The Society is pleased to welcome two new members: Chris Gatz of New South Wales, Australia (he is featured in an article in this issue about the Aromanians down under) — Mr. Gatz was born in the Farsarot village of Kefalovrison (Megidia), in the province of Epirus, Greece; and Christy M. Kara of Omaha, Nebraska, who recently discovered his Aromanian ancestry thanks to the industrious efforts of his daughter Gail Kara and son-in-law Phillip Guddemi, both of whom are scholars.
The Society mourns the recent loss of four of the most senior members of our community: Vasil Uscatu, Norma (Thoma) Babu, Jim Caramitru, and Tilly (Chilia) Balamaci. They were the heart and soul of our community in New York. In their persons, they represented one of the boldest and most unpredictable leaps any human being can take, out of a very ancient society and into one of the most modern, often leaving behind both friends and family. They were the closest thing to true heroes that many of us will ever see. With a foot in both old and new countries, they were a bridge over that cultural great divide, and they taught the rest of us that there were good things and bad things on both sides.
What wonderful memories they have left us: the Sunday, holiday, and name day visits that kept a stream of relatives coming through all of our apartments in the Bronx; the never-ending flow of drinks and excellent home-cooked food; the hearty refrain of polyphonic Farsarot songs drifting out the window and echoing over the Hudson River; the joy, the laughter, the dancing, the unbridled ecstasy they felt just to be alive after so many hardships.
We offer our deepest condolences to their far-flung and highly accomplished families. The Aromanian community in New York had been dwindling, as its elders have passed away and its younger members moved to the suburbs; the passing of these four can be taken as a sort of official end. They will be fondly remembered by all who knew them.
We are deeply grateful to Noel Malcolm and New York University Press for their kind permission to reprint part of Mr. Malcolm’s highly acclaimed new book, Bosnia: A Short History (NYU Press, 1994), now available in most bookstores.
A Conference on the Vlachs and East Roman Empire was held in June 1994 in Veroia, Greece. Our sources expressed great disappointment in the lack of objectivity and in the historical distortions in many of the lectures. The Conference took a decidedly pro-Greek turn. Some lectures advanced poor claims that the Vlachs — like the Macedonians — “are and always will be Greek.” Others held that the whole East Roman Empire was bilingual in Latin and Greek; that the Vlachs were the heirs of the Byzantine Empire and, therefore, naturally spoke Latin and Greek; and that, therefore, the true Byzantines were the Vlachs, etc.
This last claim is especially eccentric when you consider that even Byzantine chroniclers had quite contrary and, at times, even antagonistic views towards the Vlachs. Works by respected Greek-American scholars, like the late Dr. Peter Charanis of Rutgers University, offer a more impartial analysis of historical documents and Vlach origins. Consider, for example, the excerpt by Dr. Charanis we’ve published in this issue of the Newsletter. And of course, Noel Malcolm’s work on Bosnia, also excerpted in this issue, will at last give wide publicity to a fact that hyperhellenic nationalists among our community in Greece would like to keep under wraps: that the Vlachs played a key role in facilitating the Turkish conquest of the Balkan Peninsula.
This is not to say that there were no impartial scholars at the Veroia conference; Professors Tom Winnifrith of England and John Koliopolous of Thessaloniki especially stood out. But they were clearly a minority. It is unfortunate that some of our people in responsible positions in Greece constantly exert so much effort towards proving a purely Hellenic identity and ancestry for the Vlachs, even if it means sacrificing the facts of our unique identity and history. It is even more disconcerting when it occurs at a purportedly scholarly forum.
The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania has petitioned Parliament for changes in a new educational bill which restricts education in the language of ethnic minorities to high school and teacher and art college levels.
An interesting, if dated item we just ran across: On March 11, 1993, The Times of London described the situation of Jezdimir Vasiljevic, the proprietor of the former Yugoslavia’s largest bank, which was then collapsing. Interest rates had been very high in Yugoslav private banks, offsetting some of the pain of sanctions, but there was widespread speculation that high rates were subsidized through such illicit means as gun-running and drug smuggling. Vasiljevic had just fled the country to meet with partners in Israel, noted the article, which also stated, “The flamboyant banker, who speaks English with a slight Australian twang picked up earlier in his career, is not a Serb but a Vlach, a minority speaking a Latin-based language related to Romanian.”
There is cause for some optimism that the Aromanian language can be revived in the Balkan Peninsula. On September 16, 1994, The New York Times carried an article (by the felicitously named James F. Clarity) entitled, “Gaelic Now Trips Off Ireland’s Silver Tongues.” Following are some excerpts:
“In the 1300s, the Irish were forbidden to speak their own language in the presence of their English masters. Later, parents urged their children to learn English to survive in an English-run economy.
“After Ireland became independent in 1922, the tide started turning and by the 1950s Gaelic had become a required subject in school. But most people were bored by studying Gaelic, which they considered useless commercially and which they associated with rustic poverty. It remained the first language only in a few, mostly coastal, areas.
“But now the Irish people, who have produced a large number of first-rate English-speaking writers and actors, are moving by the tens of thousands to rediscover their own tongue.
“While only 75,000 of the 3.5 million people in this country, and a much smaller percentage of the 1.6 million in the British province of Northern Ireland, speak Gaelic as their first language, the number who are becoming fluent is growing steadily. More than 100 public schools are conducted entirely in Gaelic, including 11 new ones opening this fall. In other public schools in Ireland, students take about two hours a week of the langauge and must pass a test for a high-school diploma.”
Where there’s a will…
Nationalists have never been known for broad-mindedness, but a recent story in The Washington Post put their disability in especially clear perspective. Entitled “Separatists in Quebec Facing Independence-Minded Indians,” the article detailed how Quebec’s Indian communities are using the Quebec separatists’ own argument against them, to wit, if the Quebecois within Canada have the right to self-determination, then so do the Indians within Quebec. “It’s a Chinese box,” says political scientist David Elkins. “Quebec can’t separate without allowing its natives to separate…. In a conceptual sense, there aren’t two problems here, there’s just one.”
This is a merry-go-round nationalists have been riding for almost a century and a half; German nationalists asserting democratic rights within the Habsburg Empire in 1848, for example, were positively shocked when their Hungarian subjects claimed similar rights, and Hungarians were in turn miffed when their Croatian underlings echoed the call — both movements were suppressed.
The nationalists’ flawed, self-serving logic has created countless more tragic examples in our own day, such as modern Croatia. After being members of the Yugoslav state for most of this century, the Croatians asserted their “right of self-determination” and seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, ignoring the threat by their large Serbian minority to secede from Croatia if Croatia seceded from the union. The Serbs took up arms and fought the Croats to a standstill; only UN intervention brought the war to a halt. Now Croatia wants the UN out, presumably so it can finish the job.
Croat nationalists have tried everything to end their “Serb problem,” including a vain attempt to rekindle a long-lost Vlach identity among Bosnian Serbs. They would do much better to acknowledge that the Serbs have the same rights they have, and to do their share to find a civilized way out of the many problems in the Balkans right now. If they do not, the worst of the Balkan wars may lie ahead.