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March 28, 2008


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It's about the (shallow) construction of regional national identity and (probably) deep insecurities about penis size, but yeah, it's about the name.

It's a debate that makes you feel stupider for even acknowledging its existence. In fact, it makes you think worse of humanity in general.

You know the old controversy about whether Jesus had the same or a similar substance as God, where the technical term differed by one letter? Gibbon mocked it, but it actually *makes sense*. If you believe in the concepts, they're really freaking important, even worth dying for.

This, this is just dickishness. Like debating whether John Forsythe was Charlie on Charlie's Angels, or was he just a stand-in for the real guy.

Really, "penis size" comes close. It approaches that level of stupid.

But let me throw out a couple of things. One, the Greeks have a deeply constructed view of history which emphasizes certain key 'facts'. Among these are (1) the ancient Greeks invented math, philosophy, drama, and Western civilization; (2) Alexander the Great, who was just a somewhat uncultured Greek from the boonies, spread the light of Greek civilization to the world, thereby enabling, among other things, the rise of Rome, Christianity, and another wave of math, philosophy, and great art, to the lasting benefit of the entire human race; and (3) modern Greeks are the direct descendants of ancient Greece and thus have every right to bask in its reflected glory.

(N.B., it doesn't help that modern Greek history has been pretty glory-deficient. They gave Mussolini a bloody nose, but otherwise, not so much.)

Another thing to toss into the mix: in the tumultous course of the 20th century, the modern Greeks have achieved what most Balkan states only dreamed of. Viz., they've managed to eliminate several troublesome minorities almost entirely and greatly reduce and marginalize the ones that are left. Greece got away with several waves of ethnic cleansing in the last century -- the most recent in 1948 -- plus several generations of none-too-gentle forced assimilation of the minorities that survived. One of the minorities in question was -- hey! -- Slav Macedonians. There used to be a lot of them up in northern Greece. And now, hm, somehow there aren't so many... partly from the aforementioned ethnic cleansing (a lot of them picked the wrong side back in the Greek Civil War), but more because the Greek state has rather sharply discouraged Slav Macedonians from, for instance, speaking Slavic, displaying Macedonian symbols, or the like.

So, a bit of a tender spot there. I wouldn't call it a guilty conscience, exactly -- more like, how dare we notice! with a healthy dripping dollop of denial thrown in.

All that said, yeah, it's really fucking stupid. And you know what else? No Greek politician dares say so, because this issue destroyed one otherwise reasonably decent Greek government a decade or so back. I mean, the government collapsed because they weren't sufficiently hardline on this issue, and the opposition took over. So, even Greek politicians who know this is asinine -- and there are some very sharp and worldly Grek politicans -- add their voices to the baying chorus.

Damn it, now I'm depressed. Happens whenever I think about this for more than a minute. Okay, off to get the special lamp.

Doug M.

In general, your approach is accurate. Yes, it is 'penis size' stupid and physically painful to talk about.

However, the (lunatic) idea among nationalists is that Macedonia (like Kossovo, Montenegro and even Albania before we bought most of the place off) could evolve into Trojan horses filled with evil (yes, you guessed correctly) Americans or, worse, Turks. They have us circled, Custer.

All that despite the fact that "the modern Greeks have achieved what most Balkan states only dreamed of". Not only in the fashion described in the previous comment by Claudia, but in so many other ways, too. Anyway.

I think its more a matter of nationalism and the construction of national myths. Greeks have established their connection with Ancient Greece. Anything relating to Ancient Greece like Macedonia and Aleksander the Great should be associated only with Greeks and not with any other ethnicities. The Slav Macedonians are claiming symbols like these. The biggest fear of the Greeks is that if they back down now they might have part of their history to be challenged as constructed/stolen and to be claimed by their neighbours. Of course the whole issue offers a great opportunity for populists/nationalists and opportunists to rise and take advantage of the situation.

I don't know, Noel.

Aren't you the fellow who once pointed to Bernard how jealously and exclusively the people in his new habitat guard the purely geographically-defined attribute "Tejano", and how he shouldn't use it? These things are pretty universal.

When it comes to the comment that Douglas made on the modern Greek history being somewhat "glory-deficient", I'd say that the same applies to pretty much all European countries.

(You could say the same exact thing of the country that I live in, for example. "They gave Stalin a bloody nose, but otherwise, no so much".)


J. J.

Hmmm. You'll have to remind me of the context behind the "Tejano" exchange; I don't remember it.

I'd like to quote the second comment made here, however I don't know who to attribute it to: Doug Muir @ A Fistfull of Euros or Claudia @ expatria.typepad.com? Could someone please clarify?

@ daskaloakos: I'm Doug, not Claudia. If you just say "Doug Muir", some people will know me. I guess.

@Jussi, I'd say modern Greece has even less to be proud of than modern Finland. Whether "fighting the Red Army to a draw" is glorious or not, it's definitely a cut above "getting your ass kicked by the Turks after one of the dumbest campaigns in military history". Never mind, say, the brilliant success of Enosis or the statesmanlike legacy of Papandreous _fils_.

Doug M.

N.B., my affection and respect for a country is completely unrelated to its glorious history or lack thereof.

So, I'm really fond of Romania (which has few glorious moments) and have a soft spot for Albania (which has almost none).

But in the Balkans, at least, it can lead to some... creative interpretations of recent history.

Doug M.

Noel, it's in the archives. October 13th, the last year, the discussion on the José Medellin case. Here's the relevant quote:

Bernard: "I am gonna _love_ being a Tejano."

Noel: "Bernard, you can't be a Tejano. Texan, yes. Tejano, no."

Bernard: "Tejano vs. Texan, my understanding was that the former could be applied to anybody of Hispanic descent, whether or not they came through Mexico or had roots in the state prior to entry into the Union. No?
Not a biggie either way, but I'll feel odd saying 'Yo soy un Texan' to Mom. Sounds like 'Como se dice icecream en inglés?', know what I mean?"

Noel: "Thing is, in my limited El Paso-centric experience Tejanos from West Texas don't generally use 'Tejano' to apply to recent immigrants --- like, those who've only been in America for two generations --- let alone Cubano posers. But mileage varies."

Hm. Okay, so the term wasn't actually described as quite that jealous or exclusive as I remembered. Although that last comment "mileage varies" may leave some room also for those feelings.

But there are possibilities for a convergent evolution there, don't you think?

Douglas: as I said, various other European states have had historic experiences comparable to Greece, but most of them are not behaving in a similar manner towards their neighbours any more. Or at least not as consistently.

So, to rephrase the question again: what's the special Greek factor X which presumably still drives their politics? What's keeping it alive?

"Old habits die hard"? The wall just never really came down in the Balkans? Something else?

"Deeply constructed view of history" is only a partial explanation. Various other nations have managed to break off from their own, equally deeply-constructed views of history. And given the recurrent political upheavals in Greece, one would expect that there'd be stimulus for _more_ debate and historical review, especially after the '70s.

But if it's not working that way, especially in the case of Macedonia, why is it so?

"Getting your ass kicked by the Turks after one of the dumbest campaigns in military history" would be in reference to the Greco-Turkish War, no? If you're extending my analogy, you should remember the right temporal context.

As I mentioned, the Finnish Winter War would be analogous to the Greek resistance against Mussolini as that one, single "glorious" exception. But since we're now looking at the endgame of the First World War here, let's draw a comparison with the simultaneous Finnish experiences:

"Fighting one of the most murderous Civil Wars in modern European history and then getting your ass kicked by the Bolsheviks after launching one of the dumbest and most ill-organized campaigns in military history". Not exactly a laudatory note, either.

(Once again, on per capita basis, the Finnish Civil War was more destructive than either the Spanish or the Greek Civil Wars. And the Finns managed to do the killing in three months, whereas the Greek and the Spanish wars dragged on for a few years.)

When it comes to modern experiences in Greece, isn't the opposition against the military junta, for example, regarded as "glorious", then? Even the darkest moments usually have a positive flip side, no?


J. J.

'isn't the opposition against the military junta, for example, regarded as "glorious",'

It may be regarded, but the plain fact is that the junta didn't collapse until after, and because of, the Cyprus disaster. (It's rather similar to what happened in Argentina a few years later.)

N.B., I've discovered that it's an article of faith among educated liberal Greeks that the junta was /just about to/ collapse when things went south in Cyprus. You know, those student protests! They were totally going to bring The Man down!

(Educated conservative Greeks... I've only met one. He changed the subject.)

Doug M.

Any Greek with an appreciation for Hellenistic history knows that fighting over Alexander's legacy is a futile endeavor that leaves all parties weakened and liable to assimilation by an expansionistic western power.

Surely there must be some better explanation.

I do not think this has to do with penis size, probably with the brain size of people like
Mr. Muir. Looks like with the fall of Milosevic, some british "intellectuals"
probably with a degree in bs have run out of people to demonize, so they side with
the troublemakers of today. In this situation we have a new country which:
-was never called by that name until 1945, when according to the State dept the name
was invented as a pretext of grabbing greek territory
-having some 30% of a region and less than half the population of the region, decides
to take the name of the ENTIRE region. Hell, they might instead have called themselves
"Europe", they have as much relation to Europe as they do to Macedonia or Scotland for that
-Then they proceed to appropriate symbols that belong to another country and culture
-They also draft a constitution with irredentist claims against neighboring countries
Both the above are dropped after pressure, but the name remains
-They talk of a Macedonian nation, and see themselves as the ones to speak out for
rights of "Macedonians", as though somebody invited them to be their lawyer. It would be
like the African countries seeing themselves as protectors of African-Americans, Italy
as protector of Italian-Americans and so on
-Having no history of their own, they proceed to lift history from their neighbors:
Alexander from Greece, Goce Delchev from Bulgaria and Mother Teresa from Albania.
-To win american good graces, they have no problem participating in US rendition programs
-They proceed by brainwashing their population with fairy tales like "macedonians were protoslavs,
which were always there, ancient macedonians were not greeks, greeks come from subsaharan africa"
and a whole bunch of crap.
-they try to advance all this stupid propaganda abroad
-they invent nonexistent "macedonian" minorities in neighbring countries(which .... need their
legal services, obviously)
-they have no convincing answer to the greek argument that some 2,5 mil greek macedonians
, including the prime minister, also call themselves macedonians and want no relation with them.
There is no logical answer, even for people with extremely small brains, why they cannot
accept a compromise name, like "slav macedonians" or "non-greek macedonians", which
would have ended this silly story. The only possible explanation is denying the greek-macedonian
's right to identify themselves as macedonians too and irredentist claims
-they refuse to call greek macedonian cities by their name
-they harass greek truck drivers passing through when they are asked if they know what country they
have just entered and they reply the mutually accepted and also UN-accepted name, FYROM.

Ordinarily, they could have made the argument" Look, we know Alexander was greek, but we have also
been here for some 1400 years now, so we are Macedonians, as are the greek macedonians"
Yet, this is NOT what they are saying in the internet blogs at least, which is representative of what
the population believes, rather than what the diplomats can say. Ordinarily, friendly relations
would take care of any name issues. However, in this case, the slav side has been in
extremely bad faith because of:
-the original irredentist claims and symbols
-the delusional revisionist history with Alexander was one of us, greeks come from sub-saharan africa
and the rest of this crap. How the hell is this relevant to the name?
-refusal to recognize that greek macedonians are also macedonian, yet distinct from them
-an intrasigient stand of the type "we will talk, but will only accept our consitutional name
and you have to go along because the great G.W.Bush is on our side
-old greviances dating back 100 years or so. This was a time when Bulgarians(as the slav
macedonians were then called) which had settled
in Macedonia, wiping out, or having forcibly assimilated to some extent some of the existing
population, tried to slavicize the rest. This was a secret fight before the Balkan wars
(because the area was still occupied by the turks) that was won
by the usually portrayed as non-existent greek macedonians.
Subsequently there were population exchanges and another period when some
remaining slav macedonians left greek macedonia during the greek civil war, often portayed as
having been fought over the fate of slav macedonians.
In any event Greece can justifiably have a lot more greviances with huge number of
greeks massacred or evicted from Turkey, but does not pick a name like "Asia Minor".

There is no denying that Greece has been run very inefficiently, but it is the least nationalistic
country in the region and does not have genocides on its hands, unlike many neighbors.
It does not threaten any of its neighbors(unlike others), nor does it have territorial demands.
Mr. Muir's opinion of Mr. Mitsotakis(the only "serious" government ) is not shared by the
vast majority of the natives, which hold an extremely low opinion of him and its is not
because of the Macedonia issue.
Interestingly enough, this was a guy who said that "in 10 years the greeks will have forgotten
the macedonia issue", yet today it's his daughter who is the foreign minister and is protraied as stupid
or hardliner by the same people who praised her dad's positions. Mr. Muir is very pro-democracy
as long as the people vote for what he wants, including commiting suicide.

and as for Mr. malcolm, yes, South americans have protested about the america name in the past, Austria was not even allowed to protest when the Allies denied it the name "German Republic of Austria" and at any rate
no one can blame another for looking after its own affairs

Another comment on the junta and student protests: Heroism is not fighting when you know you will win, but when you know that you will probably lose. Resistance against the junta was heroic and the Cyprus issue was a result of simple treason: The junta leader was stupid enough to believe US assurances that the Turks would not intervene. Furthermore
the junta had received US weapons and resold them, so you had a military government that one would expect would first look after the army, yet the weapons depots were empty.
Even so, they repeatedly denied
commander requests to help the fight and left the units there on their own heroic fight. Why the treason of a military junta should
be a stain on a country(or two) is hard to understand. The UK is the prime champion of
IP(intellectual property) rights and has no problem labelling people who have accepted property that is the result of armed robbery with murder, "Turkish-cypriots" and push for trade. There, I am not sure if it is a question of brain size or personal interest: It is a well-known fact that a few MEPs have houses in turkish-occupied Cyprus and that Mrs. Blair has a profitable business defending Turkey.

The stupid, it burns. Doug, do you want me to erase the above? It wouldn't even be fun to mock this guy.

sure, go ahead. It's great fun having a bunch of people who have no knowledge or no wish to know of the situation, or are unable to think straight get together and make fun of others.
When anyone proves you wrong, they must be erased. Too bad the inquisition has been abolished.

btw, before you erase: The answer to the big vs small question is that it does not take big countries to create big problems. The most recent example is one political party of small and poor Lebanon causing a war with much bigger and stronger Israel. It should not be too hard to find many more examples.
In the present case there is much more to it:
granting the name, and given the crap about macedonian minority, roughly 25% of the greek population who are macedonians will have to explain to people like some posters of these blogs that no, they are not part of the "macedonian minority" and no, they have nothing to do with "macedonia", although they are Macedonian. Confusing, isn't it?

Doug's provocative -and untintelligent- rant
is not going to contribute to a solution.
I can make no sense out of any soft spot or collective guilt memory-certainely Spain has no soft spot about reclaiming southern Spain from the Arabs, the jews about reclaiming Israel, or the Dutch about reclaiming their land from the nazis for that matter.
It makes no sense to critisize Greece for being glory-deficient in WWII because they did not defeat the Axis on their own and at the same time admire those who collaborated,
like Albania and Romania.
But anyway, the main issue as I see it is
that you have two different people with the same name: Greek Macedonians(historically the first in the region) and ex-Yugoslav macedonians.
Both call themselves Macedonians. For clarity these two groups must be labelled differently. A fair compromise would be greek and ex-Yugoslav or whatever macedonians.
From what I understand ex-Yugoslav macedonians want to be called macedonians and ask (not very politely) greek macedonians to add "greek" to distinguish themselves, while they refuse to do the same
and add "yugoslav".
Greek Macedonians are under no obligation, legal, moral or whatever to grant that wish, especially since the other side is unwilling to make an equal move.
So the entire critisism looks out of place, to put it politely.

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