It is our pleasure to meet again with Mark Branov, who is well-known in the Macedonian community in Canada and internationally for his activism in support of the Macedonian Cause. Mark was recently elected as General Secretary of the patriotic organization SNS-Makedonium (www.snsmakedonium.com), at their first annual General Council, which was held at Hotel Sonce G.A. in Prilep, Macedonia, on 9 September 2017.
“Makedonija”: Congratulations Mark, please let our readers take this opportunity to learn more about the organization Makedonium?
Mark Branov: Let me answer by first recounting some recent history. Immediately upon Macedonia’s independence in 1991, our nation’s traditional adversaries have taken measures to sabotage the realization of Goce Delcev’s dream; an independent Macedonian state. They have done this by working hand in hand with domestic political agents that were not up to the task of serving their nation. From the Interim Accord to the large-scale theft of state assets, from the invasion of a NATO-allied terrorist army in 2001 to the infamous betrayal at the Battle of Arachinovo, from the Ohrid Framework Agreement to the Amnesty Laws, from census irregularities in 2002 to a census cancellation in 2012, from high-level corruption to widespread clientelism, from rigged elections to hostile international meddling, from economic decline to mass emigration of our youth… Goce Delcev’s dream of a free, sovereign, prosperous and independent homeland for the Macedonians has appeared to be gradually slipping away from us.
It is from this context that groups such as SNS-Makedonium and other similar groups have emerged, to offer a new path for Macedonia’s future, and a new set of tactics.
For many years, Macedonians were willing to forgive all manner of sin from their governments. They have given this malfunctioning political system the benefit of the doubt again and again. But over time, the Macedonian people have actually been silenced, and have become like guests in their own home. The political system has been infiltrated by a violent fifth column known as the UCK, running a parallel government-within-a-government, and working in lockstep with foreign satraps and fake NGOs. The so-called leaders of the Macedonian parties have been offered up as the partners of this permanent political entity, with each taking turns as the “marionettes in charge”, offering up a choice of chronic or acute forms of national regress, implemented against the will of the people, and based on severe levels of polarization and paralysis.
In recent years, however, a new and still somewhat undefined political force has slowly started to emerge. This is the growing minority of Macedonians who have begun to finally recognize how “opposing” officials of the political parties are actually working together to serve their own interests at Macedonia’s expense. New groups such as SNS-Makedonium have emerged for the first time, whereas other long-standing patriotic groups have started to re-double their efforts with a new spirit of defiance, united in a new determination to call any form of anti-Macedonism by its name, issue by issue, and regardless of who complains. United under the red and gold of our Kutles flag, side by side with our brothers and sisters inside and outside the Republic, and honouring the sacrifices of our ancestors, these groups represent the Macedonian cultural renaissance that Athens has been struggling so hard to prevent for 26 years.
SNS-Makedonium is one of many independent patriotic organizations which receive no funding from any party, government or associated foundation. And despite these modest means, we believe that the collective influence of groups such as ours is starting to grow. Formed officially in 2016, SNS-Makedonium is made up of patriots in the home country, neighbouring Macedonian territories, and settler communities around the world. Among other educational and cultural initiatives, it promotes a clear list of 18 Principles for Macedonian National Renewal, available at http://www.snsmakedonium.com.
This is a group of patriotic Macedonians from different backgrounds, working together to raise its voice, on the streets and on social media, actively promoting an agenda for political and cultural emancipation, and taking its message directly to the people. In its current early stage of development, the group is primarily focussed on sharing the principles of Macedonian renewal in the context of current events, along with a variety of educational and cultural initiatives in planning. The organization is working to grow our membership in all regions of the Republic of Macedonia, in Egej, Pirin, Mala Prespa/Golo Brdo, in North America, Western Europe, and Australia/New Zealand, while also working hard to forge friendships with other likeminded groups, in a broad appeal for national unity.
“Makedonija”: After the General Council finished, you held a protest in the centre of Prilep, next to monuments of Aleksandar of Macedon and Metodija Andonov-Cento. What was the message of this protest?
Mark Branov: Actually, this was only one of dozens of street protests that SNS-Makedonium has been holding all summer long, in reaction against numerous anti-Macedonian initiatives of the current regime.
On 9 September, the morning sessions of our General Council included speeches from President Strasko Olumcev and Vice-President Nestor Oginar, followed by numerous other guest speakers, and opportunities for delegates to network with new-found friends from across Macedonia and around the world, including a chance to finally meet long-time “Facebook friends” in real life. Included among the list of speakers were some modern-day legends of Macedonian activism, such as Pop Nikodim Carknjas from the Aegean region of Macedonia, and Stojan Georgiev from the Pirin region of Macedonia. Both have been arrested numerous times by the governments of Greece and Bulgaria respectively, and both offer us great role models of principled action and personal sacrifice. The General Council ended with a signed declaration of protest to the Macedonian authorities, after which we held a spontaneous demonstration in the Prilep city-centre, covering a range of issues. My two short speeches in Prilep were dedicated to the importance of building Macedonian unity across borders and time zones and maintaining a principled approach.
“Makedonija”: What is SNS-Makedonium’s view of recent activities undertaken by the government of the Republic of Macedonia: the Goodneighbourly Agreement with Bulgaria, and meetings exchanged with the Macedonian and Greek ministers of Foreign Affairs, first in Athens and then in Skopje, a sign of good neighbourliness or something else?
Mark Branov: Firstly, the premise of the question pre-supposes that the Ahmeti-Sela-Zaev regime is a legal government of the Republic of Macedonia, when in fact, it was installed under violent and chaotic circumstances in a manner which clearly contravenes several sections of the Constitution and a number of other broadly accepted norms in international law. While the regime’s hold on power in the country is certainly quite real, it is largely predicated on the political and military power of foreign governments rather than the rule of law, along with the acquiescence of an official opposition party whose protests have appeared muted at best.
Leaving aside the issue of the government’s legitimacy, let me say that the agreement with Sofia is a morally bankrupt document that no Macedonian government has any moral right to even consider. A more lopsided capitulation to Bulgarian bigotry could hardly be imagined, with preposterous measures like Bulgarian officials being invited to “review” Macedonian history books, a unilateral abandonment of our brothers in Pirin, and the removal of historical monuments which offend modern-day sensibilities in Bulgaria regarding that country’s fascist heritage. And to celebrate this so-called achievement, Macedonians were subjected to the humiliation of a “Bulgarian Ilinden” in Krusevo, with a sparsely-attended ceremony in front of a crowd of mostly bodyguards and a few video cameras. The ceremony was led by the UCK terrorist known as Komandant Forina, also known as Talat Dzaferi, an amnestied terrorist implicated in the Vejce Massacre of 2001, and currently playing the role of Speaker of the Parliament, a position which puts him very close to becoming commander-in-chief of the Army he formerly fought against. And while all this was happening in Krusevo, U.S. tanks were crowding the Skopje city centre, in an arrogant display of NATO’s robust capacity for violence, timed perfectly just in case anyone might dare to protest these farcical proceedings. Ilinden 2017 will surely be remembered as a dark day in modern Macedonian history.
As for the ongoing name negotiations with the Athenians, the Ahmeti-Sela-Zaev regime has yet to announce any firm decisions, but public statements about the Republic of Macedonia’s new “flexibility” have only emboldened Athens, which, of course, was a predictable outcome. I am sure that Tsipras, Kotsias, and others such as the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party couldn’t be happier with the current Ahmeti-Sela-Zaev regime. But I am also certain that the Macedonians will fiercely resist any move to rename the country; if the regime and the “international community” don’t believe that yet, they will figure it out soon.
“Makedonija”: SNS-Makedonium is against the bilingualism law in the Republic of Macedonia; what does it mean to Macedonian state and above all to the Macedonian nation?
Mark Branov: In 2001, the Ohrid Framework Agreement created a de facto government-within-a-government, legalizing the segregation of ethnic Albanian ghettos within a separate education system, along with a number of other “rewards” in honour of UCK aggression. These concessions were offered in exchange for guarantees of Macedonia’s borders as a unitary state, with Macedonian remaining as the official language “throughout Macedonia and in international relations” (Article 6.4). This new language law clearly violates the UCK’s very own agreement, and it finally puts an end to any illusion that the UCK ever intended on respecting this bargain, or that the EuroAtlantics ever intended on holding them to it. Although gradual signs of Albanization have been evident in the country for years, this new law represents a critical next step in the federalization of the country, with the threat of future annexation of Macedonian territories into a Greater Albanian state. In truth, the law is not about “the use of languages,” it is actually just the Tirana Platform under a new name. Its goal is to use steep fines to remove anyone who does not speak Albanian from government employment in key sectors, including in regions of the country where there is practically no ethnic Albanian minority at all. The law seriously damages the status of the Macedonian language, which is already severely threatened by European Union states such as Athens. The law brings enormous recurring costs that must be borne by the state in perpetuity, and it would very likely create legal dilemmas when UCK-installed apparatchiks create intentionally incorrect translations of state documents, opening up endless debates over which version of a document in question will be considered “official.” It also favours the Albanian language at the expense of other minority languages. In short, this law is a disgrace, and it must not pass. It is also a test case to see if the new regime can push through a constitutional change with a simple majority of MPs, instead of the two-thirds majority which is actually required by the constitution. If they can manage to make that happen via the passage of this law, it will set another dangerously illegal precedent, which can then be used to help force a name change later on.
“Makedonija”: At a recent flag-raising ceremony in front of the Ontario parliament, which is traditionally organized by the Consul General of the Republic of Macedonia in Toronto, United Macedonians of Canada president Mendo Bakalovski had his speech physically cut short by the acting Consul General Aleksandra Stojkova. Your reaction on social media was sharp, the same as Macedonians from Canada and elsewhere worldwide. How do you rate this unusual event in the life of Macedonians in Canada?
Mark Branov: It just suggests that the elite in Macedonia don’t know “d” from democracy. They must have forgotten that Canada is a free country and that everyone has a video camera in his pocket. Mr. Bakalovski is a patriot and long-time activist for one of the oldest and most important Macedonian organizations in the entire diaspora. He has every right to speak at that event, and to speak his mind freely, as well. I have not spoken to him about it, and it is unclear from the video what he was about to say exactly. The assumption among many is that it was something that Zaev’s new pals in Athens would not have appreciated, hence the otherwise-hard-to-explain reaction. I have never met Stojkova, and I am unaware of any official reaction to the video. However, on the face of it, it is hard to imagine any possible justification for this behaviour, nor can the Macedonian media be justified in attempting to smother the story, although they eventually started reporting on it after the video emerged on social media. If the events of that day are as they appear to be on the video, Stojkova should resign immediately and offer a formal apology for the incident.
“Makedonija”: And finally, what is your message to readers of “Makedonija” newspaper?
Mark Branov: In difficult times such as these, it is easy for our people to fall into despair and defeatism when considering Macedonian issues. Whether it has to do with the economic problems faced by many of our people, or national issues which threaten the existence of our culture, it is not uncommon to hear comments like: “It has never been this bad.” But with all due respect to the very real problems facing our people today, such comments are ahistorical. Macedonian history is full of examples of great trial and tribulation, including war and cultural genocide. And yet, somehow, this summer, the famous Boys from Buf folk band from Canada played at a concert in the village of Buf, Lerinsko. This is a place where the Greek government used to round up Macedonians like my grandfather and send them to concentration camps on island prisons like Makronisos. But in 2017, our proud Bufcani from Canada were singing “Pesna za Lerin” and other beautiful songs in front of hundreds of people.
Canada is a beautiful country that I love and appreciate very much, in part because it saved our people at a time when they had run out of places to hide. It’s a country where Canadian citizens enjoy not only a prosperous and secure society, but also strong guarantees for human rights, like the freedom of expression and the freedom of association. But, what is the point of having these valuable rights, if you don’t exercise them?
Now is the time to raise your voice and be heard. Donate or volunteer to a worthy organization that speaks truth to power. Visit Macedonia, consider staying, investing, or buying real estate. Educate yourself and educate others, create or preserve artistic or cultural works, or simply multiply, and raise up some more Macedonians. However you choose to contribute is ok, just make sure you do your part.