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

Bounded entities: in search of identities

The above description is deliberately schematic and has more phenomenological than analytical value. It avoids touching on the real issues that are driving the revival of the quest for national identities in this part of Greece. A variety of explanatory factors should probably be invoked, such as the economic and social structure of post-war Greece, or the degree of homogenisation of the population, the result of the fate of the region before and after the War (Koliopoulos 1997). These questions, and others that are perhaps of equal importance, require specialised historical scrutiny which I prefer to leave to the better qualified. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that the uses of the past and the concept of continuity in Greek 'culture have been questioned by modern Greek historiography at least parts of it either indirectly, by ascribing them to the general project of nation-building (e.g. contributions in Mackridge and Yannakakis 1997) or to aspects of the nationalist ideology (Lekkas 1992; 1994; 1994b) or directly, by questioning the validity of the very concept (Liakos 1994, 1995). Archaeology in Greece has not shown a similar reflexivity. [6]

In this context, the main project of archaeological research, as it has developed in the last twenty years or so, is to offer material evidence concerning the ethnic identity of the ancient Macedonians and the Hellenic character of their culture. This is a recurring theme in the recent archaeological literature, and is subtly amplified by museum exhibitions, some of them organised abroad, and by high quality publications offering a panorama of archaeological research (e.g. Vokotopoulou 1988; 1993; Pandermalis 1992). In these publications a plethora of artifacts are presented in evocative photographs accompanied by texts which comment on their significance as evidence for the cultural identity of ancient Macedonians. 'He implicit argument here is that these artifacts are directly comparable, or identical, to those which characterize the undisputed Greek areas of Southern Greece. [7] The history of the Macedonians is constructed on the basis of ancient narratives concerning the ethnic identity of 'tribes', and the Macedonians themselves are perceived as a 'population' with a defined geographic distribution (Vokotopoulou 1988: xvii xviii; 1993: 12). Cultural change, in as much as it is considered deducible from the archaeological record, is primarily a factor of movement of people, migration or colonisation. The close relationship of artifacts and people in this context is considered, of course, plainly self-evident. [8]

This assumed relationship between artifacts and people is an often described and an easily recognisable typical feature of the culture historical approach (Trigger 1989: 167 74). Similarly, the ideas of migration and the association of ethnic groups with particular geographical areas are part of the same archaeological tradition, which is closely knit to historical reconstruction. Within this tradition, the perception of the past as consisting of bounded entities, whether these are called 'peoples' or 'tribes' or even 'cultures', with archaeologically definable and stable characteristics, is a logical deduction from the theoretical premises of culture history. Nonetheless, leaving aside the explanatory value of these theoretical constructs, around which revolved the whole argument of the New Archaeology of the 1970s, the content of these concepts is still a very central, and very ambiguous, issue (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991). For the moment it is sufficient, following Wolf, to point out the historicity of their content and of the concomitant people's sense of belonging to an identity, be it cultural or ethnic: 'history ...feeds back in various ways upon the ways people understand who they are and where they might be at any given historical point in time.' (1994: 7).

The perception of any culture Greek culture, in this instance as a discrete, bounded and homogenous unit which retains its unalienable character so that it can be recognized in time and space, is not only a concept which has been criticized as part of the culture historical approach in archaeology, but also one which has received considerable critique in the field of anthropology. Wolf has described this very aptly:

We can no longer think of societies as isolated and self-maintaining systems. Nor can we imagine cultures as integrated totalities in which each part contributes to the maintenance of an organised, autonomous, and enduring whole. There are only cultural sets of practices and ideas, put into play by determinate human actors under determinate circumstances. In the course of action these cultural sets are forever assembled, dismantled, and reassembled.
(Wolf 1982: 390 1)
In a similar vein, Banks (1996: 12 13), following Barth's dereification of culture and ethnic group, stresses the futility of the list of features, or contents, approach, which often serves as the basis for the characterization of such groups. The point is that these lists are in no sense finite in length. It is quite the opposite in that the social actors have the freedom to choose features according to given situations. It is not, therefore, fixed and stable features, such as dress, material culture or language etc., which identify a group, but its boundaries against the other groups, as well as the maintenance of these flexible boundaries which form its distinctive characteristic (Barth 1969; 1981).

There is no need to stress further the relevance of these remarks to the archaeological approaches to ethnicity and to collective identity as a list of traits. Contrary to what was happening in anthropology in the period before World War II, when the culture historical approach was formed, the view of cultures as fixed and bounded entities of shared traits is no longer generally accepted (Stolcke 1995: 12). Obviously, an archaeological approach which aims at collecting features in order to compare them with an idealised culture conceived, in its turn, as a fixed and bounded entity is seriously erroneous. It also misses one of the most useful descriptions of ethnicity that has been described as 'instrumentalist', namely 'a position... that is adopted to achieve some specific end or... as the outcome of a set of particular historical and socio-economic circumstances' (Banks 1996: 185). Accordingly, in the particular case of Macedonia, we should be asking not simply which are the traits that point to a particular fixed ethnic identity but what were the ends and purposes of these groups choosing from the variable possibilities they obviously had and, in addition, what was the extent of the variability of this choice? There is no doubt that the quest for the ethnicity of ancient Macedonians from both sides of the border is not following this track.

It has been proposed that both anthropologists and nationalists tend to depict the world as made of bounded, homogeneous cultures (Spencer 1990). The philological revolution and the education of the nineteenth century marginalised and eventually killed off minority languages and dialects in favour of one vernacular language of the state (Anderson 1991: 77 8). By analogy, archaeology is aiming to produce one national 'idiom' out of antiquity, by establishing a uniform construction of the past coterminous with the political geography of the country. [9] The inherent impossibility of this endeavour might explain the relative demise of interest in the study of aspects that are less canonised than art and literary sources such as, for example, rural settlements and hamlets, the archaeology of the landscape, or even regional analysis, which, in most parts of the world, form an important component of archaeological research. It might explain also the official relative marginalisation of prehistoric research. [10] A long tradition of history of art in Greek classical archaeology has kept the discipline away from contact with anthropological discussion and has developed an atheoretical, empiricist approach (Kotsakis 1991; Shanks 1996).

Recent research has extensively discussed the close relationship between archaeology and nationalism in modern Europe (Diaz-Andreu and Champion 1996; Kohl and Fawcett 1995). A central theme of this discussion is state patronage in the form of financing research and providing the legal and institutional framework for archaeological work. In countries like Greece, where very little archaeology is happening outside the state monopoly, the boundaries between the two areas can be at times blurred. On the other hand, we should not underestimate the positive effects of this relationship: irrespective of interpretations, which are temporary, state support leads to the creation of a more robust body of evidence and the growth of a powerful professional archaeology which can confront extravagant claims by archaeological arguments (Diaz-Andreu and Champion 1996: 19). No doubt this is also a process very much evident in Greek Macedonia.

Returning to the conflict, central for Macedonia, over the issue of ethnic identities, it must be stressed that they are, among other things, related to the everyday experience of people which is lost in historical narrative. This is a well iterated ground, which forms part of contemporary archaeological discourse (Shanks and Tilley 1987). According to Bourdieu (1977), the complex habitual actions, what he calls habitus, form the kernel of social identifications. In this respect, archaeology and anthropology, see, for example, Karakasidou's analysis of the Macedonian family structure (1997) maybe more than history, is in a position to study the everyday practice of people and, through their common experience of the everyday, reconstruct their cultural identity. Rather than relying on normative categories, as does the culture historical approach, contemporary archaeology seeks to approach the shared experiences of people and ofFer not just the material support for arguments of historiographic character. Although this last point is not totally without merit see, for example, the points on the physical character of archaeological evidence in Diaz-Andreu and Chapman (1996: 19 20) it somehow degrades archaeology as a supporting discipline, where material culture gives support to concepts that have been formed outside the discipline. Is this the way to circumvent nationalism in archaeology and face the responsibility for the objectivity of the discipline (Carrithers 1990; D'Andrade 1995; Scheper-Hughes 1995; Spencer 1990)? It is certainly a way to approach a complex issue. In the meantime, we remain sceptical about an archaeology publicised widely by the media and the press, creating a popular perception of archaeology as offering the ultimate 'proof ' of a national argument (Kotsakis et al. n.d.).

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6. However, not everyone would agree with this description of Greek historiography in the particular case of Macedonia. See e.g. Konstantakopoulou 1994.

7. 'This is because the objectivity of archaeological data enable us to reassess [the ancient Macedonian's] cultural past from a di8'erent perspective... and also because the material remains of a people... now truly reflect their cultural identity, above and beyond any arbitrary interpretations' (Saatsoglou-Paliadeli 1994: 29). 'This fact, together with the other finds which reflect the religion, art and burial customs of the inhabitants of ancient Macedonia, lead to the inescapable conclusion that the Macedonians ... had long been exponents of the Greek culture, participating in and contributing to it in ways which are characteristic of the Greeks as a whole' (Saatsoglou-Paliadeli 1994: 39).

8. Consider, for example, the following: 'Furthermore, a group of matt-painted vases found at Aiani provides evidence for the movement of the Dorian Macedonians: Matt-painted pottery was used by the northwestern Greek nomadic tribes which according to the written evidence (Hdt. I, 56), moved southwards.' (Karamitrou-Mentesidi 1989: 71). Also, 'Of particular importance is the epigraphic testimonia from the Archaic and the Classical period... for these constitute tangible evidence of the Macedonians' ethnic identity' (my emphasis, ibid.: 34).

9. In this sense, the attempt to transfer the terminology of periods of Southern Greece (e.g., Protogeometric, Archaic etc.) to Macedonia is very significant.

10. The archaeological museum of Thessaloniki, where the finds of Vergina are exhibited has up to date no permanent prehistoric collection on display.