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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 2 February 2019
OPINION 22 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 2 FEBRUARY 2019 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM The Myth of Modern Macedonia The “Macedonia is Greek” affirmation is one of faith - a meme that we parrot. A matter of faith BRADY KIESLING Many Greeks have taken up, on Facebook at least, the slogan, "Macedonia is one, and Greek". For most, I know, this is an innocent affirmation of faith. We routinely demonstrate our loyalty by parroting pious untruths, the way good Orthodox and Roman Catholics recite every Sunday, "I believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church." As dogma it is infallible. But as history, as geography, as ethnography, as politics, it is self-evidently absurd. Greece's future depends on its people's understanding the distinction. "Macedonia" is a meme, an abstraction, with as many meanings as there are people who have ever admitted the concept to their mental universe. The spelling, pronunciation, borders, population, and every other idea linked to the word have varied massively through the millennia. For example, a Greek 2nd century geographer, Ptolemaios, mapped Macedonia in accordance with Roman administrative convenience to include a sizable swath of modern Albania, Greece as far south as Lamia, and the southern two-thirds of the Republic of North Macedonia. Ptolemaios' Macedonia included Illyrian tribes and the non-Greek Paeonians around Veles, but excluded the nonGreek Dardanians around Skopje. His text and maps survived the Middle Ages to form a "scientific" basis upon which early modern geographers westernized the European provinces of Ottoman Turkey. Thus, in the late 19th century, "Macedonia" was a usefully neutral geographic term for a generously vague region. As a famously Greek name, it also served the irredentist purposes of independent Greece quite nicely. The alternative to calling the local slavic dialect and people "Macedonian" was to call them "Bulgarian." This would have handed to Greece's most deadly rival a diplomatic gift Greek aspirations could not afford. Remember, please, that the lion's share of Macedonia would have been given to Bulgaria if a Wilsonian linguistic/ethnographic rather than military approach to partition had prevailed in 1912-23. Once Great Power politics and brutal ethnic cleansing had ended the Bulgarian threat, the Macedonia meme could evolve in Greek minds to become what it is now, a powerful weapon in fratricidal local politics. But not because the Republic of North Macedonia poses, now or ever, a threat to Greek territory or nation- al identity. North Macedonia has instead been a wasted opportunity for Greece to have its first and only client state.The "success" Greek nationalists can look forward to if they succeed in defeating the Prespa agreement will be to have in a few decades the rotting corpse of a failed state on Greece's doorstep. It was to gain a client state and avert the threat of a failed state that first Konstantinos Mitsotakis and now Alexis Tsipras bravely accepted the political cost of a compromise solution.Everywhere outside Greece's borders, the Macedonia meme has evolved very differently than it has here. To impose its private abstraction outside its borders, Greece must first become a superpower. But is genocide -to eliminate the minds in which the offending meme resides- really necessary? Greeks have survived and flourished because they are capable of common sense. Even the most sacred and indivisible gets routinely subdivided every day in practice. So. My Macedonia is Greek, just as my Panagia is ever-Virgin. Your Macedonia, like your Panagia, may be otherwise. Brady Kiesling is a former political counsellor of the US Embassy in Athens who now lives in Greece. Countless of Macedonia rallies have taken place over the years to protest the “sellout of Macedonia”. JOHN MELVILLE-JONES As a professor (now an emeritus professor) of Classics and Ancient History at The University of Western Australia, I became involved in the Macedonian naming dispute about ten years ago, when I noticed that under then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski a statue that seemed to be intended to represent Alexander the Great was to be erected in Skopje, and various other monuments were being given names that implied that what was then The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was connected with the ancient Macedonia that existed in the 4th century B.C. I knew that this was incorrect, so I gave a little talk on the subject to a Greek audience, and created a small pamphlet entitled The Myth of Modern Macedonia to combat this presence. This was a personal initiative, because my university has no position with regard to this matter, and is interested only in avoiding disputes on campus (which have not happened) or the appearance of favouring either group. I have never agreed with the extremist Greek position, that the name of 'Macedonia' should never be used to describe the FYROM. It has been used to describe an enlarged Macedonia since the second century BC, so modification of the name of the modern country has always seemed to me to be the best solution. In my pamphlet I suggested that 'North Macedonia' might be an acceptable way of resolving the problem. I am very pleased that both governments have now accepted this name. The only thing with which I disagree in the text of the Prespes Agreement that I have studied is that the language of North Macedonia is to be called 'Macedonian'. This can lead to confusion between the modern language and the ancient Macedonian dialect (although the latter is almost completely irrecoverable, because the ancient Macedonians hardly ever used writing, and all that we have is about a hundred and fifty words and names, some of them perhaps slightly misspelt in the manuscripts, that have been recorded in the Byzantine period). It is clear, however, that it was one of a number of slightly similar dialects that were spoken in the north of today's Greece and to the north and west of it, before the Attic dialect became the basis of the koine language that spread over the eastern Mediterranean world after the conquests of Alexander the Great. I would have preferred that the North Macedonian language should be called 'Modern Macedonian' to make this distinction clear. If there is any chance of making this change, I hope that both sides can agree on it. However, what is much more important is that the Greeks and North Macedonians who have furiously resisted this change of name should now cease their complaints, and start working to make this agreement a success, because it will be beneficial for both countries. There is a lot of work to do, both in the short term and in the coming decades, and I estimate that it will take at least fifty years before things become fully settled. In the first place, many hours of work will be required in both countries to rework documents of many kinds and rename organisations in North Macedonia. Then there is the enormous task of editing teaching material in North Macedonia so that it does not give a false view of history. Finally, it will take more than one generation for the mistaken beliefs of the North Macedonians, beliefs on which for so many of them their identity is based, to be corrected and replaced by a more accurate understanding of their history. John Melville-Jones is a professor at the Australian Insitute of Western Australia.
26 January 2019
9 February 2019