Treating Amphipolis with care

By Tom Ellis

“Esteemed colleagues and alliance leaders, before discussing the role of Greece in current affairs, allow me to share with you my personal joy and the satisfaction generated in our country by the recent discovery of the tomb of Alexander the Great in Amphipolis. A landmark development in the field of international archaeology. I dare to say it is an equally landmark development for us, members of the leading defense alliance as well, as Alexander the Great remains a point of reference for many of our military commanders.”

This imaginary introduction from a speech delivered by PM Antonis Samaras at an upcoming NATO summit on September 4-5 is precisely that – imaginary. At a time when Greece’s partners and allies openly support the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s (FYROM) membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions and UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz is continuing his longtime efforts for a solution to the name dispute, Greece is no longer limiting its argument to historical precedent, but instead is placing importance on regional stability and good-neighborly relations today. On the other hand, a discreet reminder of certain facts which, unavoidably, add to the historical dimension can be useful.

Seen through this perspective, the international exploitation of the possible discovery of the graves of Alexander, his wife Roxana and their son Alexander IV must be extremely careful. Besides the understandable hope generated, there has been considerable restraint so far. The premier expressed his enthusiasm with respect to the excavation findings, but avoided succumbing to overoptimistic guesswork. He limited himself to underlining the seriousness of the findings and asked for patience before more information emerges by the end of August, when archaeologists are expected to enter the tomb dating to 325-300 BC.

Greece’s official stance on the findings should be in complete contrast to the hyperbole of FYROM’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Efforts to create an artificial “Macedonian consciousness” through constant propaganda, which now include the erection of monstrous Alexander the Great statues, are bordering on the ridiculous and are embarassing for FYROM’s premier and his government.

Gruevski has built his entire political argument upon the myth of Skopje being the land of Alexander the Great. In an attempt to counterbalance the recent Amphipolis findings, FYROM media have been reporting infrastructure improvements on a local highway named after Alexander.

While archaeologists in Amphipolis continue their work, the Greek government should maintain a low profile and make the right moves that would reinforce the country’s position discreetly.