March 10, 2016

Macedonian manuscripts as "merchandise"

Scattered heritage


Macedonian medieval manuscripts and books weren't destroyed, robbed, scattered and sold before World War II only; they were sold even after the Republic of Macedonia gained its independence. The manuscripts (just as many other relics), via the black market and for high amounts of money, reached the hands of foreign collectors or foreign libraries. Thus, for instance, in the early 1990s, some Macedonian archaeographers, via private channels (since official research by Macedonian scholars wasn't made possible), gathered information according to which during 1986 or 1987 four medieval manuscripts and one letter of Macedonian origin were given to the National Library of Serbia! They were dispatched by a person from Skopje (a woman), but in addition to the basic information listed about the manuscripts in the library, the name of the person who gave them away wasn't mentioned, which is the usual procedure when a manuscript is catalogued. Which, in turn, means that most probably the owner from Skopje sold them. The manuscripts in question are of utmost scientific and historical importance (in the National Library in Belgrade they are catalogued under the library numbers Rs 693 to Rs 699): a lenten triodion from the 14th century, containing 157 parchment sheets (!), a fragment of a Missal from the 14th century (23 parchment sheets), a Missal from the 14th century (248 paper sheets), a Psalter dating from the third quarter of the 15th and from the end of the 17th century, and a letter (in Macedonian) by priest Mihail Vuković from Mavrovo, written in 1869.

Some records point out that two more manuscripts exist besides the ones mentioned above, about which our researchers don’t have specific information, although they were supposedly given away by the same person from Skopje. But it is thought that these manuscripts, until a few years ago when they were taken to Belgrade, were in the possession of an Ohrid family, which had a priestly tradition. That family gave away the manuscripts to a certain researcher, and one of the manuscripts was then noticed in the office of a member of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Even though the manuscripts were given to a scholar, they weren't catalogued nor elaborated on by Macedonian science, i.e. the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts. They ended up in the Serbian National Library, instead of in the Macedonian National University Library (NUL "St. Clement Ohridski", which has the biggest collection of old manuscripts and the conditions to conserve and store them), although the library financially rewards finders of old manuscripts. In this case, cultural heritage artefacts have become "merchandise" in scientific circles, that is, a Macedonian citizen sold a Macedonian handwritten artefact to a foreign national institution. For such an act—lack of patriotism being implicit—the basic motive is most often a good financial compensation. Yet this is not the only such case since the Republic of Macedonia gained independence. Besides manuscripts of course, "merchandise" have been icons, archaeological objects and other old valuable things from Macedonia.

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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