We welcome with great pleasure the following new members:
Society Farsarotul member Albert R. Booky, whose father was James Toli Bousbooki from the village of Avdhella in Greece, has recently published a paperback novel that touches upon aspects of Balkan history. Remember Us is the story of a young Athenian who experiences many adventures over a series of reincarnations from ancient Greece to modern America. We haven't had a chance to review the book yet, but those who wish to do so themselves can order it ($10. should cover all costs) from Mr. Booky at Box 87, Lincoln, New Mexico, 88338.
Dr. Spiro Shituni, a founder of the Vlach society in Albania and recipient of the first Society Farsarotul Financial Grant, has been going places. Earlier this year, he visited Romania to study Vlach settlements and folksongs there, and recently he won a fellowship to do research in the United States. In September, he began a year's work at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he was joined in October by his wife Lulieta and their two sons, Bessian and George. If you expect to be in the Los Angeles area in late 1992 or early 1993, please drop them a line in advance and perhaps get together while you're there. Their address: UCLA Dept. of Ethnomusicology, 1642 Schoenberg Hall, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024.
Our apologies for the delay of this Newsletter; it has been a very busy year. Since things are likely to get even busier around here in the near future, I ask anyone who has access to a word processor and the right software to help in the production of this Newsletter. Call or write the Editor if you think you can lend a hand.
We are in a Presidential election year again. As small and inconsequential as our community may seem, in 1988 we were directly involved in the Presidential race because the Democratic party's candidate, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, is partly of Vlach origin. Well, this year, we're involved again, this time on both sides of the aisle. We now have it on very good authority that former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, who had a strong showing in the Democratic primaries, is also of Vlach origin (possibly from the same Albanian Vlach clan as the founders of the Society Farsarotul, whose dialect has a guttural French "R"). On the Republican side, as this Newsletter was being written in October 1992, a scandal was developing over the State Department's violation of its own regulations in conducting an urgent search of consular records concerning Democratic candidate Governor Bill Clinton. The official said to have ordered this search was Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Elizabeth Tamposi. The Tamposis are Vlachs who made a fortune in real estate in Nashua, New Hampshire; in fact, Ms. Tamposi was a political appointee of former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu before he was unceremoniously dumped as President Bush's Chief of Staff.
Who says the Vlachs are not in the news?
This Editor was privileged to attend the first conference of the Albanian Vlach society, "Aromānii din Albania," in Tirana on April 5th, 1992, in the company of Dina Vanghele, one of the most knowledgeable persons in our community on the subject of Albania (and fluent in the language) and Professor Aurel Ciufecu, former President of the Society Farsarotul. It was an extraordinary experience to return to the land my father had left as a young boy 76 years before, and I hope soon to complete an article sketching out my impressions and experiences during that journey. In this issue, we publish a brief update on the situation in Albania, as well as the fascinating feature article by Helen Winnifrith about her encounters with our people inside that mysterious country at a crucial point in its history -- March 1992, when the Albanian Communist Party was finally voted out of power. Ms. Winnifrith offers the fresh perspective of an informed outsider, and we know you'll enjoy her story.
We received the following note from Steven Coca in response to the small high school graduation gift sent him by the Society Farsarotul: "Thank you very much for the gift you sent me from the scholarship fund. It is a very nice gesture and it will help me to remember, especially Mr. Tonna, who felt so strongly about educating the youth of our communities. I will put the money to good use. Thank you, again." Steven is the son of George and Mariana Coca, whose family is a cornerstone of the St. Dimitrie Church in Bridgeport. We will no doubt be hearing great things about Steven in the years to come.
The Greek press continues to be a source of high comedy (some would say high tragedy). Some recent tidbits:
"James Blanford, U.S. Consul-General in Thessaloniki, is seeking oppressed minorities in northern Greece. He has a weakness for Balkan minorities, such as Skopjeans [the Greek term for Macedonians], Walachians [Vlachs], and Albanians. He has no success finding these minorities because they do not exist."
Commentary: Although the Greek government has recognized the existence of the many Vlach societies in Greece, it contends that the Vlachs (and others) do not constitute a minority but rather an inseparable part of the Greek nation. It apparently hasn't occurred to anyone that the Vlachs of Greece could be both of those things.
"[At the Albanian Vlach Conference on April 5th, 1992] The American I.Balamaci asserted openly that the Vlachs are pure Greeks who simply had their language Latinized."
Commentary: There is a Iancu Balamaci, who is now Chairman of the Albanian Vlach Society, but he's not from America, so I guess the article must be referring to this Editor. My name wasn't the only thing they got wrong; I never said anything at the conference about the origin of the Vlachs, but anyone who knows me and has read my work on the subject knows my belief that the Vlachs are neither "purely Greek" as the Greeks assert, nor "purely non-Greek" as the Romanians assert. Rather, they are an amalgam of Balkan ethnic groups, including Greeks, that were Romanized. But some people -- especially nationalists -- hear only what they want to hear.
There is an interesting periodical named Minduearea Armāneasca (Arumanian Thinking) being distributed in Romania. It is put together by a fellow named Dumitru St. Garofil, with the financial support of Iancu Perifan, a successful businessman in Paris who often assists Arumanian cultural activities. Minduearea is often refreshingly modern in its approach -- the logo is a drawing of Rodin's famous statue, "The Thinker" -- and indeed it draws much humor from the extreme contrast between our mountain way of life and the modern world. Issue number 7-8 of 1992 includes a funny imagined dialogue entitled, "Arumanians who saw...DALLAS!!"; a cartoon conversation between an elderly couple that spoofs the traditional male superiority of our society; a sarcastic look at the slow and often inequitable process of redistribution of land formerly held by communist collectives; and -- accompanying an advertisement that describes the advantages of eating fish and urges people to buy it from a certain company -- a cartoon that shows two Vlachs with shepherd's staffs, one also clutching a huge fish, making jokes about this new and unfamiliar foodstuff. For more information, write Mr. Garofil at Bulevardul Mamaia 81, Bloc L.S. 4, Scara B, etaj 2, ap. 15, Constantsa, ROMANIA Cod 8700.
Yiddish is a delightful and mainly oral language much like our own; and, like our language, it is slowly dying out. Or is it? In a recent article in Trial magazine, Ralph Slovenko of Wayne State University Law School in Detroit cites a late 1991 exchange of motions between defense and plaintiffs in a Boston case that used a wealth of Yiddish terms to sharpen their meaning. He concluded, "With the almost complete extermination of European Jews during World War II, many scholars prophesied the end of the Yiddish language." Instead, Yiddish's "peculiar mix of toughness and compassion . . . [is] finding new and unprecedented application in American law."
The Education Act passed in Great Britain in 1988 gave a tremendous boost to the Welsh language, which is currently spoken by only one in four residents of Wales, and plans are afoot to give Welsh equal status with English. Welsh language courses and schools are becoming extremely popular, among English-speakers and Welsh-speakers alike. Welsh nationalists see this as a great ethnic revival, but the real reason may be far less glamorous: Welsh-language schools tend to be better, and, with the British government offering Welsh such support, it will no doubt be easier to find a job in Wales if one can also speak Welsh.
For a Balkan nation, Bulgaria has been surprisingly liberal in its approach to minorities since the demise of communism. The Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science issued a decree encouraging students to study their mother tongue. Not only is the large Turkish minority allowed to do so, but even the Pomaks, Bulgarians who converted to Islam centuries ago, are permitted to study Turkish.
The word "Vlach" is used by outsiders to describe us; we tend to use either Arumān or Ramān, and "Vlach" has a derogatory connotation. Perhaps we should begin to take exception to it. We no longer use the outsiders' terms "Negro" or "colored" to refer to African-Americans, and some Gypsies, too, are eager to shed their outsiders' designation, as evidenced by a recent letter from Ted Zang, Jr. to the New York Times: "Today, Americans often use the word `gypsy'or variants...in derogatory ways, without realizing the ethnic connotations. Gypsies increasingly call themselves `Romanies' because of such references."
The February 1991 issue of our Newsletter carried an article about the poetry of traditional language. Archaeologist J. Eric Thompson lived among the Maya and wrote about their poetic language in his book, Lost Cities of the Maya. The following excerpt appeared in the New York Times Book Review on July 12, 1992:
"A girl or boy approaching marriage age is called `maize plant coming into flower'; a meddler is rebuked with the words, `Why are you wearing a loincloth that is not yours?'; a red-hot ember is called a fire flower. Infinity is more than the hairs on a deer; a man will speak of his father's being dead as `my father's bones are piled up.' ... Old men are called mighty rocks; a hardhearted person is `he with a tree-trunk face.'... The Maya understand the pangs of love, for the word yail means both love and pain." (As does doru in Vlach, I might add, and we have plenty of both.)