Spas (htpcl) wrote in talk_politics,

Whose Macedonia?

Kalimera! Dobra vecher! Good evening! I'm going to bother you with Greece, but this time not with the boring Greece debt crisis. This is going to be mostly about the Greek hysteria about the name of FYROMacedonia, which I think is only partially related to the revisionist propaganda that every Greek kid is being spoon-fed about the purported direct lineage from Alexander the Great all the way to every modern-day Greek. But the real, deeper reason for all the drama is a bit different.

See, there's a really weird argument going on in the south-eastern corner of Europe. Weird for anyone who's not from the Balkans, anyway. Greece wants to prevent Macedonia being officially named Macedonia at any cost, and is even threatening lawsuit at the International Court at the Hague. In their turn, the Macedonians also filed a complaint against Greece because the Greeks blocked their attempt to join NATO in 2008.

Sounds like a stupid quarrel, but believe me, for these two this is literally a question of life and death... of their egos. The reason for this mess is that the Greeks hate the idea of a Slavic country being named Macedonia. But the Hague court eventually took a devastating decision: 15 out of 16 judges decided in Macedonia's favor. In the Greek media this issue has pushed aside even the debt crisis these days. One of the right-wing parties which is part of the ruling coalition has threatened that if Macedonia gets recognized as "Macedonia", they'll leave the coalition and cause the government to collapse. In the meantime the prime-minister Papadimos is ranting about "provocations" from Macedonia. All in all, the situation is very inflammable.

But first, play this for atmosphere while reading the rest!

Yeah, it's weird isn't it? It's all about just a name! But that name means a lot to both countries. The whole hysteria around the name Macedonia is partly related to the constant patriotic propaganda that's being spewed in both the Greek and Macedonian schools from Grade 1. The Greeks have re-written history to claim that Alexander the Great is the ancestor of every living Greek, despite the ancient people of Macedon being something different from the Hellenes (granted, they did adopt the Hellenic culture and spread it across many lands, but the Thracians did the same, which doesn't make them Greek in any way whatsoever). The main reason for all this irrational bullshit rests in the unsettled history of the Greek civil war in the 1940s. Which makes me think that the quarrel over the name is also related to the following fact: Greece is a "failed state" not just in terms of economy and finance, but in regards to being honest about its most recent history. And these delusions go so deep into all facets of the Greek society that I'm afraid there's no cure for them at this point.

It's worth pondering why all the Greek parties that are otherwise so split over any other issue of real importance, are so united on the non-issue question about the name Macedonia. I'd say the "Macedonization" of the Greek public discourse has a lot to do with this, and this has been the case ever since the 90s. Back then Greece was engulfed in a wave of ultra-nationalism, after Macedonia (FYROM) declared independence. A lot of people got paranoid from that development.

And this fear is actually rooted in the Civil War. At the time of the Axis occupation of Greece during WW2, several warring parties were formed within Greece, and they fought a violent conflict against each other. In the Greek region of Makedonia (Northern Greece) where a significant Slavic population has lived since the 5th century, the communists formed guerrilla squads that fought for splitting the Makedonia region away from Greece and attaching it to either Bulgaria or Tito's Yugoslavia (the latter being the primary arms supplier for the Greek commies). In 1949 the Greek Communist Party promised the Macedonian people "a national revival" if they won the civil war. Since then the capitalist forces in Greece have always used this card: they could accuse their communist enemies of "selling Greek lands to the Slavs", and sure, they'd have a point.

The communists eventually lost the civil war and the Greeks expelled most of the Slavic population from Northern Greece (part of the population exchanges with their neighbors), and have been doing their best to erase any memory of a Slavic presence north of the Aegean (although the very creators of the Cyrillic alphabet originate from the region of Thessaloniki, the capital of Aegean Makedonia, and created the alphabet explicitly to aid the Slavs in attaining a distinct identity). Additionally, about 100 thousand Greeks who fought on the losing side in the Civil War, fled to various countries of the newly formed Eastern Bloc. About 30 thousand of them were Greeks from Greek Makedonia, who had little to do with the pan-Slavic idea but had fought for ideological reasons (communism). After their defeat it was impossible for them to stay in Greece because they were threatened of persecution and cleansing - Greece never attempted the reconciliation and diversity option, instead they went for complete Hellenization of all its residents. What's more, because "the winner always writes history", the Greeks got the exclusive prerogative of re-defining the memory about that war and interpreting it in any way they pleased.

At a crisis moment like this anyone needs a scapegoat. And the Greek Slavs were a convenient one for Greece. The war was re-interpreted as a "Slavic invasion", i.e. a Russian-Bulgarian-Yugoslav aggression against Hellas. Between '49 and '74 the Greek policies regarding the history of that period and the memories from those events were entirely based on wide-spread anti-communist and anti-Slavic prejudice.

You see, the current interpretation is that the Slavs had used that civil war as an opportunity to achieve what they didn't manage to do earlier - to push Hellenism out of Makedonia and fulfill "the eternal dream of pan-Slavism" of gaining access to the Aegean (for a time between the wars they really managed to hold control of Aegean Thrace, via the Kingdom of Bulgaria, although that's not exactly Makedonia, but is close). Later the military junta even assigned a special commemoration holiday in memory of the "brave struggle of the Hellenic heroes against the Slavic occupiers". Go to any major village in Northern Greece and you'd see monuments of the Greek heroes who fell fighting against the "Bulgarian yoke" (this is an actual inscription on a plate that I saw).

But let's get back to Alexander. So can we say who his real heirs are, after removing at least part of all these layers of spin and bias? Well, even after the military junta was deposed, nothing really changed. In 1982 the then president Karamanlis told Greek immigrants in Toronto: "You should stand against all those who are trying to harm Greece by twisting its history and most of all, the history of Makedonia. We are the REAL heirs of Alexander the Great! There is no question about that."

For generations the Greeks have been spoon-fed such notions about their history from a very early age. The forceful ignorance and/or deliberate brainwashing is pervading the historians' guild there, and in the 90s they even prefered to debate on the "undisputed Hellenism" of Alexander, instead of even remotely touching the controversial episodes of their own more recent history.

This poison is still doing its work inside the heads of most Greeks today. But let's not assume that the Vardar Macedonians (or FYROMians, as they're being mockingly called) are any saints in this either. Very similar processes have been going on in FYROM ever since it gained its independence - being utterly confused about their identity, now that they're no longer considered the "Southern Serbs" (as Tito tried to shape them for a long time; in fact the modern Macedonian language derives from a Western Bulgarian dialect and has very little to do with Serbian, let alone Ancient Macedonian - and there's this Greek joke that Macedonian is Bulgarian written on a Serbian typewriter), and being squeezed between several regional powers like Serbia and Greece, and experiencing the demographic pressure from the Albanians, the Macedonians are desperate to clutch at ANY straw to preserve the integrity of their country. They've desecrated many ancient monuments even remotely making a connection between Alexander and Greece, and they've erased frescoes and destroyed tombs of ancient rulers that unambiguously point at their Bulgarian identity - the Macedonians are working hard at re-defining their history and forging a new one, that might help them assert their new identity. The latest drop in the bucket that has hugely angered Greece is the raising of this monument in the center of Skopje:

Greece is in a bad position to dictate the situation any more. They're finding it increasingly difficult to blackmail Macedonia about its NATO and EU entry in exchange for concessions about the name - Greece is now in poor shape and its traditionally strong lobby in Europe is helpless to counter the rising anti-Greek moods among Europeans. Moreover, Macedonia was now told that they could be given a concrete date for starting a procedure for joining the EU very soon, which is another huge blow on the Greek side. And despite the Macedonian sacrilege in regards to the Bulgarian historic monuments on their territory, and their constant passive-aggressive provocations against anything Bulgarian, Bulgaria was still prudent enough to keep its cool throughout these years and be the first country to recognize Macedonia, and to declare its unreserved support for Macedonia's aspirations to join NATO and EU. And this says a lot about the viability of the tradition of Slavic solidarity, when it comes to countering Greece.
Tags: balkans, diplomacy, history
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