The Eastern Question: Letter to the Economist

April 18, 2008 at 3:28 pm (Politics) (, , , )

Dear Sirs:

As usual, whenever an article about Greece is printed in the Economist, I am led to wonder what your sources are. Whatever the topic, your articles are uniformly one-sided and show a stunning lack of knowledge of the reality of any given situation.

Nobody knows better than Greek businessmen what “great strides” have been made in Macedonia in the last few years.  They are the chief investors in the country’s burgeoning economy.

And it is laughable to fault “Greek nationalists” for Greece’s veto; I do not recall any other time in which Greece’s polarizing political parties have been so unified on a single issue.  From the far-left to the far-right everyone has been supportive of the largely unpopular government’s actions.

Certainly, this unity should give some food for thought to any journalist covering the situation.  I know that regional politics are small fry compared to US elections, wars, food shortages, and the general “big picture”, but if you insist on covering and offering opinions on them, you should be a bit more well-read and less trigger-happy with your analysis.

Nothing is ever so simple as it seems.  Your article (All at sea, April 10th 2008) is saying, in effect, look at this nice little country which is trying its best to become like us civilized types, and stingy, nasty Greece won’t let it.

I was vaguely of that opinion; more specifically, I felt it logical for a province that has known itself by a certain name to keep that name upon asserting its statehood. Usually, countries change their name only if they had been oppressed by the previous regime.

However, I cannot help but find it disturbing, when symbols of another day and age (and historically ascribed to the heritage of Greece) adopted by this country as their own. Why the flag of Vergina? (Vergina is a city situated in Greece; the tombs of Philip and the revamped Macedonian museum are there.) Why should the current prime minister lay a wreath in front of a map showing Macedonia’s border reaching to the Aegean? Why do their history books state that Pella is not the Pella of Greece (Philip II’s birthplace) but a valley located inside the modern-day Macedonian Republic?

These actions do not point to a squeaky-clean little country trying to create a bright future for itself.  Rather, it seems like their discovery of American support (who are, in turn, scrabbling madly to find new yes-men in the area) has led them to become cocksure, arrogant, and disrespectful of their neighbors and investors.

I understand the need for a national identity, and I am sure that Alexander had close ties to the region;  but he went all the way to India, and had a particular regard for Persia. He belongs to everybody that he conquered; including the Egyptians, who are very proud of their own city of Alexandria.

There cannot have a dearth of history between the 3rd century BC and 1992; true, the region was occupied by many and never existed as an independent country. Still, there must be something else (especially for the ethnic Albanian population) to use as a national symbol, to bring this new country the internal harmony it so obviously needs.

As to the events of 1948, Greece was undergoing a brutal civil war at the time, and any one suspected or found to be a communist was either killed or deported or jailed by the government forces. Thousands of families of every ethnic origin have tragic tales of woe to tell regarding this black period of Greek history. (As do those families who were destroyed in 1922, 1913, and so on.)

I can only assume that because the Greek communists were acting upon their dreams of the USSR as an ally (they had no idea that Stalin had agreed -under the 1944 Percentages Agreement- to give Greece to the UK’s sphere of influence) that Greek Slavs were more attracted to the Communist way of thinking than the Nationalist-Royalist; thus, more of them were hurt by the eventual Nationalist triumph and backlash.

But this is the Balkans. We who live here know how quickly one can turn from aggressor to victim and back again; and we know the Ancient Greek, Latin, Turkish, Pontic, and Slavic names of any city you care to ask us about. Our history is intertwined, and continues to be so; to ignore that fact is hypocritical to the extreme. This is the reality of the sad, confusing, and exciting past of the Balkans.

And that is why Macedonia’s posturing and self-righteousness strikes me as a completely cynical attempt to take advantage of the current American favor they enjoy. They must at all costs keep the country together and not show the cracks to NATO and the EU; what better way to than to shift attention to the masquerade of who can claim Alexander the Great as their own?

I take my hat off to them, for they are proving extremely adept at playing politics. Certainly better than Greece ever has. So, by all means, let them try to win Alexander; just don’t condemn Greece for playing the game with equal intensity.


dajieblack’s two cents on the question of Macedonia has been sent to the desk of my favorite-magazine-in-the-world’s editor…. she also posted it on the online version as a comment to the original article….I await nationalist attacks (of either country) with glee!

April 30, 2008: dajieblack is sad.  nobody at the economist’s forum wanted to play with her.  they preferred debating cyril’s, methodius’s and bucephalus’s origins. with horrid grammar. sniff.

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