April 7, 2008
Greek opposition to NATO extending to Macedonia (sorry, FYROM) draws, like Serbia’s stance on Kosovo, on the historical mythmaking of communities that claim to have suffered the indignity of occupation by the Ottomans (an experience often portrayed in that part of the world as much worse than it really was).
The Greek attitude fully exploits the fact that there is no clear identification with real estate. Pre-Alexander, classical
Greece was a conglomeration of city-states. With Alexander, it became an empire which extended to
Afghanistan. Post-Alexander, it became part of someone’s else’s empire, Roman, Byzantine, then Ottoman. So the gap has had to be filled by an almost mystical sense of ‘Greekitude’ which is not even determined by language. The Greeks’ relaxed attitude also to ethnic identification is demonstrated by the cavalier description of the Macedonians they acquired in 1913 as ‘slavophone Greeks’.
Unlike their ancient homonyms, with whom they have little in common, today’s Greeks lack a sufficiently coherent identity to feel secure (maybe they should be told that none of us Europeans have a really coherent identity). So they claim, with great vehemence and against all the evidence, direct lineage with the ancient Greeks. This overlooks the fact that – according to many people, including a number of properly informed Greeks – they are more Slav than Greek. To be more precise, Slav on the east side of the peninsula, Albanian on the other…
Even Greeks, when they feel reasonable, will admit to their uncertain origins. The author Nicholas Gage, a Greek despite his name, concedes that for the most part “modern Greeks are the product of centuries of racial mixing, and the invasions by the Turks, Slavs, Franks, and Italians can be read in their faces.” Not to mention the Albanians.
The classical Greeks didn’t have to worry about this kind of thing. What they were was evident to everyone, including themselves, even if Philip of Macedonia’s wife – Alexander the Great’s mother – hailed from Epirus which, in terms of the modern map of Europe, straddles Albania as well as northwest
In any case Philip and Alexander were, as Macedonians, not exactly kosher by Athenian standards. No less than Demosthenes spoke of “Philip – a man who not only is no Greek, and in no way akin to the Greeks, but is not even a barbarian from a respectable country – no, a pestilent fellow of Macedon, a country from which we never even get a decent slave.” In fact most of Alexander’s Greek contemporaries viewed the Macedonian and his cohorts with fear and loathing: they had reason to do so since he snuffed out the fragile flame of Athenian democracy.
Yet brushing aside Demosthenes’ judgement and the record of history, today’s Greeks consider Philip and Alexander to be Greek enough by contemporary standards to justify all the fuss about FYROM, the Star of Vergina, etc. The rest of us are still barbaros, barbarians.Author : Richard Hill