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Modern Greece and the Macedonian Heritage – Part 9 – Language Religion and Identity

By Risto Stefov, rstefov@hotmail.com, March 1st, 2009

By now everyone who has read the articles in this series should be aware of the history of how the so-called Greek nation was created. But what we have not discussed so far is the criteria used in identifying who was Greek and who wasn’t given that the Modern Greek nation was created from Slavs, Albanians and Vlachs.

Putting the question another way, in the early 19th century when the Greek state was being created for the first time ever, how did one recognize a Greek from a non Greek given that the majority of ethnic groups living in the land who became Greek were predominantly Albanian, Slav, or Vlach?

In James Knowles’s monthly review “The Nineteenth Century and After” volume LXXXVI, July – December 1919 on page 645 we read “But who are the Greeks? At least five-sixths of them, if not more, are Christian Albanians of the Orthodox faith, Albanians in sentiment and in language, who because they acknowledge the Patriarch of Constantinople are declared to be Greek in point of ‘national consciousness’.

In point of fact, the greater number of the Christian Albanians, whether Orthodox or Catholic, are thoroughly Albanian in sentiment as well as in race and language, and have nothing whatsoever in common with Greeks except allegiance to a Church which styles itself Oecumenical or universal, not national or Greek.”

In this author’s estimation, an Albanian whose allegiance was to the Orthodox religion was considered to be Greek.

In the book “Greece in the Twentieth Century” edited by Theodore A. Couloumbis on page 25 we read “Greeks are those who speak Turkish but profess the Christian religion of their ancestors.”

In the book “The Empty Cradle of Democracy” by Alexandra Halkias on page 59 we read “Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the average inhabitant of Greece called himself of herself Roman (Romios), and the (Greek) language Romeika.”

“…though this was not articulated in racial terms but on the basis of a common language, history and consciousness. In effect, at this time, whoever called themselves a Greek was a Greek. It is because of this that many Greek-speaking Albanians, Slavs, Romanians and Vlachs were easily assimilated and became important players in Greek patriotism at the time. (Dakin 1972, 8)”

“To some extent – the consciousness of the modern Greek of his classical ancestry is a product of Western scholarship.”

Here Alexandra Halkias tells us that before Greece became a country in the early 19th century some of its people called themselves Romios meaning Romans and the language Romeika. But no sooner had Greece been created by its Philhellene patrons than Romios and Romaika became Greek and all those who spoke Romaika, irrespective of their ethnic origins be it Slav, Albanian or Vlach, became instant Greeks.

In the book “Greece and the Balkans” edited by Dimitris Tsiovas on page 43 we read “…common phenomenon in Balkan history: the ‘ethnicization’ of religious, social or occupational groups. Very often, such groups were denoted by the names of ethnic communities and they used these names to denote themselves as well. As we saw ‘Greek’ (Romaios) could mean ‘Orthodox Christian’ but also “city dweller’ and well to do ‘citizen’ in particular. In the same way ‘Turk’ often means ‘Muslim’. Bulgarian was used to denote ‘villager’, with or without pejorative connotation. ‘Vlach’ could mean ‘shepherd’ or ‘nomad’ in General.” 

In the book “Politics in Modern Greece” by Keith R. Legg on page 86 we read “The term ‘Greek’ differentiates the language spoken by inhabitants of modern Greece from the languages of the surrounding countries; but there is disagreement on what the Greek language was, is, and should be. At the time of independence, the range in local dialects was significant; a substantial portion of the population spoke Albanian.” 

In the book “Political Science Quarterly” edited by The Faculty of Political Science of Columbia University, Twenty-Third volume, published in 1908 on page 307 we read “There was little interest as to the nationality of the rayahs while Turkish rule was strong. They were nearly all Christians of the Byzantine kind, those in Europe at least, and were hence regarded as one people, for oriental theocracy cannot conceive of nationality apart from religion. They themselves knew the differences in their origins and in such traditions as they had; some were Slavs, some Vlachs and some Albanians…”

“But they felt more deeply than they thought; the hardships of their common lot and the common worship of their church gave them a stronger sense of unity than disunity; they were all non-Muslims, all rayahs and in a sense all Greeks.”

Here the authors do not hesitate to equate “Greek” with “Orthodox Christian” as was truly the case back in the 19th century, a formula that the Greeks, Serbians and Bulgarians would later use to make Greeks, Serbians and Bulgarians out of the Macedonians.

“When we read that the Roumanians are Latins; that the Bulgarians and Servians are Slav, according to the opinion of this and that writer, or that they are Greeks, as Greece contends, we get the common coin of diplomatic exchange; but it is spurious and counterfeit if passed as historical truth.” (Page 307, “Political Science Quarterly” edited by The Faculty of Political Science of Columbia University, Twenty-Third volume, published in 1908).

In the book “Romaic Grammar” by E. A. Sofocles, A. M. published in 1842 on page iii of the preface we read “Romaic, or, as it is often called, MODERN GREEK is the language spoken by the modern Greeks.”

Then on page iv in the same book we read “The revolution of 1821 has restored the ancient appellation ‘Ellines’ but as it is used chiefly by the inhabitants of Bavarian Greece, who perhaps do not constitute more than one-fourth of the Greek nation, it may safely be said that the mass of the people still call themselves Romeii and their language Romaiki.”

In James Knowles’s monthly review “The Nineteenth Century” Vol. VI, July-December 1870, on pages 948 and 949 we read “The Orthodox Church, it is true, has striven more successfully to make Christian Greeks than to make Greeks Christians; but to assert that a Greek Christian is a Hellene it is as reasonable as to call all Roman Catholics Italian; and to claim a Slav or Albanian as a Hellene because he speaks Greek, is much the same as calling an educated Russian French, or an Irishman English, because they prefer French or English to their own less developed languages.”

In William St. Clair’s book “That Greece Might Still be Free” on page 8 we read “In the eyes of the majority of Greeks in the Ottoman Empire, it was primarily their religion that distinguished them from the Turks, Arabs, Armenians, Jews and others who made up the population of the Empire. All their feelings of being a community centered on the Orthodox Church with its Patriarch at Constantinople, and they felt themselves as alien to the Roman Catholic Greeks who inhabited some of the islands as to the Muslims. Their tradition lead back to the great days when a Greek-speaking Roman Emperor sat on the throne of a Christian Empire at Constantinople and the Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate had an unbroken succession which had been little affected by the Turkish conquest. The Greek language which they spoke was known as ‘Romaik’ from the time when they had been citizens of the Eastern Roman Empire. They called their children after the saints of the Orthodox Church, Georgios, Dimitrios, Spyridon.

Most Greeks of the Ottoman Empire had no comprehension of that complex of ideas relating to territorial boundaries and cultural and linguistic uniformity which makes up the European concept of a nation state.”

Then on page 9 of St. Clair’s book we read “The Albanians of Hydra and Spetsae, many of whom could not even speak Greek, regarded themselves as Greek because their allegiance was to the Orthodox Church.”

And finally on page 22 of St. Clair’s book “That Greece Might Still be Free” we read “In Greece itself the Greeks still thought of themselves as the Christian inhabitants of a Muslim Empire, not as the descendent of the Hellenes. The veneer of philhellenism in Greece was very thin indeed. The Greek leaders in Greece itself who joined the conspiracy were content to adopt the propaganda of their expatriates, but they knew that their power over their people depended on something else entirely. A policy of establishing a European nation-state based in ideas about ancient Hellas formulated in Western Europe was far from their minds. Their aim was much simpler. They wanted to get rid of the Turks and take their place as rulers of the country. But they had no wish to set up European political institutions, to assume Western or ancient clothes, or to speak ancient Greek. They did not want to be ‘regenerated’ at all. They were content with the primitive semi-barbarous Eastern way of life they had always known.”

It is a shame indeed that so many living and vibrant cultures had to be destroyed to make room for “Hellenism”, something dead and artificial.

In Michel Herzfeld’s book “The Body Impolitic” on page 7 we read “In language, above all, ordinary speech was increasingly condemned as both decadent and foreign, a medley of Turkish and Slavic influences, and was replaced for legal and educational purposes by the newly created puristic language. Music, art and folklore – everything was reclassicized in a formula created in Germany, Britain and France.”

Again, so many wonderful and vibrant mother languages destroyed to make room for an ancient 2,000 year old dead language artificially resurrected and engineered for the artificially created Hellenic identity which bears no resemblance to the real identities that it replaced which existed on those lands before they were destroyed just in the same way the Greeks are attempting to destroy the Macedonian language spoken north of Mount Olympus.

And now I will leave you with this;

In Bayard Taylor’s book “Travels in Greece and Russia” published in 1872 on pages 261 and 262 we read “The fact is, a few deeds of splendid heroism have thrown a deceitful halo over the darker features of the Greek War of Independence, and most of those who bend in reverence to the name of Marko Pozzaris do not know that his uncle Nothi stole supplies from his own troops to sell to the Turks – that, which Canaris and Miaulis were brave and incorruptible, Colocotroni filled his purse and made cowards of his men, – that, while Karaiskais was honorable, others broke the most solemn vows of their religion and murdered the captives they were sworn to spare. One can only say that the Greeks are what the Turks made them – that we should not expect to find in slaves the virtues of freedom; but treachery and perjury were never the characteristics of the Moslem. It is the corrupt leaven of the Lower Empire which still ferments in the veins of this mixed race. I have already said, and I will repeat it, that not one-fifth of the present population can with justice be called Greeks. The remainder are Slavonians, Albanians and Turks, with a slight infusion of Venetian blood.”

For those who are still not convinced that the Modern Greek identity is an artificial creation, please continue to read this series of articles.

Please continue to read Part 10 here.