4.1 Republic of Macedonia: Nationalism and all it conceals

Last year Republic of Macedonia has celebrated 20 years of independence, but in reality there is nothing to celebrate. First of all we must mention that the statehood itself is not a least reason for any kind of celebration at all. Even though independence is a big word and an independent state can sound appealing, let’s not forget that the state system is created in order to protect the interests of the elite, and in the same time it oppresses the majority. Second, the economic reality just adds fuel to the fire. The living standard of the vast majority of the population is going down or it is stagnant, unemployment rate is, with exception of Kosovo, the highest in Europe, the level of relative poverty is around 31%, the workers’ rights are constantly reduced by laws and violated in practice, and the social benefits for the weaker members of the society are constantly reduced. The class differences are also skyrocketing55.

No matter how bad this situation is, the people in general are not very active to try to change it. One of the main reasons for this is the constant use of the “national issues” to distract the people’s attention from the real problems. There are potential disputes with every neighbouring people, and they are often used by the Macedonian nationalists to keep the “national issues” high on the public agenda. Once, the Greeks are those who are “threatening us”, then the Albanians, if not them, the Bulgarians, and sometimes we are reminded by the nationalists that even Serbians are not so positive in their relation towards Republic of Macedonia. For Macedonian nationalists, as for all nationalists, always the others are the ones who seek problems and make troubles. And, as in the other countries, if such mentality is imposed to the people, then you can exploit them, you can rob them, you can do to them whatever you want!

Concerning the attitudes towards Greece, the last 20 years can be divided in three periods, the first one, from 1991 to 1995, the second one from 1995 to 2008, and the third one from 2008 until today.

During the first period, in the early 1990-ties the country was threatened by the possibility of war being spread to the country from the rest of former Yugoslavia, which was already paying high prices for the nationalistic based politics. Besides that, the economic situation was already bad and it was constantly aggravating. In such a situation, the government didn’t have the luxury to complicate the situation further, aggravating the relations with Greece. The Greek blocking of the membership of Republic of Macedonia in the international organizations, the 1992 unilateral embargo and especially the much longer 1994-1995 embargo just helped the local politicians to represent the Greek part as the bad guy in the situation56. In the same time, Macedonia was fertile soil for creating local oligarchy through smuggling businesses. This first period was concluded with constitutional changes and the signing of the Interim Agreement with Greece in 1995.

During the second period from 1995 to 2008, there are not actual changes on political level. There was a certain lack of the need to spread anti-Greek mood among the people and, in the same time, the differences on the name issue were put aside in order not to interfere in “improving good business relations“. In its orientation to sell everything that is state or public ownership, the governments in this period needed foreign “investors”, including Greek ones. Since the Greek capital was quite interested in the privatisation process, it was counterproductive to steer anti-Greek mood among the people. From its side, the elite, the political and economic one, was interested in privatisation process, not only because they were convinced that private ownership is more competitive, but also in order to get rich in this process. And they got rich. The present significant class differences have origin in the overwhelmingly criminal privatisation process in those years.

However nationalism towards Greece and nationalism in general did exist in Republic of Macedonia in this period57. These were also years of serious tensions between Macedonians and Albanians living in Republic of Macedonia. Also, concerning Greece, it should be mentioned that the right wing parties, then in opposition, were steering anti-Greek mood58. In the meantime, people were (and still are) exposed to the latent effect of the official historiography which was (and still is) producing nationalist stereotypes and hatred towards the neighbouring peoples. Far more interested in presenting “politically correct” picture of history instead of presenting the historical events and persons as accurately as possible, the official historiography spreads some “truths” and attitudes which people accept at early age through education and which, because of that, are hard to be rejected. For example, presenting the map of the whole geographical region Macedonia as (once) ethnographic map of the Macedonians. In such way, people mostly are unaware that they are becoming victims of the typical nationalist presentation of the maps of greater statehood as maps of the ethnic territories. All of this is enriched with verbal constructions like the renaming of the airport near Skopje into Alexander the Great, the statue of the “Warrior on horse” in the main square of the city etc.

The ever-growing nationalism, which reached its climax after 2008 and the Bucharest59 veto, is a result of the fact that the radical neo-liberal policies prolonged the social differences, deregulated the labour relations, degraded the welfare state and as expected didn’t bring economic recovery, as so happens today in Greece. For sure, the capitalists profited from the government measures, but the life of the common people didn’t improve. So, as a consequence of the failures on economic plan, the government has turned to nationalism, as a proven and effective method at hand to every government to avert the attention of the people from the real problems. And behind the curtains of nationalist mythology, while the people are entertained by the shallow and simplified stories from the past, capitalists are getting richer because of the reduction of taxes and salary contributions, and also because of the almost undisturbed violation of workers’ rights. Moreover, while the nationalist grotesques are continuing, the poverty level has risen, even the safety at work became a problem, the biggest trade union federation was taken over by pro-government people in a virtual coup, democracy become threatened, as well as freedom of speech…

Such a situation suggests that we must finally understand that the national myth is a tool of disorientation. And this strategy is one of the main reasons why the establishment in both countries, as everywhere, is supporting nationalism and is hoping that the disorientated people will not open their eyes and see the awful reality behind the nationalist phantasmagorias. We should always bear in mind how this method of manipulation works and that we fight the concrete cases of nationalism in all states. Nationalism coming from one side stimulates the same thing on the other side. However, the same happens with antinationalism.



55 The workers who receive the legal minimum wage of around 130 euros per month should have to work unbelievable 39 years to earn the salary which the manager with the highest salary receives for just one month! Back

56 During these embargoes, the nationalists wanted Republic of Macedonia to introduce an embargo to Greece too, but since the smugglings interests were many, the government restrained itself from taking measures to even the score.Back

57 It is worth mentioning that the first disciples of the principles of nationalism were the Slavic-speaking political refugees of the Greek civil war followed by their families, who the last sixty years have been residing in the Republic of Macedonia. Their demands over restitution of their Greek citizenship, their properties or the respective compensations are by all means reasonable. The only paradox is that those whose parents fought or sympathized with the Left during the Greek civil war became one of the most vigorous nationalists.Back

58 In the beginnings of the 1990s, the former leader of VMRO DPMNE, Ljupcho Georgievski, even said that his party will held its next congress in Thessaloniki Back

59 In the NATO summit.Back


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    • Τριαντάφυλλος Σφυρής on Wednesday December 26th, 2012 at 11:17 PM
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    Συγχαρητήρια για την προσπάθεια κοινής δράσης με τους γείτονες γα την αντιμετώπιση του εθνικισμού των δύο πλευρών. Είναι ένα καλό πρώτο βήμα. Μόνο με κοινή δράση όλων των πλευρών μπορεί να καταπολεμηθεί ο εθνικισμός και η μισαλλοδοξία. Μόνο η κοινή δράση μπορεί να ανατρέψει τα στερεότυπα για τον «άλλο». Όταν η κοινή γνώμη διαπιστώσει ότι και στην «άλλη» πλευρά υπάρχει ταυτόχρονη αντίδραση για να δικά της στερεότυπα, θα σταματήσει να θεωρεί τις αντιεθνικιστικές δράσεις ως εθνική προδοσία.

    Μερικές ιδέες προσωπικές:

    Α) Για να ολοκληρωθεί η προσπάθεια θα πρέπει να επεκταθεί και με την συνεργασία μελών από την Βουλγαρία, την Σερβία και την Αλβανία. Γιατί το πρόβλήμα του εθνικισμού στην Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας είναι πολύ πιο σοβαρό σε ότι έχει να κάνει με τον σέρβικό, αλβανικό και κυρίως τον βουλγαρικό εθνικισμό. Ειδικά με τον βουλγαρικό εθνικισμό και μεγαλοϊδεατισμό, το πρόβλημα είναι και το σοβαρότερο. Διότι ενώ το πεδίο σύγκρουσης με τον ελληνικό εθνικισμό είναι η διεκδίκηση της κληρονομιάς των αρχαίων μακεδόνων και των βασιλιάδων της Φιλίππου και Αλεξάνδρου, όπως πολύ σωστά το έχετε αναλύσει στο κείμενό σας και οι δύο πλευρές και συμφωνείτε, το πεδίο σύγκρουσης με τον βουλγαρικό εθνικισμό είναι η διεκδίκηση της κληρονομιάς πολύ πρόσφατων ιστορικών γεγονότων και προσώπων, και δεν ξέρω πόσο εύκολο είναι να συμφωνήσουν οι δύο πλευρές για να τα ξεπεράσουν. Είναι π.χ. το Ίλιντεν και οι Γκότσε Ντέλτσεφ και Γιάνε Σαντάνσκι. Στην Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας θεωρούνται ως μακεδόνες ήρωες που αγωνίστηκαν για την απελευθέρωση των μακεδόνων από τον οθωμανικό ζυγό (Ίλιντεν) και την ελληνική επιρροή (μακεδονικός αγώνας) ενώ στη Βουλγαρία θεωρούνται βούλγαροι ήρωες που αγωνίστηκαν για την απελευθέρωση των βουλγάρων από τον οθωμανικό ζυγό (Ίλιντεν) και την ελληνική επιρροή (μακεδονικός αγώνας). Είναι π.χ. ο τσάρος Σαμουήλ, που στην Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας θεωρείται αυτοκράτορας του Μακεδονικού Μεσαιωνικού Κράτους και επιδεικνύεται με εθνική υπερηφάνεια το κάστρο του στην Οχρίδα, ενώ στην Βουλγαρία θεωρείται αυτοκράτορας του Δυτικού Βουλγαρικού Μεσαιωνικού Κράτους. Γι΄ αυτό και θεωρών ότι ο κίνδυνος στην Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας δεν προέρχεται από τον ελληνικό εθνικισμό αλλά από τον βουλγαρικό. Και όπως πολύ σωστά λέτε στο κείμενό σας, η ανακίνηση των εθνικιστικών ζητημάτων στην Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας που έχουν σχέση με την Ελλάδα, γίνεται κάθε φορά που θέλουν να στρέψουν αλλού την προσοχή. Η αντιπαράθεση με τον ελληνικό εθνικισμό για τον Φίλιππο και τον Αλέξανδρο είναι μια κάπως ανώδυνη και εύκολη διέξοδος, ενώ η αντιπαράθεση με τον βουλγαρικό εθνικισμό για τους Ντέλτσεφ και Σαντάσκι ανοίγει μεγάλες πληγές.

    Β) Συμφωνώ απόλυτα που στο ελληνικό κείμενο αναφέρεστε σε Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας και όχι σε FYROM, και για τους κατοίκους της σε Μακεδόνες χωρίς εισαγωγικά, διότι οφείλουμε να αναφερόμαστε στους «άλλους» με το όνομα που επέλεξαν οι ίδιοι για να ονομάζονται.

    Γ) Οι εθνικιστικοί κύκλοι όταν αναφέρονται σε τοπωνύμια περιοχών εκτός του κράτους τους, δεν χρησιμοποιούν την επίσημη σύγχρονη ονομασία τους, αλλά την ονομασία τους στη γλώσσα τους, θέλοντας έτσι να υπονοήσουν ότι οι περιοχές αυτές είναι αλύτρωτες που κάποτε πρέπει να αποσπασθούν από το γειτονικό κράτος και να ενωθούν με τον φυσικό τους εθνικό κορμό. Έτσι π.χ. ονομάζουν την Μπίτολα ως Μοναστήρι και αντίστοιχα την Φλώρινα ως Λέριν. Το κείμενό σας (ελληνικό και μακεδονικό) απέφυγε τέτοιες αναφορές αλλά όχι με απόλυτη συνέπεια. Στο ελληνικό π.χ. κείμενο η χρήση της ελληνικής ονομασίας Μοναστήρι, είναι σωστή όταν αφορά παλαιότερη ιστορική περίοδο, τότε δηλ. που η Μπίτολα ονομάζονταν επίσημα Μοναστήρι δηλ. κατά την οθωμανική κυριαρχία, (βλ. σελίδες 23, 25 και 63 ), αλλά λάθος όταν αφορά την σύγχρονη εποχή (βλ. σελίδα 31 στην μέση, ενώ κάτω χρησιμοποιείται σωστά μέσα σε παρένθεση). Αντίστοιχα στο μακεδονικό κείμενο η χρήση π.χ. της σλαβικής ονομασίας Солун αντί Σελανίκ ή Θεσσαλονίκη είναι λάθος γιατί σε καμιά χρονική περίοδο δεν υπήρξε τέτοια επίσημη ονομασία (σελ. 9 και 25 σημείωση 25). Αλλά και όταν χρησιμοποιείται το Θεσσαλονίκη αναφέρεται ως Тесалоника και όχι ως Тесалоники (σελ. 34). Πιο χαρακτηριστική είναι η αναφορά στην σελ. 31 των σύγχρονων πόλεων Лерин и Битола (Флорина и Манастир) ενώ έπρεπε να αναφέρει Флорина и Битола (Лерин и Манастир). Θεωρώ ότι η μη σωστή χρήση των τοπωνυμίων, έστω και άθελα, δίνει τροφή στον εθνικισμό. Ελέγξτε προσεκτικά τα δύο κείμενα και απαλείψτε τέτοιες αναφορές.

    Και πάλι συγχαρητήρια για το βήμα που κάνατε. Η ξερίζωση του εθνικισμού θέλει μεγάλες προσπάθειες και τέτοιες συνεργασίες. Αν χρειαστείτε την βοήθειά μου, θεωρείστε την δεδομένη.

    Δυστυχώς τα αγγλικά μου δεν είναι τόσο καλά για να κάνω μετάφραση του κειμένου.

    Τριαντάφυλλος Σφυρής

    Congratulations for this joint effort to act with the neighbours in order to face both sides of nationalism. It is a first good step. Only by the joint effort of all sides can nationalism and intolerance be fought. Only common action can revert the stereotypes about the “other”. When public opinion realizes that there is a simultaneous reaction in the “other” side for its own stereotypes, will it stop considering antinationalist actions as national treason.

    Some personal statements

    A) In order for it to be complete, this effort should expand also with the collaboration of members from Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania. Thus, the problem of nationalism in the Republic of Macedonia is much more serious as concerns serbia, albanian, but mainly bulgarian nationalism. Especially as far as bulgarian nationalism is concerned, the problem is the most serious one. Because, while the claim of ancient macedonians and the kings Filip and Aleksander, as you have analysed in your texts both sides in a very correct way, the field of conflict with bulgarian nationalism is located in the claim of much more recent historical events and personalities, and I don’t know how easy it would be for both sides to agree and get over them. This has to do, for example, with Iliden and Gotse Deltsev and Giane Sadanski. In the Republic of Macedonia they are considered to be macedonian heroes who fought for the liberation of macedonians from the ottoman rule (Iliden) and the greek influence (macedonian struggle) while in Bulgaria they are considered to be Bulgarians eroes who fought for the liberation of macedonians from the ottoman rule (Iliden) and the greek influence (macedonian struggle). For example, czar Samuil is considered to be in the Republic of Macedonia as emperor of the Macedonian Medieval State and his castle is being shown off with national pride in Ohrid, while in Bulgaria he is considered to be the emperor of the west Bulgarian Medieval State. That’s why they believe that the danger for Republic of Macedonia does not come from Greece but from Bulgaria. And also, as you mention correctly in your text, the stirring of nationalist issues in the Republic of Macedonia concerning Greece, happens every time they want to turn the attention elsewhere. The confrontation with greek nationalism and Philip and Aleksander is a much more painless and consists an easy way out, while the confrontation with bulgarian nationalism and Deltsef and Sandanski opens big wounds.

    B) I completely agree that in the greek text you refer to Republic of Macedonia and not FYROM, as well as to its inhabitants as Macedonians without brackets, because we should refer to the “others” by the name that they have chosen for themselves.

    C) When nationalists refer to toponyms of regions that are outside their states, they do not use the official modern naming but the names from their languages. In this way they are trying to suggest that this regions are “enslaved” and they should be detached from the neighbour state in order to unite with their natural nationalist core. So, for example, they name Bitola as Monastir and Florina as Lerin. In your texts you have avoided such references but without complete consistency. In the greek text the usage of the greek naming Monastir, is correct as concerns the older historical period, when Bitola was officially named as Monastir, which was during the Ottoman Empire (see pages 23, 25 and 63) but wrongly as concerns the modern period (see page 31 in the middle, while underneath it is used correctly inside a parenthesis. In the same way, in the macedonian text the usage for example of the Slavic naming Солун instead of Selanic or Thessaloniki is wrong because in no historical period has there been such and official naming (page 9 and 25 footnote 25). But when the word Thessaloniki is used it is refered as Тесалоника and not Тесалоники (page. 34). Μore common is the refernce (page 31) of modern cities Лерин и Битола (Флорина и Манастир) while they should have been written as Флорина и Битола (Лерин и Манастир). I believe that the non-correct use of toponyms, even unwillingly, gives food to nationalism. Check carefully both texts and correct these references.

    And again congratulations for the step you made. The eradication of nationalism requires substantial effort and these kinds of collaborations. If you need my help, please take it for granted.

    Unfortunately, my English is not well enough to translate this text.

    Triantafyllos Sfyrhs
    From Ksanthi