In a small office of the National Library of Macedonia in Skopje’s center, sit two members of a small, niche group. They are literary critics. And they remain an uncommon species in Macedonia’s cultural landscape.
Jovica Tasevski Eternijan and Aleksandra Jurukovska welcome the chance to talk about their work. Eternijan is primarily a poet and writes critiques on the side, while Jurukovska does reviews for the National radio, the newspaper Dnevnik and a few other literary publications.
“It’s not very popular to be a critic,” said Jurukovska and indeed, even when Eternijan speaks of his earlier days in college, when he wrote his first criticisms, it doesn’t seem as if the business has made a lot of progress.
“My first literary reviews were published in one student magazine called Student’s Word and I was very sharp in my critics in the beginning and some of my colleagues are not very happy with me at that time,” recalls Eternijan with a smile.
“After a few years of that kind of experiences I decided to choose only best books for me and to only write good, positive literary reviews.”
Eternijan reads about 90% of all the poetry coming out of Macedonia and then chooses two or three of the best ones to write reviews on.
In a way, Eternijan and Jurukovska have acted as archivists of Macedonia’s shifting literary scene.
“The writing scene is exploding,” says Eternijan. The two list off names of new young authors receiving international attention; Goce Smilevski, Lidija Dimovksa, Igor Isajovski, Zarko Kujundziski,Nikola Madzirov, the list goes on.
“Zarko’s novel Spectator maybe is the first of this generation that actualized the urban myth of Skopje and the myth of living in the city,” says Jurukovska.
“Many young authors are writing stories about the city, and in their prose there is a specific kind of use of language, especially novels about city life which have some kind of slangs that are specifically for Skopje. They are authors that are talking and thinking about the spirit of the city.”
Language is a constant source of discussion for the two critics. They quickly shake their heads when it is suggested that Macedonian is a young language. Due to Greek and Bulgarian suggestions that Macedonian is not a real language at all, it is a contentious issue.
“The language was standardized as grammatical thing, about 70 years ago, but it existed for centuries,” said Eternijan. “The authors of the Macedonian alphabet are people from the 9th century.”
Eternijan tries to do most of his reviews on Macedonian authors in order to get them greater exposure.
“I publish my literary reviews in this magazine Stremezh, one of the oldest living printed magazines in Macedonia and there are a lot of prominent authors published, from Macedonia and abroad.”
“But,” adds Jurukovska, “it has influence just on the people in our circles. It is important, but not for mass culture.”
In every culture the literati are said to be facing challenges as people continue to move to video and online content as sources for entertainment. But in a small country like Macedonia, the problem is more concentrated, and it leaves a literary critic with very few options.
“There isn’t a lot of media for literary and cultural critics,” says Jurukovska with a sigh, “culture is on the margins of the media.”
“We are the last Mohicans,” jokes Jurukovska. “But literature will live because we believe in beauty.”
“We are in love with literature,” explains Eternijan, “and we love literature.”
With any luck, as Macedonia’s literary scene continues to grow, so too will its number of critics. For now though, they are an elusive bunch, fighting to be heard.