A Greek Name in Modern Usage

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When in 1821 Greeks started their revolt against the Ottoman Empire and fought for an independent state they had two major ideological issues to deal with: the identity of the new state and its future borders. If Hellas (Ελλάς) was the appropriate name for Modern Greece and ancient glory the most valuable argument for Greek independence, then how could Macedonia been kept apart? After all it was an integral part of Greek ancient history, which had nourished every single generation of educated people—not only Greeks—even before the war of Greek independence. The legendary figure of Alexander the Great had surfed smoothly over centuries of ignorance escorted by powerful myths and tales to find its appropriate position in the last part of 19th century, ancient history textbooks. They were the chapters of the Macedonian Hegemony and the Hellenistic period (4th and 3rd centuries B.C.), which had brought Greek culture to the frontiers of the then known world.

Ancient History proved a very solid and enduring foundation for the modern Greek state. In this context, in the last quarter of the 19th century the case of Macedonia, this ill-defined region, was regarded as the final frontier of Hellenism, which Greece had to defend against the Slavs, if it was to survive as a state and not to end up as a sad caricature of Ancient Hellas.

The romantic fight of the Greeks for Macedonia—in fact for the littoral part of it—created its own legend, which was shaped through a series of declared and undeclared wars from the 1878 Eastern Crisis to World War II. Thus, Macedonia became the symbol of Greek revival, the sweet trophy of its first victorious war effort (1912–13), the token of national unity, synonym for toughness, decisiveness, and honesty. The Macedonian name (Μακεδόνες) was used with pride as often as possible, to denote the new Greek province of course but also to convey part of the hidden virtues to the bearers of the name. Political parties, sport clubs, professional syndicates, institutions, societies, and associations of every kind included the word ‘Macedonia’ (Μακεδονία) or any of its derivatives (μακεδονικός -ή -όν) in their titles. The distinguished historical names of Alexander and Philip and their portraits were also exploited extensively. They decorated letterheads and were used as seals in both the public and the private sector.

During the lengthy period of dispute, from the end of the 19th century to World War II, the word ‘Macedonian’, in any use and form, simply meant ‘I am Greek’. However, in the period between the two world wars, this local patriotism was mixed with various doses of energetic regionalism in a growing attempt of Greek Macedonians to stand up, shape their own social, political and economic profile and counterbalance the centripetal forces of Athens. Commercial interests of every kind were a big part of this regionalism. Ancient Macedonian symbols on their trademarks and the name of the region itself, clearly denoted the origin of their products and the home-office of the firms beyond any possible confusion.

In post World War II years a series of successful excavations contributed a lot to the cultural emancipation of Greek Macedonia. Philip, Alexander and their generals were no longer mere symbols. Their magnificent art and impressive wealth was brought back to surface filling with pride Greek Macedonians. At last they could stretch the origins of their own local culture back in antiquity. For them, the royal tombs of Vergina were certainly the equivalent of the Parthenon. Their pride was shared by Greeks in general, in the Hellenic Republic and most of all in the Diaspora.

The more Macedonian symbolism spread in everyday life in northern Greece the less attention was paid to developments outside its border. At a higher level, politicians and academics always new that another Macedonian regionalism has been developing inside Yugoslavia and Bulgaria within a different national context, though with the very same name. They also knew that within the Yugoslav federation this regionalism gradually took the form of Macedonian nationalism and this was no secret to the world in general.

Yet, Greek Macedonians had no real alternative. Macedonia as a name and as a culture was—and still is—their very special bond with the Greek nation. In addition they thought that no Slav nation could go that far as to claim the copyright of Macedonia, i.e. the saga of Alexander and Philip and their cultural heritage. That was Greek beyond doubt. The most cynical foreign observers would even argue that if Greece had lost the monopoly of the name at least it was recognised by educated people as the closest relative or heir to this tradition.

What happened in the 1990s took everybody in Greece by surprise. If the presence of a Macedonian nation-state came as a shock to the ordinary people it was no less a surprise for the cynical. They found out what they ought to have anticipated: that the expediencies of politics weight heavier than historical arguments of romantic nationalism. An alternative version of the past was speedily produced by willing deconstructionists to serve a world already fed up with ‘ancient glories’. Demosthenes himself, well known for his bitterness, would have been surprised with modern cynicism and the extreme use of his sermons against Philip.

We suspect that even some readers of this edition will wonder, at first sight, what Greece has to do with Macedonia. For them, the contemporary Macedonian name, both as a noun and as pronoun is less and less associated with anything Greek.

To those who forgot and to those who will probably never learn we would like to show, through pictures rather than texts, how vivid and unbroken has been the presence of Macedonia, as a name and as a symbol, within the Greek state among the Greeks, and more so among the Μακεδόνες, in any aspect of life. If such evidence cannot stimulate a sober dialogue about the proper identification of the diverse Macedonian variants, at least it can explain why Greek Macedonians cannot consent to the monopolistic use of their own name and culture by another state and a Slavonic people.

The Editors

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