Reply to Article by Craig Whitlock
July 28, 2009
It is my extreme disappointment at the editorial standards of Craig Whitlock and the Washington Post that motivated me to send this letter to you in reply to the article “Another Rift Between Greece, Macedonia – Both Lay Claim to Alexander the Great” that was published on your newspaper on July 28, 2009.
While the correspondent was reporting from Skopje, the capital of F.Y.R.O.M, that does not excuse him from failing to educate himself more in depth with the issue at hand and take an impartial position, rather than one that is one-sided. In this day and age, a plethora of objective historical records and foreign policy papers are accessible at the click of a button. There is no excuse for a reputable publication such as the Washington Post to present such a biased article where seven out of eight sources cited are arguing on the side of FYROM, where all of these sources have an active role in current politics and none of them is a recognized impartial source of objective history.
On Geographical Boundaries
If one does examine history, one will see that Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians were located in a region that covered what is present-day part of northern Greece, part of southern Bulgaria and part of southern FYROM. Although this leaves a lot of wiggle room for arguments, the ancient boundary lines argument is mostly moot. The area of the Balkans, has seen migration, wars and population exchanges in the last twenty three centuries to an unprecedented degree. Just the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 and WWII oversaw massive population exchanges, migration and forced or attempted change of cultural heritage upon the local populations. One simply cannot compare geographical borders of the area at 300 B.C. and now to draw any intelligent conclusions on who are the descendants of Alexander the Great. If one could rationalize national identity and territorial claims based on who resided in a particular area many years ago, we would have a world full of conflict and historical revisionism. Imagine a world where Saudi Arabia is raising claims on Spain and Israel raising claims in Poland. And one would only have to go back a few centuries for either of those, not a full twenty-three!
On National Identity:
That in turn takes us to cultural heritage as a determinant of true descendants of the ancient Macedonians. Modern day FYROM citizens are of Slavic origin. The Slavic people did not descend into the Balkan peninsula until approximately 600 A.D, about ten centuries after Alexander The Great. As a result, in terms of blood lines it’s impossible to relate these people with the ancient Macedonians. Also, the cultural heritage of the ancient Macedonians, although not identical to the identity of the Athenians, the Spartans of the Corinthians, was clearly Hellenistic. They spoke a Doric Dialect and there are thousands of inscriptions and coins attesting to that. They also participated in the Ancient Olympic Games, where only men of Greek origin were allowed to participate. According to historian Pausanias, the Macedonians participated in the Anphyctionic League, which was an association of ancient Greek tribes. So, if their language, their sports, their religion and their sense of belonging was aligned with the other Greek city-states, wouldn’t that make them Ancient Greeks as well?
Today’s Realities & Politics:
History aside, the most disturbing angle of Mr. Whitlock’s article is not his failure to investigate historical sources but his failure to read between the lines into the motives of current politics and report both sides of the coin objectively. Instead, he lists a set of deriding arguments towards the Greek position on behalf of FYROM-based figures that currently make policy. I hope that his unfair reporting is due to lack of knowledge of regional politics rather than an attempt from Washington to wrist-twist a longstanding ally into agreeing to NATO expansion without addressing an important legitimate issue. The latter scenario would touch on conspiracy theory and I would not like to think this way about the Post.
As Mr. Whitlock states, the truth is that FYROM is indeed a poor landlocked country in the north of Greece. Due to historical events, Greece is indeed the rich neighbor to the south. In addition, Greece gained territorially after all the last major conflicts in the region (Balkan Wars, WWI & WWII). Greek population is declining, yet the country maintains a cohesive national identity and a functioning government that does not need to resort to distractions in order to keep civil strife from taking place within.
On the flip side, FYROM is a relatively young country emerged from Tito’s Federation after its collapse. While the rest of Old Yugoslavia was chopped up along ethnic lines in a brutal civil war, FYROM was protected by NATO’s security umbrella. It’s a multinational state comprised of 65% so-called “Ethnic Macedonians”, 25% Albanians , 4% Turks and 6% others. (2002 Census Data). It is a country still trying to navigate through and develop a national consciousness and identity. The destabilizing force is not Greece, as Mr. Ivanov states in the article. The destabilizing force lies within the country: an underperforming economy in conjunction with two large national groups opposing each other. The governing so-called Ethnic Macedonians, and the minority Albanians with a sponsor country just to the west ready to protect them.
As a result, the politicians at Skopje perceive their interest aligned with “manufacturing” a national identity and selling it as fast as they can to their constituents in order to maintain order and prevent civil strife. They are not the first or the last to have attempted this. Tito did.
There is nothing wrong with trying to keep civil war from taking place. In fact, I see it as a noble cause. History however teaches us that this is the wrong way to go about it. It is through economic prosperity that societies progress and tribal instincts subside, not through forced indoctrination. In addition, the fact that Greece is the rich neighbor to the south does not give a carte blanche to the government in Skopje to steal a part of Greek identity and repackage it as its own. Instead of trying to export its internal crisis and cry wolf while pointing to external enemies, FYROM should try to expand its economy, work with Greece to encourage foreign direct investment into the country and accept the fact that it can be a multinational state and still prosper.
Indeed, accession into NATO and the EU will be stabilizing forces for the country. It guarantees that NATO forces will stay in the country for quite some time ready to act should any civil conflict arise. Entry into the EU will only improve economic conditions. It is therefore to the best interest of FYROM to stop revising history, negotiate in good faith with Greece and stop making unfounded claims. The road to Brussels goes through Athens in this case and if FYROM decides to take it, we will all be winners.
The American Hellenic Council strongly encourages you to write to the Editor of the Washington Post regarding this article and its lack of journalistic impartiality.
In addition, we encourage you to contact your US Representative to educate them about this issue and urge them to support the existing resolutions about FYROM in the Senate and the House.
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