In my pocket I still carry the key of my former home
– Josip Osti
I came across the word stranstvuvanje1F for the first time as a high school student in the Macedonian translation of the title „Странствувањата на Чајлд Харолд“ by Byron. It was one of the those words that everybody understands and nobody knows to explain it correctly. Several years later I also found the original title “Pilgrimages of Childe Harold” and I realized that the Macedonian translation of the English original can also mean pilgrimage, i.e. a holy travel, a travel that has a specific goal – spiritual cleansing; however, equally important, it also means a travel that has a circular trajectory, i.e. it imminently carries within itself the return home. Stranstvuvanje is therefore shaped as a term with positive filling, a process of learning and enlightening via traveling, living far from home, but also returning to the home as a starting point. The traveler, the pilgrim, the one who goes abroad takes the answers that he has found on this trip (returns them) home, to the real place, where the questions that sought for those answers were born.
With its very nature of searching, movement, dynamics, openness to the world, stranstvuvanje is opposed to provincialism. The latter term is a full with negative charging, meaning first of all languor, immobility, outdatedness and limitation. In cultural sense, provincialism, as the journalist Mirjana Pavlovska says in a column entitled “Cultural Provincialism”, does not correspond to the world. It is aggressive to its own environment, and ultimately inferior in the communication with the others. The provincial does not ask questions, much less seeks for answers. He lives in his limited world of inherited false values that are projected on the rest of the world, lightly and cruelly judging the things he does not know. However, in a deeper sense, provincialism also means a hidden, never fulfilled yearning for what is worldly as opposed to the provincial. Thus, the provincial wishes for what he does not know, he wants to believe that he has raised in a way (or maybe that he can raise) above the province to which, to his regret, he almost naturally belongs, regardless whether he wants it or not.
The latest generations of Macedonians immigrants are between these two terms, the stranstvuvanje and provincialism; these are the people that can be considered so-called intellectual immigrants (as opposed to the previous generations of economic immigrants). Elizabeta Šeleva also calls these people Diaspora intellectuals. The generations of Diaspora intellectuals, are often related to a third term, nomadism. In an attempt to explain the meaning of this term in the modern context, i.e. outside its well known historical context, Rosi Braidotti says that “to be a European nomadic subject means to be in transit, but well rooted in a historical position to accept the responsibility for it.” Here, in this space between the “fatherland” and “abroad”, almost on no man’s land, there are some of the more interesting creative identities of the contemporary Macedonian women writing – Kica Kolbe and Lidija Dimkovska.
Although the novels “The Snow in Casablanca” by Kica Kolbe and “Hidden Camera” by Lidija Dimkovska are stylistically completely different, reflecting fully the characters and views of the world of the writers (the almost sensual philosophical romantic nature of Kolbe and the almost cruel ironical sharp bitterness of Dimkovska) they still start from the same point – the voluntary departure from home (i.e. fatherland). “Why did we run away from Macedonia? Because of my father’s conviction, according to which there is the rule, once a refugee, always a refugee!” says Kica Kolbe’s narrator, identifying her fate with the almost genetic messages of the historic refugee heritage of the Macedonian people. It seems that Lidija Dimkovska’s Lila also feels the need to travel, to reside abroad, almost as a genetic code. Thus, the combination of the national (because of which the worlds pečalbarstvo and pečalbar2F only exist in Macedonian and can not be appropriately translated to another language) and the gender (because the woman, with her very birth, is doomed to move to her husband’s home) historical and sociological charging is what makes the stranstvuvanje, i.e. the need to travel and find a new, more essential place for oneself in one’s own life the central moving motive with both writers.
Paradoxically, once it happens, the travel and residing far from home, although initially a result of the conscious, adult decision of both writers (and both characters of their novels, who seem quite close to the authors), essentially has more bitterness than excitement. The reasons for the bitterness are mostly outside the characters themselves, and they find them in the way the West in which they reside sees them. In line with this, Lidija DImkovska says: “… a Balkan writer is a priori expected to be prone to exile which is only recognized in the world of art if it is of political nature.” Thus, the intellectual who have left his home (i.e. the world of provincialism), motivated solely by his need for stranstvuvanje, i.e. learning, searching for answers, spiritual enlightenment, realizes with disappointment that nothing else rules the West but provincialism itself, manifested via the western perception of the Otherness for everything that comes from the Balkans, or the “poor and underdeveloped” countries. The easiness with which the foreigner is defined and classified based on a system of previously build prejudices and convictions, most often based on indirect, often retold and therefore altered (juts like children’s game of “broken telephone”) data and views, is nothing else but one of the recognizable features of provincialism. “For us, it is very important to see how a Macedonian and an Albanian, for example, or an Asian and an European get along. We have quite different stereotypes for this, and you behave completely different than those. This is all very useful for us, the foundations that help the poor countries, to get to know them better so that we can invest in art even more and invite more artists here.” Lila is told by the Austrian Claus, the host of the foundation the provides fellowships for several moth long stays of foreign students in Vienna.
1. The Macedonian word stranstvuvanje does not really have a proper single counterpart in English. It means residing, staying abroad.
2. These two terms, meaning “working abroad” and a “worker abroad” respectively, are also untranslatable to English.