Contests of heritage and the politics of preservation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, K. S. Brown

The presence of the past: a private destruction

A few days after hearing this story, I watched the destruction of a house in Krushevo. It was built in traditional style near the bottom of the ski-lift, which has helped make the town into a ski-resort. As one of the few houses that had survived the onslaught of 1903, it had been inhabited for some years following that year before being abandoned and falling into disrepair. In 1992 the old grey slate roof was still more or less intact and it topped walls made of a latticework of massive stones, dirt and mud, and over eighteen inches thick in order to support the weight of it. Like most of the other houses in the upper part of the town which survived the town's destruction in 1903, it had small barred windows and a central downstairs hallway.

A great-granddaughter of the inhabitants of the house in 1903 told me the story of the day that Krushevo was destroyed. When the others fled the town, her great-grandparents barricaded themselves in; but the 'Turks', apparently villagers from the local area, broke in. After locating and taking the family's hidden wealth, they took the couple into the downstairs hallway and shot them. Somehow, the wife survived, and stayed in the same house. One of her sons offended one of the local leaders of the Revolutionary Organisation, which had led the Uprising of 1903. She hid him on the top floor of the house, and, in order for him to hide, she rigged up a bell that she would ring if the Organisation came looking for him. On one occasion he hid under a coverlet but his boot showed and the Organisation killed him and took his body away to bury in the mountains. His brother had to return from the USA, where he had been working, to find the body and give it a proper burial in one of the town's graveyards. [9]

These stories illuminate not only the 'official' history of the town, which honours those who were victims of Ottoman reprisals in 1903, but also the less nationally palatable history of internecine strife within the town's community in the Uprising's aftermath. Part of the stories' currency derives from the immediacy with which they could be connected with their location. One could, for as long as the house stood, imagine their taking place. [10]

With the destruction of the house which was the site of these episodes, though, it could be said that the stories' place is taken. The circumstances of the destruction that I witnessed are straightforward; enemy shelling was not responsible, nor a bureaucratic government. A young couple, the husband of whom had inherited a share in the house and the land on which it stood, preferred to live in a new bungalow with modern conveniences. In a detail which could be argued to give force to the notion of the longue duree, the new house was to be financed from the young husband's work in the building trade in Switzerland. As Krushevo's young male inhabitants have done for at least a hundred years, he spent a substantial period of time abroad as a pechalbar before returning to invest his earnings in his hometown. In thus financing the destruction of a part of his own family's past, the young man inscribes a new message of individual industry and of prosperity regained after long struggle in the town s landscape. [11]

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9. Labour migration of Pechalba has been identified as a cultural practice distinctive to the region (Cvijic 1966: 459, cited in Schierup and Alund 1987: 656; Schwartz 1996). North America became a prominent destination in the years following the Ilinden Uprising, as young men sought to elude the pressures of what have been called the 'converging nationalisms' (Karakasidou 1992) and involvement in escalating levels of violence between local factions.

10. The sense of connectedness with the events of 1903 is commonplace in Krushevo and is often expressed with reference to its very tangible legacies. In another house I was told how the inhabitants had doused the walls with water to stop them catching alight in the flames, and shown the hiding places for valuables artfully constructed by past generations.

11. Prosperity, it should be noted, is expressed in the building of a new house, rather than the restoration or preservation of an older dwelling. One might argue that there are parallels with the processes described by Schierup (1973) in a Yugoslav village of migrants, whereby ducats are replaced by tractors and modern houses as markers of prestige in local contests.