Zagreb, 26 June 2019 (MIA) – Macedonian language and culture are recognized in Croatia and are taught throughout this EU member state, Despina Belchovska Velinska told MIA.
Although originally from Rusinovo, a village near Berovo, Velinska moved to Zagreb 15 years ago. She works at two elementary schools in Zagreb – Avgusts Karambashich and Nikola Tesla, the latter of which was the first ever school in Croatia to offer Macedonian language classes.
Velinska teaches Macedonian language and culture to a total of 43 students, four times per week. The course is financed by the state and is treated the same as the rest of the courses on the curriculum.
“Zagreb was the first city in Croatia to offer a Macedonian language course to the Macedonian minority, ten years ago. Soon after, similar courses were offered in Pula, Rijeka, Split, Osijek and Vinkovci,” Belchoska Velinska said.
“When I found out that according to the Law on National Minorities, Macedonians had the right to take Macedonian as an elective course, I contacted several organizations and the Macedonian church in Croatia, who supported my effort to file a request to add such a course to the curriculum.
“That’s how I started teaching Macedonian language and culture to a class of seven or eight students at the Nikola Tesla elementary school,” Belchoska Velinska noted.
Throughout the years, she added, the number of students interested in learning the Macedonian language has increased, so there are now 43 students taking the Belchoska Velinska’s course.
“After completing their elementary school studies, the state has made it possible for students to continue learning the Macedonian language and culture at high school. For the past four years, professor Timka Burbatov Krsteva has been teaching an elective Macedonian language course at a high school in Zagreb,” Belchoska Velinska told MIA.
“I teach four classes a week, at two schools. During the first three classes of the week, I teach my students the language, and during the fourth class I talk about the culture. So, for example, if I’m teaching them the letter O, during the fourth class I’ll talk about Ohrid and its history.
“But, really it all depends on the age of my students. At one of the schools, 15 of my students are of Macedonian descent, but the rest are Croats, so I mostly teach them the language.
“However, my class at the other school consists of sixth, seventh and eighth graders, who are all Macedonian. The first two years I thought them to read, but after we covered the whole material, they asked to be taught geography and history, as well.
“At the end of the year, each student makes a project and presents it in front of the parents,” Belchoska Velinska explained.
All students receive a final grade in the course, which goes on their transcript along with the rest of their grades.
“After 12 years of teaching this course, I no longer have to look for Macedonian children who might want to enroll. Now they come to me.
“Our students are really talented. For example, I’ve been teaching Borut Panchev, a seventh grader and a state champion in robotics, since he was in the first grade. Last year, he ranked third in a competition in Canada and won the first place at a European championship.”
Belchoska Velinska said that the development of the Macedonian language in Croatia was gradual, but the endeavor was aided by the Croatian people’s love for the Macedonians and our friendly relations.
“Sometimes, I myself can’t quite understand it. For example, the mother of one of my students had a Macedonian roommate at college, and she fell in love with our food and music. She has passed this love on to her daughter, who is now studying Macedonian and writes about our activities on the school’s website.
“Additionally, I’ve had students who enroll because they are fans of Toshe Proevski and want to learn the language so they can better understand his songs,” Belchoska Velinska said.
She added that she receives total support from Croatian authorities.
“The Ministry of Education covers all expenses, including my salary, class space and books. For the past 12 years, they have also financed our stay at numerous summer schools. Additionally, we have the support of the Macedonian church in Croatia and numerous Macedonian organizations,” Belchoska Velinska said.
“We want the people of North Macedonia to know that the Macedonian language is recognized in a European country such as Croatia and that there’s a group of children out there who want to learn our language and are interested in our culture. We take any help that we can get, including books and teaching materials, although nowadays all of that can be found online,” Velinska said of the support they receive from North Macedonia.
“The Agency for Emigration of North Macedonia ensures our attendance at the Ohrid summer school every year. Additionally, we intend to visit an elementary school in Skopje, with which we got in touch through the eTwinning platform.
This summer, I’m also looking forward to attending the first diaspora teachers’ seminar in Ohrid,” Belchoska Velinska concluded.
Tr. by Monika Miihajlovska