recipe of how they’ll implement the part which obliges “the two countries to guarantee that the state funding of new books, documentaries and magazines, films and other artistic production, as well as the funding of cultural monuments and celebrations will be done in the spirit of the Treaty on Friendship” and that “every entity funded by the state will confirm through a clear and binding statement that they will pay close attention to the issue of opposing all forms of hate speech”. It will be implemented – just for laughs and for fun.

The minister also says that “any film that promotes the Macedonian culture, the Macedonian individuality, should receive support, but still, we must be aware that we must move forward, me must free ourselves and that history must no longer be a prison for us, we should take it as a lesson learned”.

So, if someone decides to make a film about the murdered boys and young men in Vatasha, it will not be forbidden, but in order to get funding by the state, either the Bulgarian administrators mustn’t be associated with fascism, or it must be funny, to entertain the people. So, historical topics don’t have to be neglected, but we should find the funny side of them. Then, in one adaptation, the movie could be based on the life in a war-torn village, the arrival of some liberators, but the boys were so dissatisfied with the efficiency of the public administration that the administrators got really mad and gunned them down. In another adaptation, a much more cheerful version, we could have a plot focusing on twenty teenagers who got together, started telling jokes about Bulgarians, but they found the jokes so hilarious that they killed themselves by laughing.

Or, if we’re obliged to “create in the spirit of something that would cheer up our people”, we could make a musical about the Bulgarian deportation of the Macedonian Jews, where the author would focus on the ability of the exiled ones to keep their sense of humour, singing happy songs in the freight wagons of the Bulgarian State Railways. If the Holocaust Museum in Skopje asks for state funding in order to organize an event, in the programme they would have to include jokes about gas chambers which would “cheer up our people and the audience.”

If my aunt Mare were alive, who never wanted to talk about the hardship she suffered in the Bitola prison during the Bulgarian fascist occupation, maybe now, in the spirit of the Protocol for the start of our EU accession talks, she would tell us that she screamed with laughter while they were beating her, and that she giggled all the time because the ones beating her talked funny, instead of going back to “the dark times where we really didn’t see anything good”, as the minister says.

Just for laughs and for fun, with the bilateral protocol with Bulgaria, the state will tell us which topics we’re allowed to explore.

2 Truth be told, for a very long time, in our country art hasn’t been able to outdo the humour of reality. Just have a look at the Protocol with Bulgaria as a condition for the start of our EU accession talks and especially the statement of a member state that the language you speak doesn’t exist. How do you turn that into a script and have everyone find it believable?

The Bulgarian veto is already part of our modern history. We’ve been living with that history for three years, and the denial of the Macedonian language by an EU member state is a fact of that modern history. And what are we to do if someone wants to make a documentary about Bulgaria’s veto? A simple documentary, with statements in an orderly fashion, with cited documents, with original recordings, including the last statement of the Minister of Culture. The documentary itself would be considered hate speech. First, because it would remind us of yet another hostile act of Bulgaria from our common history. And second, because it would be in Macedonian.

3 We don’t need funny films and art to cheer up our people. It’s enough for them to just watch the news. You should have an exceptional sense of humour, or to use some soft drugs to be able to come up with a plot as dramatic as the argument between the Organized Crime Prosecutor Vilma Ruskovska and the Head of the Financial Police Arafat Muaremi. Starting with their accusations on media, the criminal charges, all the way to the letter the prosecutor sent late at night to ask for help from EU and USA ambassadors, and even from the European Chief Prosecutor Laura Kövesi. Also including the statement of the EU that they’re paying close attention to the case but don’t want to interfere in their row. If all of that were produced as a theatre play they’d have the audience rolling in the aisles. A hardcore absurd comedy.

It’s difficult to survive in Macedonia on humour alone. This disease requires a much stronger medicine.

4 This Ilinden as well, it turned out that the presence of politicians at Mechkin Kamen is disastrous for a worthy commemoration of the Republic Day. They use the holiday as a battlefield for political confrontation, not as an opportunity to celebrate. The best thing to do would be to declare a moratorium on political speeches on 2 August, at least for a few years. As for the politicians, if they feel like celebrating, let them go to Krushevo or Pelince as citizens.

The microphones can stay there, but let them be used only for useful announcements from everyday life. As was the presenter’s announcement which interrupted the programme: “A grandfather lost his granddaughter, he’s waiting for her near the ambulance”. That was the only honest, civil and vital message we heard on this Ilinden.


Translated by Nikola Gjelincheski