A month ago, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Albania, which included a text, put forward by Bulgarian MEPs Andrey Kovatchev and Angel Dzhambazki, reafirming the rights of the Bulgarian population in Mala Prespa, Golo Brdo and Gora.
“It makes history, because for decades we have not been able to raise the issue of the rights of Bulgarians in Albania, by the way, this was a pending issue even before 1944. We found documents and protocols from meetings that took place in 1932 between Albania and Bulgaria, focusing on the rights of Bulgarians and on a move by the Albanian side to recognize a Bulgarian minority in Albania, something that never happened. After the war came Yugo-communism and denationalization – Tito’s horrendous policy of altering national self-awareness, not just of Bulgarians in Yugoslavia, but of Bulgarians in neighbouring countries, in Northern Greece, in Albania. Now, I am extremely happy there is an official European Parliament document,” says Andrey Kovatchev.
There are several officially recognized minorities in Albania, among them a Macedonian minority. There are no recent data exactly how many people of Bulgarian origin live there. Different sources say they number between 40,000 and 100,000. The bulk of the population, recognized as Macedonian is concentrated in the region of Prespa – an area, declared by the Bulgarian MEPs to be inhabited predominantly by Bulgarians.
The adoption of the resolution in question by the European Parliament did not make waves or cause particular interest in Albanian society. On the whole, it is fairly tolerant of the self-awareness declared by its members. What the Albanian authorities actually have done when the Bulgarian side has raised the issue in recent years, is to ask for clarification on the positions between Skopje and Sofia, stating they are willing to recognize the right of anyone declaring a different ethnicity. And as political accord between the two capitals is hardly likely to occur any time soon, we can look to the people living in the regions in question to find out what they think. Such an opportunity is afforded by Ass. Prof. Dr. Lucia Antonova-Vasileva from the Bulgarian Language Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, who recently presented her book “Dialect system in Shishtevets village, Kukska Gora – speech on the borderline of Bulgarian grammar.”
“Most often, they identify themselves as nashentsi (people coming from our parts), but when they describe themselves in such a way, it must be said they identify us, Bulgarians as nashentsi as well. Moreover, they do not differentiate between the people from Macedonia and the people from Bulgaria, because “we are all nashentsi”. They harbor the firm conviction that their origin is connected with Bulgaria.”
Dr. Antonova-Vasileva cites a survey by local history expert Nazif Dokle from the village of Borje in the region of Gora. He says that “gorans” are heirs to the Bogomils, banished from Bulgaria from the regions of the Rhodopes.
“Whether that is so, I cannot say. It is said that the gorans came from somewhere else. I think they really did settle in these high mountain regions to escape from some kind of persecution. What the circumstances of that persecution were it is difficult to say. But it is a fact that no one would go and live somewhere that is so difficult of access unless they have been forced to. Even in our day, with the most modern of transport vehicles, it takes hours to reach the villages where I studied the dialect of the nashentsi, to say nothing of olden times,” says Ass. Prof. Antonova-Vasileva.
And while Sofia and Skopje have not been finding a way to divide up the minority in Albania, the demographic processes are going full steam ahead, decidedly not to the benefit of the preservation of the small, distinctive communities, their language, culture or traditions. And because they are so difficult of access, their population has been dwindling more and more. It would be so much wiser, instead of confronting one another, for Bulgaria and Macedonia to pool their efforts to support and preserve them, because if they do not, there will come a time when they will have no one to bicker over.
English version: Milena Daynova