4.2 Greece: The Macedonian issue in the framework of contemporary social reality

Ιn this part we will refer to the connections between the political condition in Greece and the rise of contemporary Greek nationalism. This will be done in relation with the so called “Macedonian issue” but also there will be a more general talk on other aspects of Greek nationalism. At first we should say that the prism of social competition is not enough to explain state politics. The strategy of a state is being formulated through a complex network of interstate power relations and should take under consideration the entire political scenery as it is shaped in the Balkans as well as a European-global level. Nevertheless, if we take under consideration the specific terms in which social competition evolves in the beginning of the 1990s we can attempt a satisfactory reading of the way the Greek state dealt with the “Macedonian issue”.

The end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s has been marked by a rise of social conflicts in Greece, conflicts that followed the period of social consensus of the 1980s and threatened to provoke general agitation. There were pupils occupying their schools that with great time length, dynamic strikes and occupations of working places60 during the first years of the 90s. Confronted with the threat of social unrest, the “national danger” from the North came as a first class direct solution for the state formation. Through a well orchestrated apocalyptic news broadcasting – that found eager ears in the majority of Greek society, a society that is unfortunately “sensitive” to national matters – Greek national unity begun to come back to its feet. In a short period Greek society has been convinced for the importance of the “Macedonian issue” and instead of going to the streets to sharpen social competition it ended up filling up the cities with white and blue flags and suns of Vergina.

At the period 1991-1992 the Greek society was fanaticized by the danger of «Skopians» and went massively to the streets to declare the greekhood of Macedonia. The state politics has been far from modest and restrained. The entire state mechanism along with the church and all kinds of institutionalized authorities was mobilized for the sake of “national awakening”. The media bombarded society with nationalist braggings, schools transferred their pupils to the rallies in school parade formations, church did the same with its audience, the intellectuals of the system spilled tones of ink so as to rewrite history, archaeologist brought to light undisputable evidence that proved that “Voukefalas is not a Zastava”, and the slogan “we accept no monkeys” became popular referring to the “false state” of Republic of Macedonia. Those who tried to speak about this issue in an alternative way were blamed to be national traitors and were marginalized. All political forces were put together to the common national cause with the left61 being either numb and hesitant either resort to anti-Americanism, either close itself to a guilty silence.

The social consensus could not be build only around the Macedonian issue. Nationalistic fanatism can not remain undiminished perpetually. On the one hand, the regulation of social relations was achieved through the 1990s with the devaluation and exploitation of the migration flow (mainly from Albania and ex-USSR countries) that was coming in Greece and was also embedded with the outbreak of consumerism culture and lifestyle. On the other hand, the Macedonian issue had been a perfect opportunity for the state to face and/or to halt temporarily social competition.

As far as the immigration issue is concerned: in the beginning of the 90s there has been a change of paradigm for the greek social formation. The basic aspects of this change has been the expansion of capital to the Balkan markets and the mass influx of immigrants (two sides of the same coin) and οn the other hand the promotion of reformation measures in every part of social life. The devaluation of immigrants lives has been (and still is) an essential term for their function as a cheap labour force. This evolution took place in a time   that, as we said before, social movements begun to develop and the profit of capital was diminishing. The upcoming racism, lifestyle and the nationalistic delirium concerning the “Macedonian issue” helped to cover up social divisions and competition. All social dead ends of the Greek social formation, all the symbols of fears and expectations of the “always-wronged good old Greek patriots that want to be a part of a new powerful Greece” embodied themselves on the figure of the immigrant62.

During these first years the exploitation of the immigrants was unofficial and brutal in its form, taking place in the agriculture, construction and sex-industry sectors. Afterwards, we have a shift to a more “logic management” of immigration by the state. Public debates concerning the phenomenon begun using key words such as “assimilation”, “antiracism” and “social sensitivity”, not in favour of a more liberal and humanistic approach but to promote the interest of the greek economy. What really matters is always the profitability of capital. This is the interest by which any legalization takes place, the interest that corresponds to “the needs of the labour market” and gives the scientific answer to the question “how many immigrants do we need and where”.

In the beginning of 2000 there has been a new social mobility that begun to develop in Greece. The mobilization against pension’s reform and the students’ occupation movement signalled that something new was coming to surface, along with the anti-globalization and anti-war movement, but without a general social explosion in site. On one hand, these movements did not seem to display a total contestation to the system but demonstrated a new kind of radicalization. On the other hand, what we can say about this period is that this equivocal evolution of social competition dictated a restrained attitude by the Greek state as far as the Macedonian issue is concerned. This was supported by the “growth” of the Greek economic indices which developed a fake sense of superiority against neighbouring states. This “fake growth” was due to the liberalization of the markets (privatization of public enterprises), exploitation of the immigrants, expansion of the banking system (cheap loans), expansion of the Greek capital, mostly in the Balkans, capital flows by E.U. funds and private capital mobility inside the E.U. Mobilization such as 91-92 did not find the proper ground but perhaps was also not necessary. The state did not mobilize its mechanisms like it did in the past but we can say it conserved its strength waiting for the evolution of events.

 Moreover, during these years, Greece achieving the status quo of the “great Balkan state”, dragged the society (especially the petit bourgeois) into the illusion of a “powerful Greece”. The peak of this “modern and powerful Greek phantasmagoria”, was the Olympic Games of 2004, which was mostly paid by a lot of immigrant blood63.  The “Greek superiority” combined with the Greek “Euro 2004” and Eurovision successes, gave a boost to a form of nationalism that could be defined as a “diffusive social fascism” and it expressed itself fully in September 200464. A more refined patriotic-nationalist tendency gained ground in the society as soon as the economic bubble deflated. The rise of unemployment, the deregulation of labour market and the omens of the upcoming crisis, gave a good reason for the immigrants to be placed in an official hostage situation in order to manage their movement-workforce in terms of reproduction of capitalist system. Also, what is being succeeded is the control of local population through the generalization of fear about the “foreigners” who “steal our jobs, rape and kill”. What happens is that conservative parts of the society foster fascist practices that, in general, go along with the interest of the bosses who want immigrants to be enduringly disciplined and devalued.

This patriotic-nationalistic social tendency celebrated the veto which the Greek state posed on macedonian’s state’s nato membership application, an act as of might and that of a political step up to the club of the powerful. However the greek dream had already turned into a nightmare for the majority of the people. It is the time when the political scenery changes completely. We witness austerity measures, the new memorandum, mass demonstrations and coalitions with the police in many city square’s. along with all these, after 2009 there is an intensification of the fascist pogroms leading to an attempt of a social establishment of their mentality in the neighbourhoods with the collaboration of the police that raid immigrants’ houses, torture immigrants, etc. There has been an effort by a fascist “citizens group” formed by extreme right winged racists and nazis, with the police having the lead, to establish a type of Apartheid in the square of Agios Panteleimonas. To sum up, what we see is that racists and the state are trying to artificially create a field of racist brutality and police occupation.

To conclude, nationalism, xenophobia and racism are constant elements of the greek society in this period. Nationalism feeds and remains a dominant ideology. During the last 20 years the Greek petit-bourgeois found across the Macedonian borders (and those of the rest Balkan neighbouring states) shopping “paradises”, gambling opportunities, cheap sex and plentiful cheap pleasure so as to affirm in the most brutal and cynical way his/hers national superiority. He/she brought with him/her not only the old inferiority complex from Greece, but also a national revanchism for “those skopians who want to be called Macedonians”. Our expectations, fears, hopes and dreams about the evolvement of the Macedonian issue remain an open issue for debate.



60 Indicative we refer to the public bus sector strike and the strikes in the clothes factories of Peiraiki Patraiki and the mines of Mandoudi. Back

61 Apart from anarchist/antiauthoritarian groups and small parts of radical extra-parliamentary left, there was no clear antinationalist-internationalist opinion expressed. The official left decided not to confront the nationalistic core fearing of being marginalized. The left wing anti-imperialists were competing with the rightwing nationalist about “who is the real patriot”! Back

62 The criminalization of the Albanian immigrants by the mass media at the certain time, clearly demonstrate effort for achievement of social control. Back

63 Over 10 immigrant workers died on “labour accidents” during the construction of the Olympic facilities. Back

64 At that time a generalized pogrom against Albanians took place in the entire Greek region as a result of the defeat of the Greek national football team from the Albanian one. Back


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