The Macedonian Front - The Dots on the Map That Connect the Balkan Memory
2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the WW1 (1914-1918). After a historical period of one hundred years is completed, it officially and scientifically becomes the archaeology, history and anthropology of our time and is treated as a cultural heritage. The Great War has been a major event in the modern history of the Balkans too. In 1915 on the territory of modern N. Macedonia a front was created. It will become a place of confl ict for over one million soldiers belonging to different armies, over the span of the following three years. The Macedonian front, known as the Salonica Front or Front d’Orient, is one of the four key fronts of the European continent during the WW1. Here the Entente forces, on one side of the front, and the Central Powers, on the other, are fighting. The Imperial War Museums in the UK chose the 10 Significant Battles of the WW1. But the Macedonian front is missing. It seems that, on a global scale, the "Macedonian Front" is “The Forgotten Front". Macedonia, according to the Bucharest Treaty, experienced the WW1 as a territory divided between Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. The Great Powers, on the same territory that they divided two years earlier, created the Macedonian front, in 1915. During the WW1, soldiers from about 20 nations fought and died on the soil of modern N. Macedonia. Complex military operations were carried out, including a number of fierce battles involving more t han one million soldiers with 150,000 killed, more than 300,000 wounded and 100,000 missing from the warring parties. The Macedonian population was mobilized for the armies of the two opposing sides in the war. They were mobilized mostly in the Bulgarian army, but also in the Serbian and Greek armies. It is estimated that the number Macedonians who fought in World War I is just over 200,000. It would happen so that members of one family would serve in different armies, fighting on the opposite sides of the front. How many have died? There is no precise information on that. The Macedonian Front met its end on the Dojran battlefield on September 18, 1918. Recently, a British archaeologist discovered a plaque on the former war scene. Its reconstruction is placed next to the original plaque. Travelling through the "Landscape of Conflict" left after the Great War in N. Macedonia, the silence speaks through the countless of the physical remains in the fields. On the entire front line leng th of about 450 km there are thousands and thousands of artefacts and monuments everywhere, waiting to be explored, excavated, identified, cleaned, preserved and displayed in a museum, to tell a piece of the untold European history. The architectonic remains in places where battles took place include parts of destroyed complexes of bunkers, positions, machine gun nests and trenches that can still be seen today. Macedonia has invaluable resources from the WW1 that can be used in both scientific and educational, as well as in promotional purposes. But before we even think about memorial tourism from the Great War, like the one in other European countries, we need to find a way to tell our story about the WW1. We need to find a way to explore this period, to write down the notes and to share it with the world, before most of the local memory is lost forever or stored in data archives that will never be available to mankind. In spite of hundreds of archaeological sites, historical docum ents, maps, drawings, archives, photographies, postcards and all other available data that can lead us toward understanding the events, it seems like the Macedonian front is forgotten by the local researchers too, with just a couple of published books, scientific articles and occasional articles in the media. The sites associated with memories of the WWI conflicts and battle on the territory of N. Macedonia are either forgotten or neglected by the local scientists. As an organization, we are aiming toward good examples of heritage interpretation which are always based on first-hand experience. we are convinced that the dots on the war maps that connects the memory on the Macedonian Front, if thoroughly studied, can be points of remembrance and reconciliation among the Balkan countries. It seems that we can not demonstrate how reconciliation and peace can lead to better protection and managing of the sites of contested history, because they are forgotten and almost erased from the lo cal memory. But the aim of this video is to contribute to Reconciliation through Heritage Interpretation, showing the world what bloodshed can cause and what forgiveness can bring. As a part of that reconciliation, maybe one day, in the future, we will see the Macedonian Front on the UNESCO heritage list.
“Eastern Front”, known under many names in historical records but mostly as “Macedonian front” or “Salonika front”, has great importance for the history of Macedonia and the Balkans. Being a dark spot on the world map more than a century, it draws attention only to eager researchers, adventurists and occasionally random tourists.
Cultural heritage of the First World War in N. Macedonia so far has been completely unknown for both, the public and experts, within and outside Macedonia. In an attempt to discover a little piece of the modern history, as an organization we’ve ran few projects on this topic, public debates, semin ars, lectures and workshops. In November 2015 we organized for the very first time in our country a big international conference on topic ""First World War in the collective memory - Exchange of experiences in the Balkans"". The conference was attended by experts from France, Macedonia, Greece, Romania and other countries who presented their scientific and historical research on World War I, and who had the opportunity to share their experiences on the subject. As part of the activities that promote the cultural heritage of the First World War, in the past years members of HAEMUS were included in many field trips and scientific groups about the Macedonian Front.
Regarding the Great War, N. Macedonia is definitely an open-air museum. But so far by now, there wasn’t a single archeological excavation on the WW1 site, and the ethnological researches are not very frequent. We can try very hard, but currently we cannot provide a unique perspective of contested war heritage, u nless multiple mediating roles are preformed.
Interpretation is about storytelling and personal feelings, the way we do remember things, in spite of the official facts. But how to interpret the things we do not remember, since the local memory about the Great war is forgotten and lost forever? It’s both burden and challenge to keep the story alive, so people in N. Macedonia can remember the remembrance on the WW1. How to focus on perspective approach to interpret heritage where our national stories on the Balkans are so different, and we haven’t told our story yet?
According to UNESCO, “Outstanding universal value means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.” Considering the Outstanding Universal Value of the contested heritage from the Great War on the Balkans, we would like to encourage inscribing the Macedonian Front on the UNESCO World Heritage List. But before this can happen, building human capacities who would participate in the dialogue for peace and reconciliation in the Balkan countries through scientific research and understanding of the past of this period is also one of the aims of our work. Bringing on daylight a topic less known, problematic by its origin, politicized in every aspect but very challenging for many researchers and scientists, needs multi-faceted approaches to an always complex and complicated Balkan history.
Our opinion is that we can achieve peace and reconciliation through heritage interpretation about the Great War heritage, especially with our neighboring countries Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece, only if we cross-reference all the available archives and built an immense data base for future research. Used properly, interpretation is a powerful tool that can shape even a single story of a person, on behalf of the Great War.
We can also contribute in achieving peace and reconciliation about the heritage from the Macedonian front with our work, writing down and retelling the stories that left in the field; making the historical reenactments using the skills, props and media to make it relevant to the public, and organizing the tours for the locals, while searching for the connections between those events in the past and the lives of contemporary communities. Every side has a story to tell. Let’s tell the story of a conflict that has a balance of narratives and new perspectives connecting all the dots on the war maps along the Macedonian front.