by Upstate NY
Mon Mar 23rd, 2009 at 07:27:48 AM EST
I wrote a short response to the morning's news from Spiegel earlier, and will now diary it at length.
Bickering in the Balkans: Macedonia's Identity Crisis - SPIEGEL ONLINE
The reporter takes a very Macedonian-centric perspective (that is, FYROM-centric, so I don't offend Greeks) but in so doing, becomes so confused that he ends up implicitly agreeing with the Greek position--which he assumes is actually the Macedonian position. I want to cut through the history as best I can by only giving very little background. Mostly, I wanted to address the legal issues, and leave the history short.
Promoted by whataboutbob
The reporter has muddled the real issues here:
Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis reemphasized this position last summer, when he said: "There is no 'Macedonian' minority in Greece. And there never was one."
This is a misinterpretation of the PMs words in context. He was not talking about Macedonians in general but about official recognition BY THE STATE of Greece of a Macedonian minority in Greece, under UN and European conventions. The term Macedonian has a specific designation in Greece, so when the PM says there is no Macedonian minority, he's referring to the fact that the state uses the term to refer to inhabitants of its prefecture Macedonia, much as it refers to Cretans to describe inhabitants of Crete. There is of course also a cultural affinity to the term, much as Cretans are proud of being Cretans and self-identifying as Cretans, so too Macedonian Greeks. But this has nothing to do with the state. In fact, the Greek ambassador to the UN stated recently that any citizen of Greece is free to self-identify as they wish (i.e. call themselves a Macedonian, of whatever variety, refer to their language as such, etc.) but that does not require the state to OFFICIALLY recognize that designation. The Spiegel writer is just confused on this issue.
Does this mean that the prime minister in the Macedonian capital Skopje must stand idly by while Athens insists that people like his ancestors, including his father and grandfather, could not possibly have existed?
Logical fallacies are not going to save the article.
If there is no such thing as Slavs who grew up in the Greek part of the historic region of Macedonia and, despite having had to accept Greek surnames, remain faithful to their native language?
Ironically, the writer of the article has now moved close to the Greek position without even realizing it. Greece does recognize a Slavophone minority. They refer to it constantly. Indeed, Greece is not at all averse to or against references to Slavic Macedonians, and has suggested many times that this could be a way to differentiate between Macedonian Greeks and Slavic Macedonians. Amazingly, the writer refers to Macedonians as Slavs, without realizing that his characterization would be considered an insult north of the Greek border. Part of the national mythology of the connection of contemporary Macedonia with Ancient Macedonia is to slough off any association with Slavs, which for many connotes unfortunate etymological correspondences with "Slaves." Kiro Gligorov's admission a decade ago that "We are a Slavic people" is anathema in Skopje.
I realize the arguments and intricacies are complex--though I would not characterize them as bizarre-but when you write about a subject, it's your responsibility to get the facts straight.
As for the intricacies of the controversy, I would say that many Greeks simply hope that the issue goes away. It's frustrating, and sometimes you will get us to admit it's "embarrassing" though I believe even the most generous or anti-nationalist Greeks are deeply bothered by something that most onlookers do not understand. If Macedonia is recognized internationally as such without having to distinguish itself from Greek Macedonia, then inevitably an aspect of Greek identity will be lost. In no time at all, there will be only one Macedonian identity internationally. And that does bug Greeks, all Greeks, a lot, even the ones that want to see this issue DIE, DIE, DIE.
(The best analogy I could give is for one to imagine a part of Mexico on the Texas border incorporating as a new state called Texas. 100 years later, the Mexico-Texans secede from Mexico and form their own country and wish to be known as Texans. If one acknowledges that most nationalities are mythological constructions--Greek and Macedonian too--then the seeming farcical appearance of a new brand of Texan is not so unusual after all.)
I call Macedonians Macedonian because that's what they want to be called. I don't begrudge them that at all. However, I don't lose anything by doing so because I'm an individual. And the truth is, my family does not have ties to the Greek region so I'm less invested. However, the fact that I--as a Greek American--have no trouble referring to anyone as anything they wish to be identified as (on an individual level, on a personal level) is quite different from official recognition by state. States have other responsibilities. States educate their citizens, states recognize minorities, states in the EU even try to retain naming rights over products of origin, etc. Greece can't invent a prefecture named Champagne which sells the bubbly stuff. The state of Greece has quite a different responsibility for the term Macedonia than any individual Greek does.
There are background issues, as well, the historical ones from the ancient past which I mostly ignore (except when I see propaganda from both sides). Then there are the more recent histories of the birth of modern Macedonian consciousness in the late 19th and early 20th century, which occurred along with the concomitant settling of Greek Macedonian lands by Greek refugees from Romania, Russia, Bulgaria, Egypt and especially Turkey. And finally there's the more recent history of WW2 when the Slavic citizens of the region first allied with the Nazis and then Tito's Yugoslavia in attempts to render Greek Macedonia away from the Greek state. This is the background which Greeks and Macedonians always refer to. If anyone wants to ask about how any of these issues impact the current squabbling, I'd be glad to help, though I'd also refer you to Mark Mazower's excellent books AFTER THE WAR WAS OVER and SALONICA. The former shows what happened at the end of WW2 and the Civil War in Greece, and the latter describes the history of the city of Salonica up until that period, a multicultural history of Jews, Greeks, Slavs, Muslims (Egyptians, Turks), Armenians, Franks, Europeans, etc. Up until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the numbers were almost equally distributed between Slavs, Greeks, Muslims, and Jews, but after the population exchanges, the city was resettled by refugees and became predominately Greek, and the Greek state took over the region of Greek Macedonia from Turkey in the early 1910s prior to World War 1.
The UN negotiations aimed at settling the name matter currently are stuck. Greece is insisting on a name change to North Macedonia, Upper Macedonia, Slav Macedonia, really anything that would differentiate it from Greek Macedonia. However, Macedonia will only agree to that on a bilateral basis (i.e. it will only change its name for dealings with Greece). And so, the negotiations are at a standstill.
One reason is that the Bush White House had given Macedonia assurances that it would join NATO and the EU and that Greek objections would be overridden. Bush showed up at the NATO Bucharest summit last year and he welcomed Macedonia to NATO. Later that day Greece unofficially vetoed Macedonia, much to the shock of many, especially Macedonia which could not believe the USA's interests did not prevail over Greece's. There are a few more cards to play for Macedonia before Greece prevents EU candidacy, so there probably will be no movement in negotiations until then.
This week the FM of Macedonia sent his Greek counterpart a proposal for better relations. http://www.ana.gr/anaweb/user/showplain?maindoc=7418645&maindocimg=5313525&service=94
This proposal received a preliminary response in polite diplomatic language which tended to obscure the lack of seriousness which Greek diplomats ascribe to the proposal. For one, the Macedonian FM suggested a new bilateral accord to treat outstanding issues (even though Macedonia recently sued Greece for not living up to the Interim Accord the two countries signed in 1995). So, here we have two countries in International Court over the terms of one bilateral agreement, with a new proposal coming down the pike that essentially duplicates much of the first proposal. And they are already in deadlocked UN negotiations. It's odd. Another suggestion in the proposal advises setting up a historical commission to set the past straight. Generally, I'm all for this sort of work, though I'd note that I would strictly avoid framing any of this dispute in terms of race and history. It should be seen as a negotiation that secures either group's right to the name Macedonia and prevents the univocal use of the term. History will not allow either group to accomplish that, especially since the Greek side has already made it perfectly clear it does not object to Macedonians being referred to internationally with a qualifier. I would also note that, although I object to the Turkish offer to Armenia for a similar joint commission to study the Armenian genocide (precisely because there are obstacles to academic study of the Turkish archives), I would not object to a commissioned study of the Macedonian past when it comes to Greece and Macedonia since both countries do not have laws which prohibit certain forms of academic research. In Greece, some have objected that such a commission might in fact fan the flames of the existing controversy by having nationalist academicians from either side squabbling in much the same way as the leaders. I would say, however, that this could be avoided simply by having classicists from all over the world engage the issue. Why would it have to be Greek and Macedonian scholars when there are experts on Ancient Greece everywhere??!!
Regardless, a solution exists, and that is differentiating between two distinct type of Macedonians, the Greek type and the Slavophone type. What adjectives should be used to differentiate is a discussion that comes AFTER the decision to differentiate between them at all.