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ShqipМакедонскиSrpski 24 Nov 11

Macedonian Wartime Love Story Angers Bulgarians

A movie set against the background of the deportation and destruction of the Jewish community in Macedonia is causing controversy in neighbouring Bulgaria even before it’s been released.

Aneta Risteska

The film depictis a love story set against the tragic fate of Macedonian Jews

An unfinished movie with a working title Third Halftime - depicting a love story set against the tragic fate of Macedonian Jews during the Second World War - is raising tensions between Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Three Bulgarian MEPs, Evgeni Kirilov, Andrey Kovatchev and Stanimir Ilchev, have accused the movie of disinformation and of spreading national hatred towards their country.

The MEPs brought up the movie by Macedonian director Darko Mitrevski at this month’s regular press conference of the European Commission in Brussels.

“We are again witnessing one of many cases of Macedonia promoting its identity through false history,” the MEPs wrote to the European Commissioner, Stefan Fuele.

According to them, this movie, partly financed by the Macedonian government, contravenes European values and insults Bulgaria.

“As far as I know this film is still being prepared. We will wait to see the final product and afterwards we will come back with an answer,” European Commission spokesman Petar Stano replied.

Film director Darko Mitrevski dismisses the accusations made against his movie.

According to him, the MEPs’ aim is to disprove Bulgaria’s guilt for the Jewish Holocaust in Macedonia and score points for their country.

“Their only aim is to deny the Holocaust, so they exploit some stereotypical neologisms to cover their tracks, saying that Macedonia is ‘spreading bad energy’ and that we ‘built our identity on the ground of false history’”, he said.

Film director Darko Mitrevski dismisses the accusations against his movie

“I don’t know whether those MEPs are aware that denying the Holocaust is a penalty in 16 EU member states, which can be penalised by imprisonment,” Mitrevski added.

He said Bulgarian complaints would not alter the film’s production pace or its content at all.

Shooting ended at the end of October with the last scene being shot in central Skopje in the newly opened Museum of the Holocaust.

The MEPs wanted Macedonia to withdraw its financial support for the movie and the script changed to “avoid historical manipulations that spread hate to neighbouring countries”.

Mihail Ivanov, a former adviser to Bulgaria’s ex-president, Zhelyu Zhelev, said reactions to the film in Sofia had been too hasty.

“This [MEPs’] letter tries to imply that Bulgaria had no responsibility for the deportation of Jews from Macedonia, which is not true,” he said.

“Bulgarian soldiers rounded up those Jews, so we can’t deny our responsibility,” he told Balkan Insight.  

“While advising President Zhelev I always emphasized that we should grieve for the Jews sent to death camps, while being proud of the actions of civil society that saved Jews in Bulgaria,” he recalled.

Bulgaria refused to deport its own Jews to its then Axis ally, Nazi Germany.
But it did deport the Jews from Macedonia, which it occupied after the fall of Yugoslavia in 1941.

Only 2 per cent of Macedonia’s 7,200 Jews escaped slaughter

In the night of March 10, 1943, police loyal to the royal government in Sofia apprehended almost the entire Jewish population in Macedonia.

The victims were put in cattle wagons and transported by train to the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland where almost all of them were exterminated.

Only 2 per cent of Macedonia’s 7,200 Jews escaped slaughter by going into hiding or joining the Partisan resistance.

Some historians suggest that Macedonian Jews might have been sacrificed in order to compensate for Bulgaria’s failure to hand over its own Jews to Nazi Germany.

Ivanov says the MEPs’ reaction to the move reflects false ideas of national pride.

“The real national interest of the two countries is to live peacefully with each other and nurture good neighboring relations,” he said.  

“In such hard times, when the region is hit by economic crisis and when Macedonia’s EU bid needs approval, such unnecessary arguments just create pressure in the Balkans,” Ivanov added.  

The Macedonian film production company, Kino Oko, also accuses the Bulgarian MEPs of trying to deny history.

“Third Halftime is based on facts and real life stories. Given that those MEPs aren’t familiar with those facts, we recommend them to educate themselves through the archives of the American Shoah Foundation, the Israeli Museum Yad Vashem, the Memorial Museum of Holocaust in Washington and the Holocaust Memorial Centre for the Jews of Macedonia in Skopje,” the company said in a statement.

Third Halftime is based on facts and real life stories, the movie producers say

The movie was being filmed for 40 days across Macedonia, in Ohrid, Bitola, Sveti Nikole, Stip and around Skopje. The team is now working on postproduction in Prague.

The film depicts a love story between Kosta and Rebeka, which is based on a true story about a young girl from a rich Jewish family who fell in love with a poor Macedonian football player. She then avoided deportation to Treblinka after eloping with her lover.

As a parallel story, the film follows another true story about a Macedonian football team, coached by a Jew, Iljesh Spic, who during the occupation competed in Bulgaria’s national football league.

The team from an unrecognized nation, led by a Jew whose kinsmen were being murdered by the Nazis, became champions in the football league.

“This film is dedicated to the people who stood up against that evil ideology with their sport skills, passion for sport and above all, with their love for their own country,” the producers say.

The lead female role, Rebeka, is played by Macedonia’s most famous fashion model,Katerina Ivanovska, making a screen debut.

Her partner is Macedonian actor Sasko Kocev. Other well-known names are Rihard Zamel and Rade Serbedzija.

Kiril Dzajkovski, who previously worked on the movies of the Macedonian Oscar nominee, Milco Mancevski, composed the score.

The budget amounts to €2.1 million, almost half of which has come directly from the Macedonian government while another €500,000 has come from the country’s film fund.

Bulgarian MEP Stanimir Ilchev thinks the film is offensive to his country

In contrast to Bulgaria’s strained ties to Greece, marred by a longstanding dispute over Macedonia’s name, Bulgaria and Macedonia have had relatively friendly relations.

Bulgaria was the first country to recognise Macedonia when it proclaimed its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Moreover, Sofia unlike Athens recognises its neighbour under its constitutional name, that is “Republic of Macedonia”.

However, Sofia does not recognise the existence of a Macedonian language, separate from Bulgarian, and many Bulgarian historians still maintain that Macedonians are essentially Bulgarians.

Last year a draft friendship treaty proposed by Bulgaria caused some turbulence when some in Skopje claimed it was an attempt to establish Bulgarian dominance in bilateral relations.

However, this September, another friendship document was signed. The two Balkan countries signed a Euro-Atlantic cooperation memorandum in which they agreed to put past feuds behind them.

Boryana Dzhambazova in Sofia also contributed to this story. This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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