On the Border of Ridicule and Insult

by Nicholas Martis

Former Minister of Macedonia and Thrace

(“Estia”, 3 January, 2002 and “Kathimerini”, 4 January, 2002)

The third revision of FYROM’s history school textbooks since the collapse of the communist regime offers no hidden surprises. Thus, in the Istorija for the 5th grade, written by Simo Mladenovski (Skopje, 2001), dealing with the ancient world, students are treated to the same dose of falsifications of history similar to that of the previous two editions of the Gligorov era (1992, 1996). Once again, the central thesis is that the ancient Macedonians were an alien race entirely foreign to the rest of the Greeks.

The new textbook, introduced in this year’s school curriculum, advances a step further the dehellenization of the ancient Macedonians, extending it to the Hellenistic period. The author assures his young students that in recent years historians “reject as inappropriate the term Hellenistic period and instead they adopt the term Macedonian period”(p. 79).

Naturally, any educated person, and certainly the Greeks, would have no difficulty with both terms as they are tautological, defining a fairly well delineated period of the ancient world, from the death of Alexander the Great to the Roman conquest of the Hellenistic states of his successors, the “diadochoi”. This was indeed a unique period in history when the successor states of Alexander’s domains “ in the Haemus peninsula, the Near East and Egypt, spread and established Greek civilization and the Greek language among the peoples of the then “known world”.

Given, however, the hardly veiled efforts of politicians and educators in FYROM, to link the present “Macedonians” — i.e., the Slavs of FYROM — to glorious progenitors of antiquity simply by employing the same name, it becomes clear that the rechristening of the Hellenistic period as “Macedonian” is merely one more hand trick at appropriating an entire epoch of the Hellenic civilization. In an academic discourse, one could bypass such trivialities as simply ridiculous byproducts of a neo-nationalist mentality. In politics, however, such exercises at borrowed grandeur or “cultural imperialism” tend to raise the question whether their authors have the necessary credentials of maturity to enter the European process. Because, in the end, it is the basic tenets of European civilization and history they seek to undermine.

On the other hand, Greek public opinion has been kept in ignorance about the eroding attempts of their northern neighbors at their heritage and identity. This veil of silence over the activities of the nationalists in Skopje has probably been prompted by the desire of the Greek government to seek a mutual accord through a comprehensive dialogue in a climate of trust and understanding. Despite the fact that over the past six years Greece has provided all around moral, political and economic support to FYROM, the Skopje leaders have tried to profit from the lack of overt reaction by the Greek side in order to promote their claims over the Macedonian name. Worse yet, they have conveyed to their younger generations the impression that it is the Greeks who are the usurpers of the history and the land of Macedonia. Under the circumstances, a feeling of creeping resentfulness and vindictiveness against the Greeks has begun to take hold of certain segments of society and public opinion in the neighboring country.

There is also another, more serious consequence of Greek “silence”. Foreign observers, apparently mistaking as indifference the Greek failure to respond to the distortion of history and the misappropriation of the Greek cultural heritage of Macedonia, felt that the field was wide open to espouse and promote Skopje’s position to recognize the country as simply “Macedonia”. This is the case of the Brussels-based “International Crisis Group” which recently (December 10, 2001) published a long study entitled “Macedonia’s Name: Why the Dispute Matters and How to Solve it”. Two days later, its contents were accorded wider publicity by an article in the “International Herald Tribune” written by its chairman, the ex-foreign minister of Australia, Gareth Evans, summarizing its findings and projecting its recommendations. In simple terms, these aimed at the international recognition of FYROM as “Macedonia”. The “carrot” offered to the Greeks, if they concurred, would take the form of a bilateral agreement which would allow them to use, in their bilateral relations with Skopje, another name to be mutually agreed. Moreover, they would also have the right to use the Macedonian name (sic) for commercial purposes! In the minds of the drafters of the report, it appeared as a generous concession to the users of the 2500-year old name by its usurpers who laid claim on the name through the good offices of the communist leader Tito, some sixty years ago!

This is not the place to trace in detail how this unique episode of nation building emerged amidst various peoples who ALL of them, as neighbors of FYROM, have expressed strong reservations. It should be stated, however, that the ICG report, adding insult to injury, has raised next to the “carrot” an incredible “stick” in the direction of Greece. In arrogant language it has threatened the Greeks that if they did not agree or “insisted on overly onerous terms”, then “the U.S. and European Union states could signal their readiness to move forward without the bilateral agreement”. In simple terms, this means that these states would punish their partner and ally for trying to defend, peacefully and in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, its fundamental right to its cultural heritage and national identity.

One could only wonder whether the authors of the report — or, probably, their prompters — have mistaken the time and place for their initiatives. Theodore Roosevelt’s policy of “stick and carrot” toward the Latin American republics is a century old and neither Greece nor the European Union fit the specifications for a rerun. If the ICG fails to comprehend the sensitivities of the Greek people, it runs the risk to be transformed from a crisis preventing to a crisis spreading agency.

Indeed, the Australian Mr. Evans, a political leader of a multi-cultural country, should have realized that if FYROM, a mixture of a multitude of peoples, abandoned the Greek Macedonian name and adopted another one with the consent of its neighbors, it could well be turned into a element of peace for the entire Balkan region. But if one aims at being “an honest broker”, he/she should take into consideration both sides.


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