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Sunday, Oct. 7, 2001

Macedonia historian delighted at award

Staff writer

Macedonian historian Dr. Kosta Balabanov has expressed his delight at receiving this year's Japan Foundation special prize for his contribution to introducing Japanese culture to the Balkan country.

For the last 30 years, Balabanov, an expert on Macedonian icons, has dedicated himself to showcasing Japanese culture in his homeland, both as an individual and also as president of the Society for Macedonian-Japanese Friendship and Cooperation and Honorary Consul General of Japan in Skopje.

"I am very happy to receive this valuable award. I am the first person from Macedonia to receive the award," said Balabanov in an interview with The Japan Times after the presentation ceremony in Tokyo on Thursday.

He also said the award came as a pleasant surprise shortly after an increase in the unrest in his homeland with attacks by ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Balabanov first visited Japan in 1967 as curator of an exhibition in Tokyo and Kyoto of Macedonian icons. During his six-month stay, he was deeply impressed by Japanese culture and he took more than 3,500 slides and made a further 10 documentary films on Japanese culture, art and society, he said.

Back home, Balabanov used the pictures and films in his lectures and TV programs, increasing public interest in Japan among Macedonian people who had little access to information about the country.

"Through my activities of introducing Japan, I was given the nickname the 'Macedonian Japanese,' " said Balabanov.

In 1990, he established the Society for Macedonian-Japanese Friendship and Cooperation, which has now more than 2,000 members in a country with a total population of just 2 million.

The society has organized a number of events to showcase traditional Japanese culture, including an exhibition of reproduction "ukiyo-e" woodblock prints in 15 cities, concerts featuring Japanese "shamisen" performances, ikebana displays and Japanese language classes.

Balabanov also publishes a quarterly newsletter called Akebono, which features Japanese culture and society.

"I would like to increase the circulation up to 1,500 copies," he said.

Balabanov said he considers the current relationship between Japan and Macedonia to be "excellent" and adds that he hopes bilateral ties will be further enhanced in the future.

Touching on the attack by Albanian rebels, Balabanov said the fighting occurred in locations just a few kilometers from Skopje, where he lives, and that he hopes peace can be restored to his homeland.

"I am introducing the idea of (the war-renouncing) Article 9 of Japan's Constitution, which I consider to be the concept of peace, to my fellow countrymen," he said.

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The Japan Times

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