The Russian Scientific, Educational and Cultural Cobweb in North Macedonia
The cobweb of Russian influence in North Macedonia is also being built through science, education and culture. This is achieved by placing topics related to scientific, cultural and educational, as well as a religious community with Russia, joint appearances and celebrations of important dates said representatives of the academic community and media reactions related to celebrations, activities and concrete support coming from Russia.
Author: prof. Mirjana Najcevska, PhD, an expert on the rule of law and human rights
One of the most powerful bearers of Russian influence through science is the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MANU). Relations with Russia, especially with the Russian Academy of Sciences, are nurtured, strengthened and promoted with a clearly stated special status of Russian science and special respect that academics have for it, such as through the article on the address of the President of MANU, Academician Ljupcho Kocarev:
KOCAREV: Russian science put the world in debt, MANU and RAS strengthen cooperation with new agreement
A step further in explaining the importance of Russian science for world progress takes the former rector of the University “St. Cyril and Methodius” in Skopje:
The former rector of the University “St. Cyril and Methodius”, Velimir Stojkovski, who is also the honorary consul of Russia in Ohrid, revealed at the opening of the scientific conference that today’s modern world could not be imagined without Russian discoveries and inventions – electric motor, radio receiver, bicycle, color-TV, laser, airplane, rocket-space equipment and many others.
An interesting form of influence is the direct transmission of information from the Russian media in which the Russian science is glorified through the perception of Russian citizens, without additional explanations, comparisons or a broader context of the data presented:
A third of Russians believe that Russian science is ahead of all others in the world, and they consider the fight against the coronavirus to be one of the greatest achievements in recent years.
This is shown by the results of a survey conducted by the Russian Center for Public Opinion Research.
“The most common answer from the Russians is that the greatest achievements of Russian science are the fight against the coronavirus and the development of the vaccine. The second most common answer is the Russian military research and military-industrial complex,” reads the research report, “Tass” reports.
Nearly a third of Russians think Russian science is ahead of the rest globally, while 34 percent think it lags slightly behind.
In the absence of explanation or comparison, the data presented in this way give the public the impression of the dominance of Russian science on a global scale.
This impression is emphasized by specially designed titles that build a distorted or incomplete picture of events related to specific achievements of Russian science. For example, behind the headline RUSSIA LAUNCHES A POWERFUL TELESCOPE THAT WILL SCAN THE SPACE IN DETAIL, there is a text in which only one place appears the information that it is a joint project with Germany:
One of the most important Russian scientific space missions in the post-Soviet era was launched today by Baikonur.
The Specter-RG telescope is a joint project with Germany and it will make X-ray mapping of the entire sky to unprecedented details.
According to the official data from the website of MANU and according to the data from the media reporting, MANU as the highest scientific institution in the country is held only Russian science days and Bulgarian Academy of Sciences days, and no other such or similar manifestations related to representing the science of other countries, NATO or EU member states or US science days.
…Macedonian and Russian scientists have always had fruitful cooperation. It is of interest to intensify it, to realize joint projects and research, to renew the sources of energy, safe food and protection of the environment are only some of the areas with significant potential.
MANU does not dwell on only one manifestation that shows the progress of Russian science and/or relations with Russia. The Academy has repeatedly initiated and realized events related to the relations between Macedonia and Russia, such as:
Macedonia and Russia / USSR (history-politics-culture) from the First World War until the formation of the modern Macedonian statehood (1941–1944)
This kind of scientific gathering (which creates the perception of a common culture, but also bring together the academic communities) has a long-standing practice:
Macedonia and Russia / USSR (history, politics, culture) from the First World War to the formation of the modern Macedonian statehood (1914-1944): materials from the IV Macedonian-Russian scientific gathering, Ohrid, 17-18. IX 2008
The status and authority that MANU has in the country creates space for these and such events to be perceived by the public as a promotion of Russia, the Russian value system and international politics of Russia, i.e. to create fertile ground for the general public for unreserved support even in a situation of Russian aggression against another state (as is the case with aggression against Ukraine).
Russian culture and language are promoted in North Macedonia at different levels and in different ways. There is a similar promotion of cultures and languages in other countries, but they are far from being extensive, nor do they find much interest in the media.
The celebration of the days of Russian culture and language often covers a whole month with a series of events, scientific discussions, and cultural events.
The month of October 2021 will be dedicated to visiting schools where the Russian language is taught in Macedonia. Students will be given short lectures on Russia, Russian culture and literature, and school libraries will be given books by Russian authors translated into Macedonian.
The Days of Russian Spiritual Culture in Macedonia will continue throughout the month, ending with a concert by the famous Russian ensemble “Rus” on June 18. Admission to all events will be free.
The Days of Spiritual Culture of Russia in Macedonia are organized within the program of the Russian Embassy on the occasion of the Day of the co-apostolic brothers St. Cyril and Methodius.
Days of “Russian spiritual culture” usually contain many different events, different contents and target different age groups:
The Days of Spiritual Culture of Russia in Macedonia will start with the exhibition of children’s drawings “Soul of Russia” on May 26 (Thursday) at 5 pm in “Porta Makedonija”, while at 7 pm in the Army Hall, the main opening ceremony and concert of the “Yaroslavia” choir chapel of the Yaroslavl State Philharmonic.
The impact of this kind of event is multiplied by the fact that the activities and contents related to the celebration of Russian culture and language are usually held in several cities in the country. For example, the announcement of the Festival of Russian Culture in Macedonia also states:
With great honor we inform you that from 17 to 23 December 2013, in several cities in Macedonia will be held a Festival of Russian Culture, organized by the Association of Russian Compatriots “Chaika”, the International Slavic University “G.R. Derzhavin” and Tambov State University “G.R. Derzhavin”. This project is implemented with financial support from the Government of the City of Moscow.
The next way of Russian influence is realized is through the Russian Cultural Center. In Macedonia, there are several cultural centers of different countries, but they cannot boast that they are an integral part (organizational unit of the University) and supported by our oldest University “St. Cyril and Methodius”. The Russian Cultural Center was opened in 2016 and at its opening the then Rector of UKIM stated:
The Russian Center was established as an organizational unit of the University by a decision of the University Senate, and for the Russian Center we provided space of more than 200 m2 in the city center and beautifully arranged it, which I think is one of the most beautiful and largest Russian centers in region.
The Center’s website also states that:
The Russian Center is a unit of “St. Cyril and Methodius” University, founded in 2015, and its active work begins on January 11, 2016.
And according to the announcements on the official website of the “St. Cyril and Methodius” University, the Russian Center is an integral part of the University established by the Russian Peace Foundation, which was established by decree of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. Among the tasks/goals of this foundation are:
- forming a pro-Russian social opinion, disseminating knowledge about our country;
- creating a system of expert support for the humanitarian dimension of Russia’s foreign policy;
- support for Russian-language media and information resources abroad;
- support for Russian websites created abroad;
- interaction with the Russian Orthodox Church and other denominations in the promotion of the Russian language and culture.
In the opinion of the former correspondent of “Nova Makedonija” from Moscow, Mirce Adamcevski, (transmitted within the analysis of Radio Free Europe):
The Russian Peace Fund is part of Vladimir Putin’s strategy for the Balkans, but also for the wider world, because Russia has lost the Balkans politically, it has been a fact for a long time, and now Russia is performing in the Balkans with culture and economy. A Russian center of the Russian Peace Foundation is opening in Macedonia as part of that strategy, but let us not forget that it is already present in the Balkans and around the world.
UKIM does not only support the Russian Center as part of its own structure but also actively participates in activities related to the Days of Russian Culture.
The cultural program on the occasion of the Days of the Russian Language starts on Wednesday. UKIM presented its rich program
In addition to the Russian Center and activities related to the celebration of the Days of Russian Culture, in 2019 the Foundation for the Promotion of Russian-Macedonian Relations was established, which (according to the mission presented on the official website of the Foundation) deals primarily with science, education, culture and economics. It is noticeable that on the website of the Foundation, the first project is the translation and printing of the poetry collection of the current Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, S. Lavrov.
Given that only Russian citizens appear as founders and members of the foundation’s board of trustees (including a high priest in the Russian Orthodox Church), the role of the Macedonian academic and/or intellectual community in its management is unclear. There is no funding information, reports and/or data on the legal status of the Foundation on the website.
Russian influence through education and culture also penetrates the municipal level. Some of the municipalities are directly involved in promoting Russian culture.
Another event to promote culture in the Municipality of Kisela Voda. On June 7, 2021 (Monday), this year once again, in cooperation with the Russian Embassy, we marked the 222nd anniversary of the birth of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin.
While in others (such as the Municipality of Centar) this is done by building a thematic-educational children’s playground (put into use at the end of 2021):
The playground, where children from the surrounding buildings are to play, has a base – a map of the Russian Federation and the name of the country “Russia” is written in Russian.
It is interesting that on the fence of the playground (on which are written the names of several Russian cities) is the city of Sevastopol (which is located in the Crimea and is the subject of dispute between the Russian Federation and Ukraine).
After a few months and after a direct request made by the Embassy of Ukraine in Macedonia, the name of this city was removed from the fence.
Russian influence through education is sometimes very difficult to determine. One can only guess from the public appearances of professors at universities in North Macedonia, their statements or views expressed. What remains an unanswered question is how and to what extent these and other professors (who are not so present in the public) promote ideas that support the politics of today’s Russia and build a sense of closeness and togetherness between North Macedonia and the Russian Federation.
Only as an example can we point to the continuous promotion of Russia in Macedonia by the professor at the Faculty of Law Karakamisheva:
Or, when a professor at the oldest university in Macedonia and rector of that university says:
Indeed, it is difficult for me to say in a few words what Russia means to me. The respect and love for Russia is the same from the distant 1976, from my first contacts with the Russian language in primary education. The word Russia is as big as Russia itself. It is a synonym for the largest and most powerful country in the world, for the center of Slavism, for a country and people that have been embedded in the foundations of world culture and civilization, for a country that bravely laid 27 million victims to end one of the greatest evils of humanity – fascism.
Such statements and very precisely and clearly expressed views by representatives of the academic community, and have an impact on the academic community and the general public in Macedonia.
An interesting way of promoting Russian “culture” is to place it as an antipode to Western “non-culture.” This way of Russian influence is manifested on different levels and in different ways.
From the position of an academic, Ljupcho Kocarev (physicist), for example, explains to us the misconceptions of the government regarding the connection with the “West”:
The significance of the Prespa Agreement, according to some authors, has several dimensions. First, for the United States, the primary goal of the Prespa Agreement was to demonstrate aggressive diplomacy towards Russia (which has taken the lead in the Middle East) and China (which has penetrated the region economically), ignoring the effects, whether intentional or not, on EU enlargement policy. Second, the “solution” to the name dispute was motivated by geopolitical “urgency”, i.e. from the need to strengthen NATO in the Balkans in the context of a possible new Cold War and was to serve as a prelude to resolving a much more important geopolitical issue – the Belgrade / Pristina relationship. Third, the apparent disregard for the negative effects of the Prespa Agreement on Macedonian society suggests that the West (especially the United States) is willing to sacrifice an unimportant pawn, Macedonia, for greater geopolitical interests, even if it means disintegrating the country and rebuilding the regional order.
Throughout the interview, Kocarev does not openly advocate turning to Russia at any point, but the entire text offers that alternative as equal, and even more desirable for Macedonia in terms of preserving the identity and integrity of the country.
The longtime columnist of the newspaper “Nova Makedonija”, and now a regular columnist on the portal “Free World”, Mirka Velinovska, can be taken as an example. According to her:
This was said before Wolfowitz, in the distant 1976, in an interview with the weekly START from Croatia, by one of the few authentic intellectuals, Gore Vidal. Namely, when asked why he moved from the United States to Europe, he said: “There is only one reason. Everyone here, including eight-year-olds, knows who Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Pushkin, Yesenin, Mendelstein are. Who is Tchaikovsky, Rimsky Korsakov, Mayakovsky. Who is Kazimir Maljevic, Chagall, what is science and what is real education. In my homeland, the United States, even 20-year-old students have no idea what a lavish civilization and world treasure Russian culture is.”
Although seemingly a critique of the US education system, in the context of the whole article, a clear distinction is actually being made between the impotent “West” and the scientifically potent “East”.
The fascism that the Western savages are pushing as their advanced “democratic” policy is for one reason only. They are intimately deeply aware that they are inferior to the intellectually potent Russia, China, India, Iran, South and North Korea, Vietnam, Syria, Turkey…
Of course, this type of article never contains data, figures or facts that would confirm or substantiate any of the above claims, but it remains a strong impression of the powerful science and culture of Russia against the savagery of those from the West.
In a similar direction (with an even more explicit conclusion that Russia and Macedonia are artificially placed in the role of opposing parties, despite the fact that there is no conflict between them) is the letter that Professor Vankovska sends to her fellow professor, in which she states that:
Russia has confirmed to us that we are its enemy! True, colleague Deskoski! What else to do after we said that not only do we consider it as an enemy state, but we even consider its culture and art as such! How much learning and wisdom is needed to conclude that two countries that do not have a direct conflict have become enemies?!
Sometimes in spreading Russian influence through science, education and culture and, above all, its highest representatives, what they do not say/do is as important as what they say/do.
Just as an example we can point to the brief statement with which MANU supports the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, in which it is very obviously avoided to mention Russia (especially not as an aggressor or even a party involved), military action or any other expression that can show the real situation and the real relations between the two countries.
Referring to the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular the sections concerning the strengthening of “our belief in the fundamental rights of man, of the dignity and worth of the human person, of equality between men and women and of all nations, big or small”. Based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in particular Article 3, which states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, strongly condemning the threat to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine;
The Presidency of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts calls for tolerance, coexistence in peace and respect for human dignity and rights; Advocates for the exclusion of all violence and the settlement of all disputes amicably; and Expresses strong moral support to the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and the Ukrainian people.
We can conclude that Russian influence through science, education and culture is long-lasting, difficult to detect, very widespread and, above all, penetrating, due to the status of the people involved, their direct and indirect influence on the wider community, as well as the wider media coverage, which far surpasses all others.
The cobweb of Russian influence creates the impression of connection, support, belonging, as opposed to those “others”, which often have no basis in the real benefit of the state and the citizens of North Macedonia, but are always persistently present to the general public.