Blesok no. 82, January-February, 2012

The Nomadism of the Diaspora

Vesna Mojsova-Čepiševska

The novel Aquamarine by Tanya Urošević (Skopje: Magor, 2004) is a true example of Macedonian literature that encourages its readers to think about the subtle relationship with the Slavic and the complexity of the Slavic world that exists in the Macedonian cultural environment. The Slavic can be seen as a category that unifies two opposing tensions. On the one hand, it stimulates and encourages closeness and proximity, but on the other hand, it can be perceived as a cultural other. The image of the Slavic in Macedonian literature has ambivalent character. It is a picture about something unknown, and to some extent alien, but it is also a picture about oneself, about ones istok (meaning a “source” in Old Church Slavonic language), about one’s roots and about the one true and significant layer of one’s basic self-identity. For these reasons, the image of the Slavic in the Macedonian culture is a complex phenomenon that unifies the image inwards and out, to the others and oneself, an image towards the alien, but also towards the familiar (Sonja Stojmenska-Elzeser, 2005: 193). The presence of various studies, such as Imagining the Balkan by Maria Todorova (Skopje: Magor, 2001), Imagining India by Roland Inden (Oxford and Cambrige: Blackwell, 1990), Imagining the Middle East by Thierry Hentsch (Montreal and New York: Black rose, 1992) or Occidentalism: Images of the West by James G. Carrier (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), represent similar attempts that present the complexity of the slavic world. A small contribution to the aforementioned studies is the book Comparative Slavic Studies from the Macedonian author Sonja Stojmenska-Elzeser. According to her, the general perception of the Slavic seems to come from the image of Russians in Macedonian culture and literature. Within these frames is the emergence of several literary works that reflect the image of Russian immigrants, and some Ukrainians, among us. [1]
    Therein lies the initial impulse to write about these issues. However, the incentive can also be found in the fact that the author of Aquamarine, who is one of the most renowned translators of famous Russian works into Macedonian, reveals herself as a serious author with her first book. The author demonstrates a lot of conviction and creditability to the adventurous life of Russian immigrants, much of which comes from her own life experiences. In fact, the author herself is of Russian origin. Through her strong commitment in the field of translation of the works of great Russian authors into Macedonian, as well as through her own literary expression and especially through her choice of story, she confirms the existing connection between art and immigration, travel, and the remoteness of everyday life, known in literary theory and criticism as “poetic nomadism”.
    Today, cultural theorists make a clear distinction between two types of nomadism. The first refers to an intellectual and psychological world, where what is referred to as “home” is avoided as an airless space and a nest of unmotivated and frustrated life. Therefore, this type of nomadism favors the act of traveling as a form of liberation and purification, but at the same time as a possibility of avoiding the responsibility for our own lives, other people’s lives, the lives of our loved ones, our people and country. The second type is what is referred to as nomadic migration or diaspora. This is dictated by political and economic reasons, the unacceptable conditions not only within the family space, but also in the home itself or rather the idea of the family home (Gjurcinova, 2008: 231-237)
    Urošević’s novel Aquamarine is a modern odyssey in which the myth of Odysseus is used as an intertextual influence in the adventurous life of the Russian immigrant Boris Andreevich Kuznecki, who accompanied by the life of his son Andrea Borisovich Kuznecki. The myth is even used as an intertextual influence of migration as a way of life, both as a weight and as a lifestyle, as a syndrome that reinforces the need to wander around in his past, in the past of his ancestors, which defines and emphasizes the search for his own identity and that of his father.
    The novel begins with a Christmas tale about the beautiful Elena and the gentleman that her father invited to stay with them in their home. Elena’s father says: “He is Russian, from the white ones. We met with him in Yanina and he was very helpful in closing the deal with the Austrians and Greeks; he knows well both languages” (Urošević, 2004: 16). In an interview given for the newspaper Nova Makedonija (13.04.2004), Urošević says: “It’s a great delusion to believe that we can erase, destroy or forget the things from our life. Man in every moment of life contains within himself the past, the present and the future altogether. Therefore Andrea Kuznecki, though unwillingly, has to go in quest of his own past so he can achieve its entirety, so he can feel complete and ready to receive new challenges which obviously threaten him.”
    Undoubtedly, Boris Andreevich Kuznecki is a refugee and as such he should bare and live with the knowledge about the loss of the completeness of his own biography. Urošević builds his character as subaltern subject[2] because the presence of the rebel consciousness is the one that defines him. Andrea also has a subaltern awareness that consist of “mapping of what the post-structuralist language would define as subaltern subject-effect (subject as a consequence)” (Chakravorty Spivak, 2003: 65). Unlike his son Andrea, Boris is an immigrant and as such it is inevitably for him to accept exile as a one form of nomadism, dictated by specific political and economic reasons that took place in the beginning of the last century in Russia. In his aautobiographical fiction Aegeans, Kica B. Kolbe points out that exile interrupts the continuity of the biographies and life itself (Skopje: Kultura, 1999). Although, the exile is a great literary topic for many authors, the ones that feel it the strongest are those who have it as a part of their own and personal history (Ugrešić, 2002: 114).[3] Grief over imaginary thoughts becomes the tool of self-recognition, the recognition of one's own identity that purifies the soul. This state of mind has already been mentioned in Kolbe’s prose, who herself as a child struggled with similar feelings experiencing the refugee exodus of the descendants of the Aegean Macedonians.[4]
    Exile makes us be born once again. According to Zanini: “It opens another dimension in time and space that can sometimes be very useful to find the actual weight of each life experience. Persecution […] that always comes after a defeat is, not always understood as being a painful experience” and is not the case with Boris Andreevich Kuznecki. It should be viewed as punishment, but also as freedom and responsibility (Zanini, 2002: 67-68). If people do not want their lives to further transform in to the pathology of repression and forced oblivion, they cannot live without memory, without remembering. […] The suffering of specific people, refugees, […] is not a fiction nor cultural mythology. It is inevitable testimony to their enduring trauma […] (Kolbe, 1999: 12). Urošević’s intention is to bring her two characters to the place where the trauma started. For Andrea it is his native Russia, and for Boris it is the Greek island of Corfu, where, after a time, his father emigrates for the second time, but now from Macedonia. In both cases the image of what is home and the image of what was home for one and was not for the other is destroyed. The author makes the attempt to repair or renew the picture of the broken and destroyed home. Can Andrea and Boris both give up the dream of “home”?
    Andrea learns in Corfu about the three major loves of his father, the Macedonian woman, his mother Elenica, the Greek woman Navsika, and Russia, his native country. With his departure from Macedonia and Corfu, Boris proves that his fate is constantly wandering and yearning to return home, even if it is only to die there with the risk of being found and convicted as a Nazi collaborative in Siberia. All his life he wanders in search of a solid and stable place where he can recognize a part of what he calls “home”. When he does not find what he is searching for in Corfu, he decides to return to Russia. According to Dubravka Ugrešić, “The state of exile is understood as rebellious division and obedience of a servant in the process of acquiring a new home. The only way that the fugitive is left so he can overcome the trauma of exile is not to overcome it at all, to live with it as a permanent condition, to turn the so called waiting room into a joyous life ideology, to live this schizophrenia of the exile as a norm (of normality) and to respect only one god, that is his suitcase” (Georgievska-Jakovleva, 2008: 87-88). Only if they both return to the place where the trauma began, the place that destroyed and divided their identities, forgetting, healing and reconciliation may finally occur. The author provides them with the opportunity for that to happen. Boris’s longing for the true “home” is due to the sense of temporality of his life in Macedonia and in Corfu. Urošević points out that, after all, “he never hid that he wanted to go back to his homeland” and adds that is “because everyone wanted it to end” (T. Urošević, 2004: 201-202). Andrea's longing for the true “home” is due to the fact that his father’s fear of longing for the true “home” evolved into a deep, heavy and lead sorrow.
     Kolbe points out that: “The fugitive[…] the one derived from another geographical area, from another country” as is the case with Boris Andreevich Kuznecki, “[…] understands immediately that he hasn’t only abandoned his space and his environment of origin”, but he also realizes that being a refugee means carrying his sad story with him, no matter where he goes. “He must carry his story with him. It legitimates and determines him, but at the same time charges him with problems that are difficult to overcome. He is like Sisyphus loaded with the heavy stone, with all his treasure of memories that are visible only to him” (Kolbe, 1999: 23). Kolbe says that “The foreigner or refugee is no fragment, although he in the new environment, is almost inevitably to look like one, to look like a man made of crushed parts” (Kolbe, 1999: 24). “Although a refugee, he still is not without any provision, it is not an empty word. He is not representative of a group of people, but a person living with his own content” (Kolbe, 1999: 30-31).
    Therefore, Boris leaves an intimate, familiar, and secure space and steps into a space filled with uncertainty. According to Piero Zanini, “This border crossing alters ones personality and character. Across the border we become foreigners, immigrants, different not only for the others, but sometimes different from ourselves. Returning to the point from which we had gone, does not mean that we will always find everything that we have left” (Zanini, 2002: 21). Boris carries this kind of feeling inside of him, and it is this same feeling Andrea wants to get rid of. Awareness of origin is the Boris’s only identity. “Every foreigner is a refugee who fled from his past life. He is a man without roots. Finally he is a man without foundation and is insecure. That is why the more desperate he is the more others see him as being suspicious. […] Foreigners or refugees are always the ones of the few who cannot escape their past because the past is their sole determinant” (Kolbe, 1999: 31-32). The memory of childhood built by Andrea inevitably means to commemorate the memory of his father and his ancestry. Thus, the image of the precious gemstone, aquamarine, made into a luxurious ring held in the Boris’s family, and then in Andrea’s family too, as amulet, symbolizes Russian noble origins not only for the father but also for the son.
    The significance of the house or what we are trying to define as being “home” is irreplaceable from a psychological point of view. The inability for certain space to be seen as a “home” violates Boris’s psychological integrity and identity, and through Boris, Andrea is damaged too. Loreta Jakovlevska-Georgieva, points out that: “The poetics of the homeland has many extensive meanings. Although historically it is associated with real places and people, the space of what is called a homeland gains semantic meaning in which the passion for the country is now replaced and compensated with the passion for the loved one” (Jakovlevska Georgieva, 2008 : 85). That is what Boris wants to achieve. Through his two great loves, the Macedonian and the Greek woman, he heals the biggest love out of all, the love he feels for Russia, his homeland. However, in the child’s imagination this same scenario looks quite different: “[…] Elena saw her mother as the one who suffered, as the innocent victim. She saw her father as a sad looser, and on top of everything she saw him as the guilty one for many things that happened in their lives.” (T. Urošević, 2004: 152). Boris transferred this passion for his country and wife, to his son, or maybe Andrea received it as a genetic inheritance from his father, the same way he inherited his “untypically blond hair and blue eyes” (T. Urošević, 2004: 36). Therefore Boris’s feelings about his homeland are reinforced by his erotic feelings. Markovska-Banović says that Urošević uses an outstanding and at times bold, erotic type of writing (2007: 134).
     Urošević’s novel Aquamarine only confirms Macedonians’ permanent preoccupation with the Russian culture and mentality, which Slavic origins are close but at the same time are insufficiently identified by the Macedonian reader.
Transalted by
Elena Atanasiu
, Teaching Assistant
University of Reno, NV, USA


1. Banović-Markovska, Angelina. World Colored by Aquamarine (Бановиќ-Марковска, Ангелина. „Светот со боја на аквамарин“ во Групен портрет.). Skopje: Magor, 2007. Print
2. Busek, Erhard. Door Open Towards the West (Busek, Erhard. Otvorena kapija ka istoku.). Beograd: Clio, 2007. Print.
3. Chakravorty Spivak, Gayatri. Postcolonial criticism (Чакраворти Спивак, Гајатри. Постколонијална критика.). Skopje: Templum, 2003. Print.
4. Georgievska-Jakovleva, Loreta. Poetics of Exile in The Literature and Cultural Transition (Георгиевска-Јаковлева, Лорета. „Поетика на егзилот“ во Книжевноста и културната транзиција.). Skopje: Macedonian Institute for Literature, 2008. Print.
5. Gjurčinova, Anastasia. “The Notion of Boundary Migration in Aesthetics” Proceedings of the XL International Seminar on Macedonian Language, Literature and Culture (Ѓурчинова, Анастасија. „Поимот на границата во миграциската естетика“ во Зборникот XXXIV Научна конференција нa XL Меѓународен семинар за македонски јазик, литература и култура.). Skopje: Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, 2008, 231-237. Print.
6. Kolbe, Kica B.. Aegeans (Колбе, Кица Б.. Егејци.). Skopje: Kultura, 1999. Print.
7. Njishi, Armando. “Migrations and literature: Current Age and live)” in Identities (Њиши, Армандо. „Миграциите и литературата (сегашни и живо доба)“ во Идентитети. Skopje: 2004, (I). Print
8. Stojmenska-Elzeser, Sonja. Comprativ Slavic (Стојменска-Елзесер, Соња. Спредбена славистика.). Skopje: Macedonian Institute for Literature, 2005. Print.
9. Šeleva, Elizabeta. Home: Identity (Шелева, Елизабета. Дом/идентитет.). Skopje: Magor, 2005. Print.
10. Ugrešić Dubravka. Forbidden reading (Угрешиќ, Дубравка. Забрането читање.). Skopje: Sigmapress, 2002. Print.
11. Urošević, Tanja. Aquamarine (Урошевиќ, Тања. Аквамарин.). Skopje: Magor, 2004. Print.
12. Zanini, Rjero. The Meaning of Borders (Zanini, Rjero. Značenja granice.). Belgrade: Clio, 2002. Print.


1. Refers to the following novels The White Guardsman’s Wife (2001) by Serbo Ivanovski, Teeth of the Wind (2003) by Tome Arsovski and Aquamarine (2004) by Tania Urosevic.  According to Stojmenska-Elezeser  “We can talk about the image of the Russian man caught in the ideological trap of Stalinism, then the image of Russia – white guardsman, immigrant, refugee nobleman who found patronage in Macedonia[…]”. See Literary stereotypes:  Russian emigrant in the Macedonian prose (2005: 199-210).
2. The term subaltern indicates non elite or subordinate social groups, such as at the time of the October Revolution were White guardists or supporters of the Russian Tsar. See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. “Subaltern studies. Deconstructing historiography” in Postcolonial Criticism. - Skopje: Templum, 2003, 45-101.
3. Ugrešić points out: “Christian history of the world begins with the story of exile. Exile becomes a parable of the prodigal son, betrayal, persecution and punishment, and the myth of the double substitution of roles, the myth of Ulysses, the story of Faust and the devil that offers the possibility of extraterrestrial life, exile is the fairy tale about being executed from the home, the search for home and return to the home (The Wizard of Oz), exile is the tale of Ivan the fool, the parable of growth, a romantic epic of individual rebellion, exile is an unusually appealing myth of metamorphosis”. The only thing which I would like to add is that if we accept this, then undoubtedly the popular story of  Siljan the Stork is the most paradigmatic story of the exile.
4. In 1948 Macedonian population displacement happened after losing the civil war in Greece. Namely, it is a dark and hopeless fate of Macedonian ethnicity forcibly moved from Greece which cannot be returned to the mother land neither knows where to go. Above all, during the Civil War was a tragic thing happened to the Macedonians from the Aegean, something that was previously unnoticed: 28,000 children aged 2 to 14 years were suddenly torn from their families and taken abroad.

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