The past is ours. Images of Greek Macedonia, Kostas Kotsakis

A quest for continuity: the formation of modern Greek national identity

The complicated issue of the formation of modern Greek national identity has been the subject of recent discussions that place the Greek experience within the general argument of the construction of modernity (Herzfeld 1987; Friedman 1992). Following a somewhat different lead, modern Greek historiography in recent years has examined ethnic collectivities laying more emphasis on the circumstances and conditions for the construction of national identity. To this end modern Greek historiography is approaching the subject, not from the synchronic view of the deconstructionist, but from the diachronic position of the historian (e.g. Kitromilidis 1997; Koliopoulos 1997b; Veremis 1997). In this attempt the new Greek historians are furthering the work of the previous generation of historians such as Svoronos and Dimaras (Kitroef 1997).

According to Kitromilidis (1997) the origins of nationalism in the Balkans must be sought during the period of Enlightenment when, through a process of cultural change, national consciousness was imprinted on the identities of different groups in the Balkans. The main ideological drive behind this process, usually described by nationalist historiography as an 'awakening' of national identities, was a concept of primordialism, according to which the nation existed long before any state formation was achieved. This was the basis of the national history of the nineteenth century in Southeastern Europe, which pursued ethnic identities into the past, projecting them onto a national identity of the present. Rejecting the 'awakening' of an eternal continuity, Kitromilidis discusses critically the formation mechanisms of a homogenising national identity, most important among them, education, a well-known and very effective tool in the construction of the normative discourse of nationalism (Anderson 1991: 67 72; see Ozdogan, Chapter 5; Roth, Chapter 12; Hassan, Chapter 11). In the Greek experience, education was not addressed solely to populations within the limits of the Greek state, but also to Orthodox communities living in the Balkans and in the Asian provinces of the Ottoman Empire (Kitromilidis 1997: 92 103). One should emphasise, incidentally, the close relation of education to history, archaeology, and to notions of ethnic antiquity that are founded on archaeological arguments, an element with strong nationalist overtones which survives even in present day education in Greece (Fragkoudaki and Dragona 1997).

The mechanisms of national integration, through institutions such as consulates, educational institutions and the army, were applied to the region of Macedonia by the young Greek state (Kofos 1997: 202). The region at that time was inhabited by a population 'of an indefinite ethnological composition... with a historical heritage open to disputed and conflicting interpretations' (Kofos 1997: 200). The extent to which this population belonged to recognisable collectivities is a matter of conjecture. The application of fixed criteria for defining ethnicity is questionable, at least since Barth (1969) introduced the concept of boundaries of ethnic groups, shifting the critical focus from the 'cultural stuff that [the group] encloses' to the maintenance of social dividing lines (Barth 1981: 204). If this is so, any a priori existence or stability in the contents of the group is meaningless (Banks 1996: 12). Most efforts to categorise these collectivities by recognised normative criteria based on essential traits reflect more the obsessions of the respective nationalist historiographies than the identities of those populations. They, therefore, represent a record of the claims expressed in competing narratives (Danforth 1995; Karakasidou 1992; 1997). However, the convoluted historical issues related to the struggle of conflicting nationalisms in the region from the late nineteenth century onwards are too complicated to be discussed here without the risk of serious oversimplification. The situation became even more complex when the Republic of Macedonia was formed within Yugoslavia (see Brown, Chapter 3) in 1944, and eventually, in 1991, as an independent state. From that period on, the Macedonian identity became the official expression of yet another nationalism in the Balkans.

The archaeological reaction to the antiquity and the continuity of ethnic identities in the Balkans has taken the form of ethnogenesis (Dolukhanov 1994; Dragadze 1980). As a concept, the tracing of the antiquity of the ethnic constituent of a present nation restores a pseudo-historical sense of continuity and legitimises the present. In reality, it is a question of definitions, in an almost Aristotelian manner. Somehow, if one has defined the start (past) and the culmination (present) of a trajectory, all that goes in between is, in some miraculous manner, insignificant (Lekkas 1994: 40). To a large extent, this description could apply equally well to nineteenth-century Greece. Archaeology in Greece was not immune to ethnogenetic or, to put it more generally, culture historical discussions (Kotsakis 1991; n.d.). As mentioned above, it was the issue of the 'arrival of the Greeks' which provided the initial impetus. But the question of the origins of Greek culture was a recurrent theme which appeared in Greek archaeology even from the nineteenth century. The archetype was The History of the Greek Nation by Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos, a monumental nine-volume work describing the trajectory of Greek history from prehistoric times up to the War of Independence (1821), which was concluded in 1885. Greek scholarship justly considers this major work of synthesis a turning point, not only for modern Greek historical thought, but also for modern Greek identity in general. For the first time, the concept of a unified Hellenic civilization found here its official, clear and forceful expression. The first volume contains a chapter dedicated to prehistory. The object was the tracing of the early stages of the Greeks, and the sources were limited to classical and later mythology and classical historiography. No particular reference was made to archaeology, although at that time Schliemann's discoveries had changed dramatically the landscape of Aegean archaeology (Paparrigopoulos 1925).

In so much as it represents the domination of historical thinking, this work is very much a product of the nineteenth century (Trigger 1989). In keeping with the demands of that time, the ethnogenetic flavour is here unmistakable: the focus is on the taxonomy of ethnicity, on the boundaries and demarcations about which ancient literary sources are so articulate and seem to be so much preoccupied. Out of this fragmented universe came a history in which resided a society perceiving itself in its perfect totality in space and time (Anderson 1991: 22 36; Fabian 1983), a comforting self-assertion of an uninterrupted sequence, fulfilling ideally in the past what is expected in the present and the future. In other words, the narrative of nationality.

The grip, however, of ethnogenesis on Greek archaeology was never particularly strong, especially on classical archaeology which possessed categories of ethnic identity that were formulated and sanctified in Europe and were perceived as self-evident (Morris 1994). Besides, it was this European gaze on the continuity of Greece which made the question of definition of the Hellenic ethnicity redundant and permitted classical archaeology to develop as a 'neutral' history of an art which was simultaneously a Greek and European referent (Shanks 1996). The Balkan nations had to construct their own antiquity based upon their own theoretical constructions of continuity (Vryonis 1995) and, in this respect, ethnogenetic considerations were more or less a prerequisite. Moreover, ethnogenesis had a long ancestry in the archaeological theory of Eastern Europe and a prominent genealogy related to the culture historical approach and to influential names, such as those of Ratzel, Kossina and, above all, Childe (Bailey, Chapter 4; Davis 1983; Harke 1991; Klejn 1977; Slapoak and Novakovic 1996; Trigger 1989). In a sense, much as ethnography was a narrative for peoples without history in the eyes of western observers, so ethnogenesis was the answer to nations without history, or rather to national-isms constructing their own historical continuities for a domestic and a foreign audience. In the decades after World War II, a proliferation of research touching upon issues of ethnic identification in the archaeological record was manifest in the Balkans.

In its ethnogenetic quality, the History of the Greek Nation inspired much subsequent work, establishing a persistent culture historical tradition. Notable among this is an ambitious multi-volumed edition which appeared a hundred years later and, not surprisingly, bearing the same title History of the Greek Nation (Christopoulos et al. 1970). The sixteen volumes cover the totality of the history of Greece, from the Palaeolithic to modern times In the same tradition, and with the same historical breadth, the impressive volume on Macedonia (Sakellariou 1982) compiled by eminent members of the Greek and international academia had similar aims, but focused on a smaller entity, the region of Macedonia. The title of the book is revealingly straightforward: Macedonia: 4,000 Years of Greek History and Culture. In this large volume, there are only fifteen pages devoted to prehistory, 194 to ancient history and archaeology, 127 to the Byzantine period and seventy one to modern Greek history. Eventually, it was not prehistoric or Byzantine archaeology which assumed the responsibility for confronting the ethnogenetic claims advanced from the Macedonian state. The apparent reason was that the controversy was about the ethnic identity of ancient Macedonians, the Greek component of which was forcefully questioned. [2]

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2. See Danforth (1995: 169 71) for a presentation of the controversy concerning the Greek ethnicity of ancient Macedonians which juxtaposes the allegations of crude versions of Greek nationalistic historiography with Borza's (1990) highly selective arguments.