An associate of mine once told me that...
The Past actually happened. History is what we say happened in the past.
That concept stuck with me. I found it very curious, but obvious. It's an important consideration, but nothing that I had truly considered before. What the hell do we actually know about our past? Do we know for certain it happened that way? This concept came to life for me, personally, when my wife and I made a honeymoon stop in Northern Greece.
My Macedonian Great Grandfather, Metody Echcaroff, was from a small fishing village called Patele. He came to the United States as a young man to escape the dangers of war circa 1915. For the most part, our family didn't know anything about our roots beyond these facts. That all changed after my wife (Laura) and I began to make honeymoon plans. To my delight, Laura suggested that we try to track down some of my family in Patele! But, where exactly is Patele?
When planning our honeymoon, we had decided our first stop would be Budapest and our last would be the Greek Island of Santorini. Macedonia is a natural stop in between the two. However, I had some difficulty locating Patele when planning our travel. See, the Republic of (North) Macedonia only occupies a portion of the classic Macedonian geographical area that stems from the Ancient Kingdom of Macedon. Thanks to an article I found on Pollitecon I discovered that Patele resides in a section of Macedonia that is located in the country of modern day Greece. It is no longer called Patele, it is now known as Agios Panteleimonas. Through further research, I came to find out that Greece had changed the name of the village in 1926. I learned that this isn't all they changed. Other villages, lakes, and rivers were renamed. Even Macedonian family names and grave markers were altered.
After this discovery I went on an internet deep dive into the history of Macedonian people. I read about the rise to power of the Ancient Kingdom of Macedon and how Alexander the Great led the empire in a conquest of most of the known world. I learned that after his death and ensuing collapse of the empire, various controlling powers occupied Macedonia. As the time line progressed there was a mass relocation of Macedonians and an erosion of culture. I'll talk in depth on all of these topics in time but for now, back to the concept of past vs history.
Laura and I had scheduled a one night stay in Patele in the hopes that we could somehow track down some relatives of mine. When we arrived at our hotel I told the clerk (also the owner) that I had family from this village. His eyes lit up! "From this village?!" he reiterated. I told him that the last name was Echcaroff and he generously offered us a glass of wine while he made some phone calls. A short time after, an elderly relative was in the lobby to bring us to his home where we met the family.
The next morning we joined them at their coffee shop and talked about our lives. When I told the story of my difficulties locating Patele, the youngest of my newly acquainted relatives supposed this was because it hadn't been called Patele since ancient times. Some of the elders were quick to point out that this was incorrect. They knew of the Past but the knowledge of History is carried on by the next generation. As subtle details are lost, such as the recency of the Patele name change, the erosion of Macedonian identity continues. So, I have made it my mission to make sure that the Past and History align for at least one more generation.
This small fishing village will always be Patele to me, Past and Present.
Disclaimer: No part of this article is intended to be Anti-Greek. I love Greek culture, people, and tourism. My intention is purely to stand for and to protect the Macedonian identity.