September Books 10) Athens-Skopje: an uneasy symbiosis, 11) Μακεδονία: a Greek term in modern usage

10) Athens-Skopje: an uneasy symbiosis, ed. Evangelos Kofos and Vlasis Vlasidis
11) Μακεδονία (Macedonia): a Greek term in modern usage, [Georgia Daidikou and Anna Pasali]

One of the things about being in my line of work is that people often send you books to try and convince you of the intellectual credibility of their cause. The Research Centre for Macedonian History and Documentation, part of the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle Foundation, sent me these two books some time ago, and I’ve been looking through them this week. My own sympathies for the Skopje position on the Macedonian name dispute are sufficiently well-known that you will find me (and one of the authors from the first of these books) smeared as a fiendish conspirator with the Jews and the Turks to destroy Hellenism on certain nationalist websites.

Having said that, these are valiant and valid efforts to put forward the Greek side of the story. The first of them is a meaty volume of seven essays on the seven years of the 1995 Interim Accord between Greece and Macedonia agreeing to disagree on the name, and what will happen next (the authors’ prediction, borne out by the facts since, being that things can go on as they are). All seven authors are Greek, and it’s sad but not surprising that I find points of disagreement with most of them. There is a consistent tendency to gloss over the lasting damage done by Greece, both to the newly independent state to the north and to Greece’s own reputation as a responsible international actor, in the early 1990s. It is surely unreasonable to say that Greece cannot look at its own minority issues clearly until “foreign governments stop using minorities and ethnic groups living in border zones for propaganda purposes” (p. 81). It is all very well to state that the Yugoslav state did not officially use the word “Macedonia” to describe its southernmost territories before 1945 (p.191), but to imply that this means nobody did is utterly incorrect, as a quick glance at pages 631-831 of Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon will demonstrate. I’m stunned to find an entire essay claiming to describe “The name dispute in FYROM after the signing of the Interim Accord” which takes most of its information about the political situation in (the Republic of) Macedonia from the Greek media. The essay on the presentation of Greece in the Macedonian media and education system actually gives the media a better write-up than I expected, and in its criticisms of school textbooks rather overdoes some reasonable points. The chapter on civil society is OK.

The biggest disappointment of the book is that it doesn’t really examine the reasons for the attitudes of either side in particular depth (though it’s understandable as such research has not always been profitable for the researcher). Oddly enough the second book, Μακεδονία (Macedonia): a Greek term in modern usage, does this rather better, if only for one side: it is a glossy assemblage of pictorial and historical evidence of the use of the name “Macedonia” by Greeks to mean Greeks going back over the last two hundred years or so, the basic message being that the Greek Macedonians are Not Pretending. Which is fair enough; of course, neither are the “Slav-Macedonians”. The introductory text to the last section of the book actually put the situation rather well:

The existence of another Macedonia, which was not Greek, was seen as illogical by those who had forgotten that a part of geographical Macedonia had not been included in the Greek state, as well as by those who had never learned that as a term of geographical origin, the word “Macedonia” was not a Greek monopoly.
It’s an issue which still hasn’t gone away; Greece has certainly lost most of the sympathy of the internationl community on the issue, but retains a number of important cards. It seems unlikely that the newly re-elected Greek government is going to make a lot of difference.

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