Iran’s Cultural Activities in North Macedonia
To understand Iran's current cultural presence in northern Macedonia, one must look at the cultural ties between Iran and the Republic of Macedonia, while the latter was part of the former Yugoslavia. In a previous article, I mentioned the cultural magazine "Nur" which was published in the Serbian language in Belgrade; meanwhile, four of its issues were also published in Albanian. Based on research, it is found that during the 90s, some Albanian intellectuals from Skopje and Tetovo were engaged in this magazine. These Islamist-leaning intellectuals were influenced by the messages of the Islamic Revolution of Iran and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. In Tetovo was established a publishing house, named “Zehra”, as part of the activities of these intellectuals. The main focus of “Zehra” Publishing House was translating and publishing the works of the well-known Iranian intellectual Ali Shariati. Ali Shariati has been described as an intellectual with Islamist and leftist persuasions, his ideas and intellectual activities inspired many young Iranians who managed to carry out the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ali Shariati's ideas and books translated into Albanian have also had a significant impact on the spread and strengthening of Islamist orientations in the Albanian regions of North Macedonia.
It should be noted that the orientation towards Ali Shariati and not towards other Shiite theologians and thinkers of Iran gives the conviction that the Macedonian intellectuals did not express much interest in Shiism as a religious belief, therefore very few of them converted to Shiism. The number of those who accepted Shiism was very small, and they have never created a united community, as the Shiites of Kosovo had done. However, the magazine "Nur" and the Publishing House "Zehra" had succeeded in sowing the seeds of Shi'ism in North Macedonia. As a result of their activities was established the digital library "dielli.net".
The library "dielli.net" is one of the first Albanian digital libraries, since then, it is one of the crucial corpora of Islamic and Oriental literature in Albanian society. The vast majority of books and writings that can be downloaded free of charge are written by Shiite authors. Based on more detailed research, one can see that in its beginnings, the leaders of "diellit.net" have made available the work and writings of Iranian authors, such as Ali Shariati, Morteza Motahari, Sayed Hossein Nasr, etc., who in their discourse have a more intellectual profile. Afterward, in recent years, in this library, we also encounter works, writings, and treatises of Shiites influenced by Ayatollah Khomeini. Hence it can be said that the "dielli.net" library has been transformed from an Islamist and intellectual profile into a more theological and sectarian profile of Shiite Islam. Through this digital platform, Shiite sectarian ideologies and discourses are being propagated and penetrating in Albanian societies. Moreover, all these activities are being done in the name of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, Ahl al-Bayt.
Recently, with the funds of Iran in Northern Macedonia, the Foundation for Culture and Science (GNOSA Foundation)1 was established. This foundation was founded and is led by Numan Mustafa2, a young intellectual from Tetovo who lives in Germany. But this Foundation was established with the support of Akbar Eydi, who, in the Shiite circles of the Balkans, is introduced and recognized as the representative of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, for the Balkan region. Akbar Eydi is a Shiite theologian who has led the “Mulla Sadra Foundation” in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina for decades. “GNOSA Foundation” also translated into Albanian the lectures given by Akbar Eydi during the month of Ramadan3. This Foundation, like all other Shiite organizations of Iran in the Balkans, keeps Ahl al-Bayt at the center of its profile.
“Benefiting from the enlightened tradition of the Ahl al-Bayt, the GNOSA Foundation aims to present the highest intellectual and spiritual values of Islam while maintaining a pluralistic worldview capable of interacting with all schools of thought and contribute to the creation of aware individuals as well as a free and progressive society.”
So, according to the presentation of the leaders of this Foundation, we notice that all intellectual activities are realized from the perspective of Ahl al-Bayt. Although books and writings translated and published in Albanian, as well as all other activities of this Foundation, have Shiite content. It is noted that the concept of the Ahl al-Bayt, which is present in the religious tradition of Albanians, is used as a mechanism or as a bridge to install Shiite sectarian discourse in Albanian society.
Until now, GNOSA Foundation has published several books and articles by Iranian Shiite authors, such as Morteza Motahari, Muhammad Husayn Tabatabaei, Sayed Muhammed Rizvi, etc. As a part of this Foundation is the magazine "Mejdani" which is published four times a year and is mostly oriented towards Iranian Shiite authors. Shiite spirit and perspective of human historical and social phenomena are remarked in most of the articles and writings of this magazine. The targets of this Foundation are the sects and tekkes of the city of Gjakova in Kosovo as well. GNOSA Foundation has organized several panels and seminars with tekkes and dervishes of Kosovo. We can mention the seminar "Karbala and Imam Hussein" held in the Bektashi tekke of Gjakova. In these seminars, the events and concepts of the tariqah are interpreted from the perspective of the Shiite narrative. Thus, events such as Karbala are explained more like a revolutionary and political occurrence than a mystical and spiritual one as it is interpreted in the tradition of the tekkes and dervishes of the Balkans. Furthermore, the representatives of the GNOSA Foundation in these seminars impose the Shiite perspective, even though it is known that in Balkan regions’ tekkes, these events are read and interpreted in the metaphysical context, which has nothing to do with the ideological and sectarian one.
It is interesting noting the fact that Iran in Northern Macedonia has been active on two different levels: with the Albanian citizens of this country, it developed cultural and religious activities, and with the Macedonian part has had political and economic relations. This is also proof that the Albanian parties and politicians did not have any interest in getting closer to Iran by virtue of their orientation towards Euro-Atlantic integration. Meanwhile, the Macedonian political wing, especially the one closest to Russia and Serbia, has been more opened to cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Due to lack of influence, the weak presence in North Macedonia, and the financial crisis, Iran has closed its embassy and all political activities in Skopje this year. While in the cultural and religious sphere, Iran will continue extending its influence through local associations and foundations. Cultural activities in Northern Macedonia will continue being funded by other countries in the Balkan region or by Western countries.