The Museum with the longest name

Among the many novelties of Skopje in recent years there is also a new museum, probably the museum with longest name in the world, called the “Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Statehood and Independence “Museum of IMRO and Museum of the Victims of the Communist Regime”” (official website). The visit was probably the strangest and also most unpleasant museum visit I had.

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The museum with the long name is a strange reincarnation of a 19th museum. The access and the narrative is tightly controlled. You have to join a group and are not allowed to visit the museum by yourself. The tour lasts close to two hours in which the guide (in my case a friendly history student) tells a well rehearsed national story from the beginning of the revolutionary struggle to the various forms of repression by neighboring nations and finally Communist cruelty. Taking pictures is not allowed and strictly enforced. The narrative texts are very short and there is no ability to understand the museum and its story without the guide/narrator. Although the museum is poor in original artifacts (the vast majority are guns), it chooses to not use interactive tools or allow visitors to approach the items, but instead it imposes distance and supposed administration. The control suggests that the government wants to impose a narrative, but also tightly control it and avoid individuals engaging with the narrative or challenging it, in particular when it becomes controversial (here is a short summary of the exhibits). For example, the guide pointed out that an early 20th century program of the Macedonian Revolutionary Museum should not be wrongly understood to be in Bulgarian, but rather it was written in archaic Macedonian. Later, he asked whether the older Macedonian visitors had learned about a case of Serbian forces torturing a Macedonian patriot during the Balkan wars in school. When the visitors negated, it became evidence of past manipulation of history during the Yugoslav period.

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Officially, the museum describes itself as “Collection of wax 109 wax figures of prominent Macedonian revolutionaries, ideologists, voivodas, intellectuals, communist activists, politicians, and foreigners, collection of artistic paintings – 25 portraits of prominent Macedonian activists and 85 mass scenes of significant events and battles from the contemporary Macedonian history; 1500 items including weapons, documents, photographs, ambient items, newspapers, brochures, albums, etc. These collection is in constant process of enrichment through purchase of museum materials and through donations from citizens.”

The museum in parts reminds of Madam Tussaud’s chamber of horrors, we see wax figures of Macedonian heroes bleeding or hanging from the gallows as a result of torture by Bulgarian, Serbian, Communist and Greek, Ottoman fascists/nationalists/imperialists. The 85 mass scenes are large historical paintings, mostly painted by artists from Russia and Ukraine. The style evokes the romantic nationalist paintings (in German these types of paintings are appropriately known as Schinken, ‘ham’) of the late 19th, early 20th century, such as Antoni Piotrowski and his portrait of Batak–a key event in the Bulgarian national history (on the historical mythmaking see here) . The scenes and portraits are hyper-realistic, but painted over 100 years after the events, they are at best a ‘creative’ reflections on the topic by the artist and in most cases simply made up (this is not to argue that the events they portray did not happen, but their depiction is made up). As such, most of the museum is fiction, not fact.

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The narrative arch is uncreative and follows the classic structure of nationalist story-telling elsewhere. It suggests the Macedonian nation is several sentences old (so one of the few narrative texts suggests), in the 19th century the Macedonian national revolutionaries emerged, who struggled for autonomy and independence from the Ottomans, threatened and killed by the neighboring national movements. The most difficult period for the narrative is the positive view of the World War Two national liberation struggle and Communist recognition of the Macedonian nation, followed by the Communist terror and how Communist Yugoslavia incarcerated Macedonian leaders. It ends with Dragan Bogdanovski, a Macedonian exile and co-founder of the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE in 1990 (which sees itself as a direct successor to the Macedonian revolutionary movement), thus making sure that the merger between the  nation, the national movement and the governing party becomes complete. Bogdanovski’s New Jersey vanity license plate is also exhibited, it reads VMRO 1.

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4 Responses to The Museum with the longest name

  1. inavukic says:

    Perhaps another way of promoting Macedonia’s profile and past in the way the government wants it, but the fact that one cannot understand it without a guide is not doing the museum planners and administrators etc any favours – such tight control evokes, suspicion I would think.

  2. Pingback: Skopje 2014 in 2014: Mission accomplished? | Florian Bieber

  3. Florian Bieber says:

    Here is another blog post in German on a visit to the museum: http://potepuhinja.blogspot.co.at/2013/12/museum-des-mazedonischen.html

  4. Pingback: Skopjes sønderrivende sammenhængskraft

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