or Roma locuta est, causa finita est (“Rome has spoken, case closed”)
After attending two American “Congresses of Macedonian-Romanian Culture” at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, I would like to take this opportunity as a second-generation Aromanian to summarize my impressions and criticisms and also to propose some beneficial changes.
First, my reasons for attending the Congresses: I have recently developed a strong interest in my ethnicity and the ways in which it relates/doesn’t relate to my American heritage. This investigation has included both scholarly readings, travelogues and discussions with relations and friends.
A major discovery has been how little many of us know about our overseas heritage. Politics, ethnic camouflage, our combination of Roman, Thracian, Illyrian, Greek, Ottoman, and other Balkan influences, and an incomplete recorded history have totally confused many of us as to our “true” ethnic identity. Still others are convinced that they know who we are and what viewpoints (political or historical) should be adopted by all—regardless of updated or opposing views. Sometimes I feel I am standing in the center of a huge mosaic, and only by climbing high above its fragments can I ascertain the whole picture. The Congress presented what I considered would be a path up the mountain. Unfortunately, I was left in the mist.
I hope the members of the Congress will take the following suggestions and criticisms in the spirit of brotherhood with which they are intended. Many sincere, dedicated people are involved in the organization of these Congresses. I realize one must crawl before learning to walk and I do not wish to discourage people from attending or supporting the Congress. I simply wish to report on a newsworthy event and give a personal reaction.
PROS AND CONS
The Congress aims to “provide a national forum for the presentation of scholarly studies and discussion of specific problems concerning the preservation and promotion of the Macedonian-Romanian (Vlach) language and cultural heritage.” It certainly preserved the language—Aromanian and Rumanian were the two languages which overwhelmingly dominated the Congress, to the frustration and aggravation of those who speak neither. The result was alienation and the conclusion that these Congresses were not intended for everyone, but rather only for a certain type of Aromanian educated in Rumanian schools, or who identifies Rumania as his or her country.
How can we in the diaspora take an interest and participate in these events when we are linguistically and culturally excluded? How can one democratically vote on pertinent resolutions when 1), there is a breakdown in communication and 2), many of our people from different communities were not invited? Just who are we to vote for an unrepresented majority in the states and abroad? Obviously, none of the votes taken were valid.
Furthermore, some of the papers delivered did not relate to our history or culture, or connect with our American heritage. For example, the paper on Rumanian classical pianist Dinu Lipatti was interesting but the mere fact that he was from an Aromanian family which migrated to Rumania does not demonstrate how we can preserve Aromanian culture. In fact, Lipatti was probably assimilated by Rumanian culture.
The alleged “National Anthem” (Dimandarea Parinteasca) was once more indulged, despite protests and walk-outs by several attendees. Even my grandmother and uncle—both in their 80s—firmly stated that this song, although once understandable, shouldn’t represent a modern Aromanian mentality—and certainly not an American one. It is a sad comment on the Congress if we cannot come up with something more inspiring which has redeeming qualities.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of the Congresses were that they made no attempt to capture the imagination or convey the importance of understanding one’s heritage—especially to the youth, who were conspicuous by their absence. It’s not that there isn’t an interest; it’s just in the bad presentation of the material. Perhaps the Congress can divide its meeting time into separate periods for scholarly readings and personal essays, demonstrations, etc. How does one relate and reconcile a dying mountain culture with a modern technological one? These key issues were never addressed.
Another low point at this gathering was when some participants orally or in distributed material vented their anger (and sometimes hatred) about events long past. I found this unhealthy and counterproductive to the goals of the Congress. True, there are ugly events in the history of all minorities. They should be remembered and put into perspective. But when they become the focal point of an allegedly progressive movement, everyone loses out, because it just adds to the tension and division.
There were, however, several positive aspects to these Congresses, and the most important is that they reflect a concern and respect for our existence and continuance. We have not always been granted a separate, unique identity—something which is crucial to understanding oneself, and even one’s world. The Congress provided a wonderful opportunity to meet new people and old friends. The initial enthusiasm was inspiring, and could be maintained if change is incorporated with the next Congress.
A slide presentation of the “Pan-Hellenic Vlach Festival” was a highlight for me, because it demonstrated the living culture and how that culture can be preserved by simply participating in its positive traditions. Politics and preconceived notions are a sure-fire way to create disharmony and alienation.
I hope to be able to speak, read, and write Aromanian one day. But I don’t want to speak an artificial language that has been “purified” of “foreign” (non-Latin) influences. The Congress should help create a literary language that retains the beauty and uniqueness of the old. Perhaps a created literary language could incorporate Modern Greek, Rumanian, and Latin (or Italian) —perhaps in a ratio of 40%/40%/20%, to keep everyone happy.
In summary, because it is the younger generation which will have the responsibility to carry on the study and preservation of our mixed heritage, it is the present members of the Congress who must ensure a democratic atmosphere representing diverse groups—whether they call themselves Rumanians, Greeks, Macedo-Romanians, Vlachs, etc., and no matter with which church they choose to be affiliated.
One important advantage is that foreign scholars or interested outsiders would not be forced to dance over hot coals in order to appease rival propagandas. Instead, democratic tolerance would offer journalists and scholars freedom to reach their own conclusions and perhaps shed some light for all of us, without sacrificing sensitivity to various injustices to which minority populations are subjected.
The Balkan countries are not my countries. I am an American. If the majority of our people living in Greece are now afforded somewhat of a democratic atmosphere, then we should establish a dialogue with our people there without exploiting them. I would not want someone from the old country coming to America and telling me what I should call myself, or how to live my life. If the Congress has a political message, let an accurate census be taken to show how the majority of our people in a particular country feel. Especially because politics in the Balkans has always been a most delicate issue, the Congress should know better.
Author Robert Nicholas Talabac graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Professional Writing from Lehman College of the City University of New York. He has won several writing awards, including the Mercury Prize for Journalism and the Grace A. Croff Memorial Prize for Poetry. He works in the advertising profession, and has already made two trips to Northern Greece.