Modern Greece and the Macedonian Heritage – Part 17 – Education
Risto Stefov, April 26, 2009
Greek lobbyists and the Greek propaganda machine have been busy for the last couple of centuries ensuring that the “Greek point of view” is not only promoted but enforced everywhere in the world, particularly in the English speaking world. As a result today we have a world which believes Macedonians do not exist and everything that is Macedonian is Greek.
As unbelievable and bizarre as this may sound, it is true. It all starts in school where children are taught to believe that Macedonians are Greek and as these children grow up and some become teachers, they in turn teach new children to believe that Macedonians are Greek and the cycle of lies continues. How do I know this? I have encountered it myself personally but that is not what compelled me to write about it. Just recently I received an angry e-mail from Pete Kondoff who you may know from the Canadian-Macedonian Historical Society in Toronto, Canada. He is one of its founders. Pete was angry because of what happened to his grandson at university.
The problem began when the grandson´s professor asked the students for some background information in order for her to become better acquainted with them. When Mr. Kondoff´s grandson was asked for his ethnic background he replied, “Macedonian” to which his professor retorted, “Then you must be Greek!”
Why would a professor at a prominent Canadian university think a Macedonian is “Greek”?
Mr. Kondoff´s grandson is a 4th generation Canadian. The Kondoff family has been living in North America since the very early 1900´s, even before Macedonia was invaded and occupied in 1912 and partitioned in 1913 by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria. So technically the Kondoff family has absolutely nothing to do with Greece. As a young man, Pete´s father immigrated to the United States while Macedonia was still occupied by the Ottoman Empire.
To be corrected by his professor, who in fact went against his own beliefs, was not only a surprise but a shock to Pete´s grandson. What do you say to your professor who just made a huge mistake? I am sure this is a dilemma many Macedonians face not only in school but at their jobs and even at parties and outings. It is frustrating and sometimes worrisome. Do you argue with people and face ridicule because they “perceived you are ignorant of your own identity” or “do you accept what they say” and keep quiet and suffer desolation and humiliation in silence?
Pete Kondoff and his wife Mary have been active participants in the Macedonian community all over North America since their youth. They have fought for the rights of Macedonians all their lives and Pete, being an educator himself, was very angry about the incident. How could a professor at a Canadian university not know about the Macedonians? Worse, how could a Canadian professor use “Greek propaganda” against a Macedonian, perhaps even without knowing it? Why and how often does it happen? These are some of the questions which plague Mr. Kondoff?
Now some of you may think “So what´s the big deal?” mistakes are made, it was a simple mistake what is the harm in that?
Well, calling a Macedonian “Greek” is like calling a black person “a slave” or a North American indigenous person “a savage”. It is very degrading and hurtful and congers up unpleasant memories from painful past experiences. So why would a professor who would NEVER call a black person “a slave” or an indigenous person “a savage” call a Macedonian “Greek”? This thought has haunted Mr. Kondoff from the day he found out.
Since the incident Pete Kondoff has been vigorously campaigning to inform the various universities and educators of this problem. Mr. Kondoff believes the problem is not with the educators themselves but with the educational system. For years information about the Macedonians has been compiled through Greece and the Greeks have been skewing it to fit their own agenda. With the advent of the “Classics” departments, Modern Greeks have been very influential in Western universities and have been responsible for compiling the history of the Balkans, particularly ancient history. Without any opposition from the Macedonians, Greeks have been revising history, naturally to their advantage, and unfortunately to the detriment of the Macedonians. The Greeks over the years have carefully positioned their “specific views” of who the Macedonians are as part of their history which Mr. Kondoff believes is intentionally done and designed to mislead the world about the Macedonians.
It is one thing to harmlessly “exaggerate” a little to suit your agenda but yet another to use “exaggerations” in order to wipe out an entire culture and to rob it of its lands and heritage.
If it is true that “the law is blind to ignorance” then “unknowingly spreading false information that contributes to the demise of a culture” would constitute “breaking the law”. Just because people don´t know they are telling lies does not mean they are not causing harm! Mr. Kondoff strongly believes that the educators themselves are victims of this “Greek propaganda” which has been taught in our schools for over a century. Mr. Kondoff strongly believes that our educators are ethical people who would NOT voluntarily spread anyone´s harmful propaganda if they knew that it was propaganda. The question here is how do we inform our educators that some of what they are teaching our children may in fact be someone´s propaganda?
No educator would call a Macedonian “Greek” if they knew the kind of atrocities the Greeks have committed against the Macedonians. No educator would ever call a Macedonian “Greek” if they knew the Geeks used and still use force to assimilate Macedonians for the purpose of eradicating the Macedonian culture and usurping the Macedonians heritage.
What intelligent and civilized person, who has devoted his or her life to teaching and to making our world a better place, would agree to promote Greek racist propaganda designed to rob Macedonians of their land, name, language and heritage if they knew that it was indeed propaganda? Most educators are dedicated to preserving cultures, not destroying them.
Therefore it is imperative that we all understand that today´s Macedonians are the survivors of a brutal Greek cultural war waged against the Macedonians since 1912 and not just inside Greece but worldwide, a war that has cost Macedonians their lives, personal freedom, language and dignity. These Macedonians are survivors of “cultural genocide” and not only deserve recognition but also respect for their suffering.
It is indeed WRONG to call a Macedonian “Greek” as much as it is wrong to call a black person a slave. If you believe Greeks have done wrong to the Macedonians then please stop calling them “Greek”. They have their own identity, call them Macedonian! Please stop the abuse.
Mr. Kondoff believes that the educational system must take responsibility for its own actions first by identifying and removing what is deemed “politically motivated propaganda” from their curriculums. If the universities care for the rights of all people then why not let their educators teach “the Macedonian experience”. If there are differences in opinion between Macedonians and Greeks then tell both sides of the story. It´s about time Macedonians are given an opportunity to tell their own side of the story.
It is also about time that the world learns of another side of Greece and what it has done to (1) secure its own place in the world and (2) its use of its “place” as leverage to usurp Macedonia´s history. But our subject here today is not about “the history” itself but about how Greece has distorted history to deny the Macedonian people their identity, culture and basic human rights.
By calling a Macedonian “Greek” you in effect unwittingly insult all Macedonians and deny them their most basic human right, the right to exist as Macedonians. A Macedonian knows he or she is not “Greek” and if you deny them the right to be Macedonian then what do you expect them to be? Is it not enough that Macedonians suffered for a century under Greek oppression? Do we really need western university professors calling them “Greek”? When is the abuse going to end?
I want to make it perfectly clear that we don´t blame the educators for teaching what they teach but at the same time we cannot just sit idly and witness our human rights being trampled. That is why we appeal to every reader to do their part and make sure their local school boards and universities are well aware of this problem. Macedonians are not “Greeks” and object to being called “Greek” because by calling them “Greek” you not only abuse and insult them but you unwittingly trample on their human rights. Macedonians have the right to call themselves Macedonian not only because they are Macedonian but because they have that right under international law.
As much as we like to allow our professors the freedom to teach whatever they deem appropriate we also have the responsibility to protect the rights of those who are mistakenly misrepresented. It is our duty to also make sure “past wrongs” are corrected. Therefore we appeal to every educational institution to re-examine their policies regarding Macedonia and the Macedonians.
We are well aware of the so-called “Greek contribution” to Western European culture but as Macedonians we too have our own experience with Greece and so far it has not been pleasant!
“The Europeanisation of Mass Education and the Re-Writing of History”
A second area where EU officials have sought to invent Europe as a category of thought is in the education sector. This is summed up most vividly in the notion of ´introducing the European dimension´ into national school curricula, textbooks, and university syllabuses. Central to the process of constructing any new political order is the mobilization of history and memory. As Anderson (1983), Gellner (1983) and Hobsbawm (1990) remind us, mass education – together with conscription, taxation and state violence – were the foremost technologies for inculcating nationalist consciousness among the peoples of the emergent nation states. For this reason, EU officials now emphasize the importance of re-writing history from a European perspective to challenge the nationalist bias of traditional ways of teaching and learning (Brugmans 1987). But what does history look like from this ´European perspective´?
Typically, EU historiography – like Seton-Watson´s view of European culture – represents the last 3,000 years of European history as a kind of moral success story: a gradual coming together in the shape of the European community and its institutions. According to this conception, European history is an evolutionary process that starts with ´prehistory´ (where the key stages include Homo Erectus, megalithic civilization, the Neolithic revolutions and the bronze Age), before advancing to the age of classical antiquity. The result is that European identity is portrayed as the end product of a progressive ascent through history – albeit a highly selective history – from ancient Greece and Rome, to the spread of Christianity, the scientific revolution, the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment and the triumph of liberal democracy. These key episodes thus become palimpsests for an essential European cultural community: a ´core Europe´ whose common bonds lie in its shared heritage, moral ascendancy and cultural continuity.
The EU´s choice of ´ERASMUS´ and ´SOCRATES´ as acronyms for its two major educational exchange programmes is a minor example of this. Another is the targeting of the Acropolis and Mount Athos as the two largest EU-funded projects within its ´Conservation of Europe´s Archaeological Heritage´ initiative.
French historians seem to have made a particularly noticeable contribution to the EU´s attempts to re-write history. For example, in one recent EU-sponsored history textbook Henri Brugman´s (former rector of the Collège d´Europe) has an essay entitled: ´Europe : a common civilization, a destiny, a vocation´ (Brugmans 1987:11). In the same volume, George Pflimlin (1987:9) describes the last 3,000 years of European history as ´le miracle européan´. Similarly the historian Hélène Ahrweiler argues that there does indeed exist ´an essential Europe´: “All peoples (Valéry says ´races´) and all lands which were in turn Romanized, Christianized and subjected – at least mentally – to Greek discipline, are thoroughly European…Everywhere where the names of Caesar, Caius, Trajan, and Virgil, everywhere where the names of Aristotle, Plato and Euclid have simultaneously held meaning and authority, that is Europe” (Ahrweiler 1999:32).
The idea that European cultural unity is founded upon a shared ancient civilization is attractive to the architects of political integration and clearly informs much of their campaigning work. The problem with such a notion, however, is that it reifies an outdated idea of cultures as fixed, unitary and bounded wholes that is both sociologically outmoded and politically dangerous. As Pieterse (1951:5) states, ´what is being recycled as “European culture” is nineteenth century elite imperial myth formation´. EU officials and image-makers, however, continue to draw on ´classical´ images in their quest to identify the essential elements of European culture, and show little sensitivity towards post-colonial criticisms of Western orientalism.
Typically, EU officials justify their attempts to promote the re-writing of history books to reflect the ´European perspective´ on the grounds that this is necessary to combat the hegemony of nationalist ideology, which they regard as the primary obstacle to European union. The result, however, is that nationalist ideology is simply substituted for a new ideology of ´Europeanism´. For example, writing in a recent EU ´information´ booklet Pascal Fontaine (Monet´s former chef de cabinet and Director of the Commission´s Information Office in Paris) charts the progress of the ´European ideal´:
“…in the nineteenth century, it was an inspiration for poets and romantics, only to be distorted by conquerors seeking to justify their lust for power. It did not come to full expression in practical form, however, until a handful of courageous, visionary statesmen determined to put a stop to the loss of life that seemed to be the inevitable outcome of conflicts between nation-states” (Fontaine 1991:5).
The true saviours of Europe are thus not the leaders of the Resistance or the Allies, but Monnet, Spaaks, Schuman, De Gaspari and Adenauer: these ´visionary statesmen´ have become the symbolic guardians and ancestors of the ´European ideal´. But if Europe symbolizes peace and prosperity, the nation state is construed as an agent of conflict and war. To complete this heroic myth of itself, the EU has also produced a series of films and videos for distribution to schools, colleges and local authorities. These include ´Jean Monnet, Father of Europe´, ´A European journey´ (a jingoistic potted history of the various stages achievements and future of European integration); ´The Tree of Europe´ ([a]n original feature which will make all Europeans aware of the common roots of their past´); and ´After Twenty Centuries´, which surveys 2,000 years of European history and features Europeans´ ´shared experiences at political, intellectual and cultural level´ (European Commission 1991:1-5).
Jean Baptiste Duroselle´s (1990) volume, Europe, A History of Its Peoples, represents an even more ambitious attempt to re-configure history. This 416 page magnum opus – part textbook, part manifesto – reflects the historiography implicit in EC discourses on culture. Chapter one opens with the image of rape of the Greek Goddess ´Europa´, and proceeds to discuss the geographical complexity and uniqueness of the continent (sic) of Europe. Chapter three describes the Celts and Teutons as the first Indo-Europeans. Chapter four proceeds under the heading ´Classical Antiquity: Greek Wisdom, Roman Grandeur´. Chapter five (´the First Four Centuries AD in the West´) is devoted exclusively to the expansion of Christianity. Chapter seven is a lengthy discussion of whether Charlemagne´s empire marks the ´beginnings of Europe´. Chapter eight (´Europe Under Siege´) opens with a vivid image of banner-waving Saracens on horseback – ´European civilization´ thus being equated unequivocally with Christendom defending itself against the resurgent forces of Islam. The book continues in a similar vein until Chapter seventeen (The Road to European Disaster´) which deals with nationalism. Chapter eighteen (´Europe Destroys Itself´) which covers the period of 1914-1945, and finally chapter nineteen, ´Europe´s Recovery and Resurgent Hopes´, which focuses on the ´makers of Europe´ and the ´building of Europe in the face of Gaullism´. The net result is that European history is presented as the story of reason and unity triumphing over disunity and nationalism – the apotheosis of the Enlightenment project, or what Wolf (1992:5) calls ´history as a genealogy of progress´. It is invariably a selective, sanitized and typically heroic re-reading of the past, one that systematically excludes or ignores the less noble aspects of European modernity such as the history of slavery, anti-Semitism, colonialism or imperial conquest. The author´s conclusion that Europe´s history has been marked by a ´general if halting growth in compassion, humanity and equality´ (Duroselle 1990:413), simply confirms this interpretation. History, it seems, is as much about ´forgetting´ as it is about remembering and interpreting past events.”
“Europe Cultural Construction and Reality”, edited by Peter Niedermuller & Bjarne Skolund, pages 59 to 61
After reading the above, does anyone still think there is room in Western Europe for Macedonia? After what is said and done, do Macedonians really think they are welcome in the European Union?
To be continued..