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Mittwoch, 8. Februar 2017

The village of Selce is preserving the memory of Vojdan Chernodrinski and Arseni Jovkov

Every place has its own image and soul, colours and scents, people and events it is known for and making it special, even in its inevitable transience.

One such place is Malesia (near Struga), which, deep down in its heart, in Selce, is preserving the memory of Macedonian greats Vojdan Chernodrinski and Arseni Jovkov. The former was founder of Macedonian drama, a man who dared to call his Macedonian theatres “an engaged national political theatre”, and author of the “Macedonian bloody wedding”, and the latter was a prominent revolutionary, people’s favourite leader, a poet and creator of the first Macedonian documentary film.

The road to Selci and the story about those two and Malesia, told from generation to generation, leads beside the beautiful Lake Globochica, all the way to the Globochica hydro power plant. From this point, the village can be reached through a narrow and steep path passing through colourful mountain landscape. The infrastructure and the ruined old road is an unpleasant image mirroring the current negligence of the region that is full of people from early spring until late autumn.

There are two villages located in this part of the wooded slopes of Stogovo Mountain – Selce and Burinec, interconnected throughout history, both economically and ethnically, but each of them with its own history and development. They are separated by Stajilska, or Selechka River. Selce, the birthplace of Chernodrinski and Jovkov, is on the right side of the river.

A suitable name for its people
The current village of Selce hasn’t always been located at an altitude of 1.050 metres nor has it always been called that way. The first residence of the locals was called Stajlo or Slailo was located much lower.

“There are traces of former settlements in the area of Selce and Burinec. It is believed that there was a town once at the current site called Graishta and there are still remains of the Kaja fortress, built around the same time as the fortress in Ohrid. There is a record of it in the old church of “Saint Nicholas”, with only its altar preserved to this day. The fortress served to secure the local road that connected Debar with Debarca and the Struga field, and was positioned so that the Kodjadjik tower and the Ohrid Lake were visible. There are remains of several other settlements still visible in the area. The villages of Selce and Burinec used to be part of the municipality of Debar, because of their proximity to the town. That influence can be seen through the folk costumes” – author Ljupcho Paunkoski, in his documentary called “Malesia”, says. The legend says that people from the entire region sought refuge higher up the mountain during times of occupation and the village of Selce was formed – a village with a suitable name for people in trouble.

“It is a very old village and the first record of it dates back to 1863 as Selce Dolno. According to some of locals, the village got its name because it used to be small” – Paunkoski says.

The population of the village soon reached 1.050, consisting of 150 to 180 houses, and Selce soon became an important Macedonian Orthodox settlement.

The following years, especially after the end of the Ilinden uprising, many of the people went to work in America. Most of the families were patriarchal, consisting of at least 7 descendants, which is why even the Ottoman soldiers and bandits were wise to stay clear of trouble. The people of Selce were always armed, even when going to church and whereas they were carrying guns and rifles at the time, to this day, their words and deeds have still remained their biggest weapon.

The origins of unyieldingness

The trademark and pride of Selce and Macedonian history, as the story goes are the two village leaders, Priest Jon, or Jovan Slavkoski and Atanasij Tanasko Jovkov and their sons – Vojdan (Slavkoski) Chernodrinski and Arseni Jovkov – brilliant but tragic personas, just like the era in which they lived.

Jon was the village mayor for thirteen years before becoming a priest in 1889.

“Priest Jon Slavkoski was sentenced to 101 years in prison during the Ottoman reign and was sent to Anatolia. He was sent back to Macedonia after the Hurriyet. He was killed by rebels in his own house in 1943 and was buried in the yard of the “Saint Nicholas” church” – Ljupcho Paunkoski documentary reveals.

Priest Jon was a man revered by generations after his death. People even tell stories about his endeavours. One of them is about the encounter between Jon and Raim the robber.

“They aimed at each other, but instead of shooting, knowing that he would die, Raim took his axe in anger and butchered his own mule!”

However, faith caught up with Priest Jon and he and his family were killed in their own birthplace.

Faith was even crueller to Jovkov’s family. He was responsible for the opening of the first school in Selce, which was “unseen and unheard of at the time”. It was a “miracle” that brought light into the dark Malesia in the form of education. The first teacher in Selci was Marija Slavkoska, who graduated from teaching school in Wien.

Arseni Jovkov

Because of his teaching work and initiative to get more young people to educate themselves, Tanasko Jovkov often clashed with the regional leaders, even with the Greek bishop in Bitola, which is why he was sentenced to prison and later caught in ambush and executed.

Unable to cope with his father’s death, Tanasko’s oldest son, Niko Jovkov became leader of the first revolutionary cells in the region as soon as VMRO was formed. When Niko died, his younger brother, Arseni, got involved, becoming the leader of his brother’s group and was an authentic chronicler of the situation in Macedonia at the time and the Ilinden uprising.

The people of Selci preserved the memory of the village’s greats by building a memorial monument in the centre of the village. The marble plate says: “Vojdan Chernodrinski (1875 – 1951) and Arseni Jovkov (1884 – 1924). This country will remember them for being its part and a shining mark of its rise. Grateful Macedonia, Selci, 1979.”

Word as a blade
You must have heard the saying “Like father, like son”. Arseni Jovkov and Vojdan Chernodrinski and their fathers are certainly a good example of it. Those young people continued to walk on the path set by their fathers, with their own way and their own weapon, until their final hours.

Vojdan Chernodrinski 

Historical facts are irrefutable: the birthplace of these greats and visionaries, who were, at least one step ahead of their time, is not the only thing they had in common. They also shared the same immense love and loyalty to their enslaved country and limitless faith in its prosperity and future, including their extraordinary creative gift and ability to lay down and build the foundations of the Macedonian drama and theatre, journalism, literature, film art, as well as their highest ideal – independent Macedonia.

It is truly remarkable how the “ignorant” peasants from Selce became part of Macedonian history, culture and art. How did it even occur to Chernodrinski to establish his own Macedonian theatre in Sofia and secure a repertoire of his own Macedonian dramas in Macedonian language during such difficult times? How did Jovkov “sharpen” his striking journalistic word, more powerful than a lightning? Where did his courage, persistence, strength and uncompromising attitude come from?

Jovkov’s idea to eternalize the 20th anniversary of the Ilinden uprising, when Goce Delchev’s remains would be placed in the premises of the Ilinden organization in Sofia and later transferred to Skopje, in the early days of film when it was still just an attraction, was brilliant. He was also very serious about his idea to write a script and shoot “a monumental historic spectacle about Macedonian life and struggles, which seem to be our inevitable destiny”.

That is why there is an article about Arseni Jovkov in the World Movie Encyclopaedia, published in 1980. According to film experts, the script titled “Ilinden”, based on his poem of the same name, written in 1905, was graphically illustrated in a period when such way of expression was unknown. Experts also noted that the documentary film “Macedonia through images” had “a tight dramaturgical structure consisting of numerous film elements which only showed that the author had a sense about the film media and that he was familiar with the laws of the film form”. All of this sums up to the conclusion that these are precious pieces which represent the testament of the cultural history (particularly the film history) of Macedonia.

The answer to all these questions probably lies somewhere deep in Malesia and Stogovo. Their extraordinary beauty will give you a clear mind, strength, motivation, verve, etc. and that is why this place will never be forgotten. People keep returning to their birthplace to stay as long as they can, and leave again, until the next time. 

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