June 10, 2016

Not even the worst heathens plundered so

Scattered heritage


In the 19th century, Macedonian churches and monasteries were taken over by priests of the same [Christian Orthodox] religion, but who spoke foreign languages. First came the Greek priests, who were intent on destroying anything of Macedonian origin and anything that was a reminder of Macedonian spirit (although it was Christian). Then the Bulgarian Exharchy priests came, gathered anything that was of value and that had somehow been saved during the previous centuries. Afterwards Serbian priests came, as well as many different armies (especially at the beginning of the 20th century). They carried out the most intense plunder of Macedonia during the wars of 1912-1918. Not only did they steal valuable relics, but anything that was to be found in churches and monasteries. Temples suffered the worst looting, or were flattened to the ground – by people who pray and cross their hearts in the same such temples.

The sacred Christian buildings of Macedonians were destroyed by no-one else but their Christian neighbours. The worst heathens didn't do such things in many wars and plunderings.

Perhaps the most absurd of all absurdities in those wars is the ravaging crusade of the Christians ("the liberators") who plundered everything that was Christian in Macedonia. The valuable relics they took during godless acts of robbery are today in treasuries and archives of their countries' museums, libraries or monasteries, whereas those priceless riches are almost unavailable to (and cannot even be seen by) those whose ancestors created them.

Those who almost without any resistance plundered Macedonia tried to erase their traces, but weren't able to erase everything. Enough evidence remains to show the scope of the damage done.

The Serbian armies and governments during the Balkan Wars and World War I (and especially afterwards) robbed Macedonia of many valuable objects, erasing most traces of their "collecting" activities. Instead, right after World War I ended, they took care to leave documents that would suggest the theft had been done by others – such as the Bulgarian armies and military governments.

Serbian and Bulgarian crusaders weren't, however, the only parties to plunder Macedonian artefacts.

The Greeks did much damage in the South of Macedonia. Other armies passing through Macedonia also took part. There are traces, for instance, left by French soldiers, who, among other things, tore down the monastery in the Brajčino village and the church in the Dolno Dupeni village, near Prespa. Besides the Bulgarian and the Serbian armies, some of the Triple Entente armies had their special committees that collected culturally historical and art objects, primarily from Macedonian churches and monasteries.

All those people for a short period, in just a few years, caused great damage to Macedonian cultural heritage, i.e. carried away anything that they could: manuscripts, books, archaeological objects, icons and other church items – although documented traces don't exist about everything that was taken. At least not in Macedonia, because, for instance, from 1912 to 1915, during the time of the Serbian special supervision, the evidence for the disappeared treasures is stored in Serbian archives, which are not accessible to researchers. The Bitola historical archive, however, has kept the documentation the Serbian administration prepared about the plunder done by the Bulgarian army and government. The evidence is rich indeed (and the documents about the damage and robberies of Macedonian churches and monasteries during World War I were published in a separate publication in 1985 in Bitola).

Caption: Besides Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian priests, in the 19th and 20th centuries many armies came from different parts of the world, and all of them ravaged Macedonia. Shown above, the most valuable objects from the Ohrid churches and monasteries, now in the National Museum in Sofia.

To be continued...

Nove Cvetanoski

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