Modern Greece and the Macedonian Heritage – Part 15 – More questions
By Risto Stefov,email@example.com, April 12, 2009
As much as I don’t want to turn this series into a “Dear Risto” column, a couple of you have asked some very important, worthwhile and valid questions that I would like to answer.
1. As Macedonians should we be abandoning our “Slavic” culture in favour of the Ancient Macedonian one?
2. What is your personal, and not a dictionary quote, definition of a Hellene? In your opinion who and what is a Hellene?
I will begin answering the first question by saying that the Macedonians of today are a product of all that has happened in Macedonia. We are the descendents of all the people who set foot on those lands and therefore are the inheritors of everything that was left for us. Since man set foot on Macedonian soil our culture has been evolving, growing and adding to our being; culminating in what it is today.
We are Macedonians because we have lived in Macedonia for many generations and have experienced what is Macedonian and that which we have experienced has made us into who and what we are, Macedonians. If we seek the truth about who we are then we have no choice but to accept and embrace everything that makes us who we are. We are Macedonians, one of the deepest rooted people in the world and inheritors of everything that was Macedonian since before history was recorded.
In an ethnic sense we are Macedonians but linguistically we speak a Slavic language, a language that today is described as belonging to the family of Slavic languages. Ethnically we are not Slavs, we can’t all be Slavs from the Balkans to Siberia. We are Slavic speakers who over the years have evolved into a unique entity which can only be described as Macedonian. We have, however, contributed immensely to what we today call “Slav culture” more than any other ethnic nation in the Slavic speaking world. We know for a fact that Slav culture, particularly the written form of the language, was spread from Macedonia by the Solun brothers Kiril and Metodi and that is undeniably part of our Macedonian heritage.
Are the modern Macedonians the descendants of the ancient Macedonians?
My answer to that question is why stop with the ancient Macedonians? Why not go even further back and ask “are we the descendants of all the people that occupied Macedonian lands since the melt of the last ice age”? We cannot say with certainty that we are and neither can we say that we are not. All we can say is that Macedonia, the land and all that has taken place on it over the ages has made us into who we are today, Macedonians. One thing we need to refrain from is allowing others, particularly our enemies to define us.
Our neighbours to the south, the Greeks, have made the mistake of defining themselves as the “descendants of the ancient Greeks” ignoring many years of evolution, population movements, invasions, conquests and so on. The Greeks followed the “Western European” blueprint for nation building and falsely linked themselves to the ancients and only the ancients, leaving a wide gap in their culture. However they only did this to make political gains and take advantage of their neighbours, particularly the Macedonians. In fact most of Western Europe has used mythical historiography to build its modern nations. Macedonia does not need to resort to myths because Macedonians have historically existed since pre-history.
If there is the question of who the Modern Macedonians are then there must also be a question of “who the Ancient Macedonians were”.
As far as we know the Ancient Macedonians began as a small tribal nation somewhere in today’s Kostur Region sometime in the 9th century BC. They only occupied today’s geographical Macedonia in the 4th century BC after Philip II became king. From what we know, Philip II defeated the various tribal kingdoms in the vicinity of today’s geographic Macedonia and incorporated the people and their lands into his Macedonian kingdom. These tribes were not all Macedonian before Philip conquered them. So what were they?
From what we know from history, Ancient Macedonia, before it became a nation state, was the land of the Pelasgians, Illyrians, Thracians, Phrygians, Paeonians and others. Hardly anything is known about these great ancient and prehistoric tribes except that they were very numerous “like leaves in a forest”. So what happened to these people? Naturally modern mainstream history would have us believe that they all disappeared, but did they? Or could these people be the ancestors of today’s modern Slav speakers?
There are some well educated and prominent scientists today who believe that large groups of people who moved into the Balkans and Europe after the last ice age are still living there to this day. Could one of those large groups be the modern day Slav speakers? There are some who believe they are! How else does one explain the Slav language being spoken over such a large expanse and by so many different people in Eastern Europe?
Now if we put two and two together we come to the realization that there is a high probability that today’s Slav speaking Eastern Europeans are the descendents of any or all of the prehistoric Illyrians, Thracians, Phrygians, Dardanians, etc.; the very same groups of people mainstream history claims have disappeared.
If the people incorporated in Ancient Macedonia by Philip II indeed came from these same tribes, and we know they did, then they too must have been the ancestors of the modern day Slav speakers. This raises the possibility that the Ancient Macedonians may also have been “Slav speakers”. We know that the most prominent Ancient Macedonians including Alexander the Great were bilingual and we have many historic examples to prove it. We also know Alexander’s Macedonian soldiers spoke an “unknown” language unique to the Macedonians. The only thing, as of yet, is that we don’t know if that language was Slavic. But with time, that problem too will be solved.
So, without knowing all the facts, why would we opt for “accepting” the Ancient Macedonian heritage while rejecting our “Slav” culture when there is a possibility that one is a progression of the other?
If I had to guess, I would guess that the “Slav culture” of the 9th century AD is the revival of the Ancient Macedonian Culture of the 4th century BC but with a Christian twist.
And now to answer the second question, “my definition” of what is a Hellene?
I believe I answered this question before but I guess not to the satisfaction of at least one reader. A Hellene is a 19th century mythological being that encompasses all the desired qualities that the 19th century Western European culture craved.
Trying to define what a Hellene is is like trying to define who Santa Claus is. The word “Santa Claus” conjures up an image of a white bearded man dressed up in a red suit who gives away presents; an image of happiness. But is Santa Claus real? It depends who you ask? Most children will say that he is! But does Santa Clause exist? Yes he does, you can find him in practically every mall around Christmas time.
A Hellene is like Santa Claus in many ways. Conditioned over the years many people believe he or she exists. Any ordinary person properly dressed in red and white attire can unmistakably be Santa Claus, similarly any person who speaks and feels Greek can qualify to be a Hellene. The story of the Hellene is something like the story of Santa Claus. They both started somewhere back in Ancient times and borrowed something from this culture and something from that. The case of Santa Claus, evolved into what we know today as “the white bearded man in the red suit, living in the North Pole, making toys for little girls and boys and delivering them to all the children in the world on Christmas Eve on his sled pulled by his flying reindeer”. The case of the Hellene also evolved in a similar fashion borrowing from the ancients what was attractive then mixing it with Christianity and what was desirable we then have “a Hellene who is a Christian Orthodox, speaks a bastardized ancient Language and claims to be a descendent of a race of people that died 2,000 years ago”.
Will the “Santa Claus” of modern times survive the scrutiny of science if so examined? Will we find that he is real, exists and flies a sled pulled by reindeer? No! We believe in Santa Claus because he is a powerful symbol of our traditional values which today is exploited and utilized by merchants to sell their wares and make money. Similarly Hellenism (for some) is a symbol of a “perfect culture”. It does not really exist and will not survive scientific scrutiny but is tolerated by people because it benefits a certain and powerful segment of our society.
Like ordinary people who put on cheap red suits and fake white beards, pretending to be Santa Claus in order to sell merchandise, ordinary people who speak Greek can also be Hellenes in order to improve their social status in society.
Does a Hellene exist? Does Santa Claus exist? It all depends on who you ask! Is a Hellene real? Is Santa Claus real? No, because they both exist only in the imagination of those who believe in them!
“To be a Modern “Hellene” one must be a liar. One has to lie about their ethnic heritage. One has to lie about their mother tongue. And one has to lie about their history. And so it goes, a Hellene is a person who is faking their ethnicity, mother tongue and history.” (Maknews from www.maknews.com )
“The British, French and Russians demanded that the modern Greek identity be Hellenic and respond to the Europeans’ nostalgia…” (“Blood Lines from Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism”, by Vamik Volkan, page 121)
“Thus, the recourse to the new image of Hellas (both as cultural construct and as social system) began immediately upon the brief rule of governor Kapodistrias and became efficiently implemented with the takeover of the Bavarian monarchy and its explicit desire for centralization and Hellenization. In fact, the cultural image of Greece was put into production with much greater urgency than was a political-economic infrastructure, despite the obvious importance of the latter in a newly constructed state.” (“Dream Nation Enlightenment, Colonization and the institution of Modern Greece”, Stathis Gourgouris, page 87)
“It should be strongly emphasized, however, that this image of classical Greece was constructed in Europe and was imported to the newborn Greek state (Tsoukalas, 2002).” (“Entangled Identities Nations and Europe”, edited by Atsuko Ichijo and Willfried Spohn, page 109)
“The adjective ‘Hellenistic’ not, significantly, existing in any Greek original – was first coined in its French form ‘hellenistiques’ by J.B. Bossuer, in 1681 as a term for the Greek of the Septuagint, the ‘Hellenized’ version of the old Testament.” (“The Hellenic Age a Short History”, Peter Green, page xvi introduction)
And now I leave you with this;
“And thus, I call upon the western intellectuals in general and the western philhellenes in particular to separate their personal sentimental attachments to Greek history, to do the only honorary thing left and treat Macedonia and Macedonian history as a separate and comprehensive study that it is, and that it certainly deserves to be. The conflicting statements left strewn in the literature in the past hundred or so years-are the result of biased and subjective influences-and have not only caused political discourse and confusion, but bring about contradictions, fuel tensions and cause unnecessary hateful speculations.
For instance, when some nineteenth century unsuspecting authors depict events in antiquity and describe the ancient Macedonians as Greeks, it was done not because the evidence left from the ancient biographers would support such an act but because the western media and the western academia in particular, would allow dissemination of historically inaccurate information. Such supposedly “harmless” omissions-read desirable proliferation of myths-would seep easily into the readers´ consciousness for whom the built up historiography of the artificially created Greek nation, lay in tandem with the envisioned fundamental grand scheme of things in the regional geography designed for Balkans.
It is morally wrong, ethically inadmissible and scientifically incorrect to lump the ancient Macedonians under Greek umbrella, simply, because today’s Greece-the creation of the western powers-enjoys sentimental support of many western intellectuals. Truth does not need lobbyists. Truth is not a tradable commodity and cannot be conditionally used and selectively applied. Appropriation of Macedonian history is not an acceptable act; portraying ancient Macedonians as Greeks is an outright fabrication.” (Gandeto – http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/97381)
For those who are still not convinced that the Modern Greek identity is an artificial creation, please continue to read this series of articles.