Fast-food Macedonian Salad

by Basil C. Gounaris

If you want to try the fast-food recipe of the "Macedonian salad" try Internet. The basic ingredients are the same: emotion, propaganda, identity, heritage, human rights, history, symbols, revenge. They can all be tasted in substantial quantities. The dressing is also traditional: just a touch of international intervention is always indispensable for the mixture. Only marketing and serving is completely different but this does not make much of a difference to the connoisseurs.

Macedonian salad is served at many Internet sites: Greek, Bulgarian, and Slav-Macedonian, public and personal, scientific and activist, metropolitan and diaspora. Sometimes it is the main-dish served but may also be found as appetiser or desert i.e. within sites of broader interest. It is impossible to map all the relative home-pages even if all the relative business sites are de facto excluded. Historical, political and folklore aspects of the Macedonian Question are behind high-schools' or soccer club fans' home-pages; they multiply, integrate, disintegrate day after day. Roughly speaking there are hundreds of them.

When Anderson was writing his Imagined Communities he stressed the importance of maps, census and museums in the nation making process. Internet appears to be another link for people, especially in the younger generations of the diaspora, who want to participate actively in the corroboration of national identity. At least this is the case of Slav Macedonians. There is no master plan behind their work. Home pages are maintained by teams of young experts in electronics residing in the U.S.A. and use university servers: this is the case of the "Macedonia Frequently Asked Questions Development Team"; others have been created by diaspora associations in Australia and Canada and even more by students of electronics around the globe. The views expressed, the arguments and the scope in general are by no means uniform.

A young statistician from Prilep and graduate of Chicago University employed by the Solomon Bros wrote "I am Macedonian, I exist". An Australian private page called "Free Macedonia", decorated with Ancient fighters, hosts an article by Laure Akai who claims that Macedonians came from India, their previous name was Trojans, that Homer was a Macedonian, and "Gr[ee]k" in ancient Macedonian means "he who spills blood". An activist working in Sweden on behalf of certain Slav Macedonian activists in Greece scanned and presented early 20th century pictures of Slav educational institutions in Ottoman held Macedonia; in reality they were well known Bulgarian sponsored schools. "Macedonian Oracle" is another home-page in Australia clearly of Bulgarian interest which has been characterised by Slav Macedonians as "a really sick and disgusting collection of half-truths" constructed by "a worthy representative of the Devil". In a Canada based site, "Biser Balkanski" [The pearl of the Balkans] among the five most important Macedonians are classified Alexander the Great, St Cyril, and John Bitov, a wealthy and influential businessman from Greek Macedonia, stationed in Canada. In many others the flag of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has not been changed yet; it is still the ancient "star of Vergina".

In general most pages simply reproduce the well-known story of Slav Macedonian ethnogenesis. Reproduction is in fact inescapable for many reasons: computer experts are reluctant and unqualified to do research or to extensively translate documents and articles. Moreover, students of electronics studying abroad do not have the time to produce something entirely new. Novelty and expertise is important for them only regarding the electronic construction and decoration of the site and not the actual material. The latter is expected free, translated, and type-written ready for scanning, OCR handling, "copy and paste". It is inevitable for such individuals to seek assistance in translated, easily accessible books of reference and document collections. The Institute for National History and the Academy in Skopje have been preparing for some forty years now everything they need. The rest is copied from the most recent publications, like the book by Borza, the annual human rights reports and the activist literature.

The Greek diaspora web sites of Macedonian interest have similar problems of suitable sources. Less than five publications in all are the standard books of reference in many pages inside and outside Greece. Ancient history, (figures and symbols included) is the most popular topic of analysis and discussion, probably because "history" for most modern laymen in Greece is a synonym for "classical antiquity". The Greek electronic "flag-ship" (in terms of size) is the site "Diaspora WWW Projects" but more popular is a similar site maintained by the Pan-Macedonian Association. Other site titles echo the slogans of Greek demonstrations in the recent past such as "The Falsification of the History of Macedonia (discover the truth yourself)" or "Macedonia 100% Hellenic Homeland" meaning of course Greek Macedonia.

It is reasonable here to force the question: do all these web-pages contribute towards a better understanding of the Macedonian Question? The political arguments in general are so complicated and the historic accounts so detailed that the chances for any newcomer to Balkan history to be "enlightened" by amateur "digital historians" are very slim indeed. Misunderstandings are already visible in servers which have tried in vain to create Macedonian directories or to link what looked as seemingly related pages, without, however, realising the contrasting views they project. One server in Belarus, the so called "Dr Mursin's project page", includes a mixed collection of Greek and FYROM web pages which is probably a copy of a similar "salad of sites" from the University of Texas. Another page, part of the Mercator project in the University of Walles, gives two electronic links for the Macedonian language, one Bulgarian and one Greek, which both totally reject the individuality of the Macedonian language...

Bias is also acknowledged indirectly by a "second generation" of sites, like George Poncho's, for example, in Canada, which refers only to those "who have a serious interest in Macedonian affairs" or some others which claim neutrality, thus openly recognising that this is a virtue in deficit within the sites of Macedonian interest. Among such biased views even the Soros organisation site reads as an alternative approach. It argues that "Macedonians are descendants of the Slavic tribes which settled this areas (sic) in the middle of the VIth century.Ýaving mainly settled the territory of the old state of Philip and Alexander the Great, they were named Macedonian Slavs and later, during their national renaissance period they assumed the name Macedonians". Very few Slav Macedonian home pages in Australia, for example, where a legal fight was given to disassosiate Slavs and Greek Macedonians, would agree with these views...

So what's the point of making more web pages about Macedonia? Interaction is limited to an exchange of numerous messages between the less knowledgeable, the more fanatic, and the least responsible. The same is true for the only in name "discussion lists" or the "news groups". They create "imagined communities" of electronic partisans completely unknown to each other but they can not challenge the existing views and stereotypes. Electronic messages are nothing more than the recycling of the relative literature and the political confrontation. If literature and diplomats have failed so far to bring the interested parties to a better understanding, then the prospects for Internet are even worse, since there is no physical contact to embarrass hot-shots. After all, in the cyberplace dialogue can not be imposed nor it can be contained by any webmaster. But still this is the place where stimulating ideas can be incubated, flourish or even reach unexpected ends. Prospect for improvement in the Internet dies hard probably even harder than hope in diplomacy.

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